More than 78 metric tons (MT) of banned vegetables worth Nu 7.9 million (M) were seized following the ban of green chilli, cauliflower and beans in the country since 2016.

Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) temporarily banned cauliflowers and beans in May 2016. Following this, green chilies were also temporarily banned due to high pesticide content.

BAFRA’s director general, Namgay Wangchuk, said that according to the revised food rules and regulations, the seized vegetables are charged 10 times the local rate. “To calculate the fine on vendors, we consider the rate of the vegetables in the local market.”

Except for Dagana, Lhuentse, Haa, Gasa and Zhemgang, a minimum of 24 kilogram (kg) of banned vegetables was seized from other dzongkhags until January 2018.

The highest amount of 67,375.67kg of banned vegetables was seized from Phuentsholing, BAFRA records show.

After Phuentsholing, 3,776kg of vegetables were seized from Thimphu.

Namgay Wangchuk said that the highest amount of fine was also levied on seized vegetables from Phuentsholing. “Some penalties levied were low because this was when Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited imported green chilies and vegetables with consumable pesticide content. The local rate of the vegetables were then less.”

Meanwhile, an amount of Nu 4M was imposed for illegal import of banned vegetables in Phuentsholing. An amount of Nu 2.7M from Thimphu and Nu 1.1M from Gelephu were collected as penalty for illegal import the vegetables.

Namgay Wangchuk said there could be more illegal import of vegetables because the ones they are able to nab are only one of 20 cases.

He added that because BAFRA officials are on duty from 7am to 7pm, most banned vegetables might be imported during the night. “Only when we have some information and complaints we are able to catch them. People should call our toll free number 155 and help us stop unhealthy practices.”

Officials from BAFRA are located at the Phuentsholing entry gate, Rinchending checkpost and at Tanalung on the way to Thimphu. However, officials at Tanalung are effective only when emergency situations such as an outbreak of disease occur.

Namgay Wangchuk said that among the many mandates of BAFRA, maintaining public safety is one of the important responsibilities.

He added that Bhutanese haven’t reached a stage where every individual care about one’s health. “It is not fair that vegetable vendors sell vegetables that put someone’s health and life at stake.”

Repercussions of such consumption on health of the public, health sector’s expenditure and productivity of the people would be affected, Namgay Wangchuk said.

BAFRA is conducting tests on banned vegetables, which are still found to have high level of pesticides and chemicals.

Namgay Wangchuk said that when vegetables are found to have high content of pesticides, numerous tests are run to confirm the results.

Phurpa Lhamo