BAFRA also collected more than Nu 200,000 as penalty

Vegetables: Illegal import of chillies has picked up drastically ever since import of green chillies from India was banned.

In just four days, from February 13 to 16, the Bhutan Agricultural and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) seized more than 1,000 kilogrammes of chillies at the Rinchending check post. The agency also collected more than Nu 200,000 in fines. Those involved include not just vegetable vendors but also students, drivers and farmers.

On the evening of February 14, BAFRA officials caught two students and seized 250kg of green chillies. BAFRA also fined a college student Nu 65,000.

The officer-in-charge with the BAFRA office in Phuentsholing, Phuntsho said that there have been many such cases. “We have arranged a special inspection for a long time now,” he said, adding that they have caught many people. “They are still bringing in the chillies.”

Phuntsho said that the two students BAFRA caught knew that importing chillies from the Indian border town was banned. “They said they were poor and needed money for school,” he said.

Kuensel learnt that most people try to smuggle the chillies in the evening and at night. BAFRA has been deputing two officials every night for inspections these days.

Despite such measures in place, people still try to smuggle chillies.

As a result, some have even tried to hide chillies under trucks. The illegal business has become an easy way to mint money.

A kilogramme of chilli costs Nu 20 to 30 across the border. When it reaches Thimphu and Paro and other places, it is sold at between Nu 80 to Nu 150 depending on demand.

“Despite the crisis, we request people not to consume these chillies even if it is being supplied,” BAFRA officer-in-charge Phuntsho said, adding that the impact on health would not be immediate but gradual.

Phuntsho also said that BAFRA would not tolerate people trying to supply chillies illegally.

Bhutanese vegetable vendors imported chillies from Falakata, India until it was banned last year. The ban was implemented after a high level of pesticide residue was found in the chillies.

In the last four days, BAFRA also seized 120kg of cauliflowers and 50kg of beans that were both also banned last year for high pesticide residue content.

Meanwhile, the demand for chilli is still as high as ever. The Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL) is placing an order for another consignment of 15 metric tonnes (MT).

The corporation so far has purchased 126.22MT of green chillies from Kolkata, India. About 117.37MT were sold across the country.

FCBL’s marketing advisor Bhimraj Gurung said that importing chillies is not an easy task. “Some chillies are spoiled,” he said.

FCBL lost about 4.87MT chillies to weight loss when it arrived in Phuentsholing and about 3.8MT chillies are also being dried today after it started rotting. Bhimraj Gururng said that it takes time to gather information  on demand and to talk to suppliers on availability and to negotiate prices.

“The government is putting in so much effort to establish prices and getting the right supplies,” he said.

FCBL has 10 identified retailers across the countries that are allowed to sell chillies supplied by the corporation.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing