W.Bengal customs division requests Bhutanese counterpart to halt export

Govt. in discussions to include potato, apple, orange, ginger and areca nuts in export list

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Export of potatoes to India, via Jaigaon, which came to a halt last week, may not resume anytime soon considering the current situation.

The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) in Jaigaon seized four truckloads of potatoes on the night of October 14 and handed it to the customs office across the border.

The deputy commissioner of customs of Dinhata Customs Division in West Bengal has also written a letter to the regional customs office in Phuentsholing requesting not to process or allow the vegetable consignments until the Plant Quarantine Office (PQO) has made arrangements for inspection at Jaigaon Land Customs Office (LCO).

The letter also requested the SSB to not allow such consignments to enter India until PQO managed arrangements for inspection at LCS, Jaigaon. The letter highlighted that some consignments of potatoes and other vegetables like cabbage, carrot and ginger of Bhutanese origin have been allowed entry to India from Phuentsholing-Jaigaon gate on October 11 after 10pm.

“These consignments have neither been presented to LCS Jaigaon for customs examination nor any Bill of Entry (BOE) has been filed. Had the importer filed BOE, the consignments could not have been given clearance without a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Plant Quarantine.”

So far there are no arrangements by Plant Quarantine to give NOC at LCS Jaigaon for import of vegetables from Bhutan, the letter underlined, adding such importation of vegetables without the NOC and without observance of due customs formalities is illegal.

It is also clear now that other vegetables (not in the export list with India) will not be allowed entry to Jaigaon. 

As of today, only cardamom and asparagus are listed for export.

Cardamom export had seen similar problems in 2017—after the introduction of the GST in India.

It was mainly because the Jaigaon customs office had installed a computerised system called the ICEGATE.

This system asked for quarantine clearance but the Plant Quarantine Services of India did not issue the clearance for Bhutanese cardamom and Bhutan Agriculture and Food Authority (BAFRA) clearance is not recognised.

The government later had dialogues with India and resolved the matter in 2018 with cardamom being listed in the export list with India. Many are pointing fingers at the government saying that the government should have initiated dialogues bilaterally and included all other agricultural produce.

An official involved in export said the government announced to buy cardamom from cardamom growers and even mobilised the fund.

“Although the government was working for a temporary measure then, PQC was applicable to not just cardamom but also other agricultural produce,” he said, adding that buying from the farmers was never the solution.

“The only solution was to take the matter bilaterally with the Government of India and sort it out. The government should have realised the same issues would come for other produce.”

Meanwhile, agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor last night said that negotiations to list five vegetables and fruits, including potatoes, have been going for the last two years. Government has also been pushing to include apple, orange, ginger and areca nuts in the export list.

“It has reached the final stage,” he said.

At the government level, lyonpo said there are no issues and the informal trade was going on, and traders from across the border are also demanding for Bhutanese produce. There are also people in Jaigaon who are pushing to resolve the matter, he added.

Initially, the government, he said, submitted a comprehensive list of numerous produce. The National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) in India, however, requested to scale it down and five items were finalised.

“The final feedback demanded by NPPO has also been submitted to Indian Embassy through the ministry of foreign affairs the day before yesterday. We are given the assurance that the clearance will be given in a short while,” lyonpo said.

DAMC’s marketing chief, Yonten Gyamtsho said they have informed the general public through notifications about the issue and advised them not to bring potatoes from the source.

“There are no stranded vehicles as far as we are aware,” he said. “Those that were stranded last week were facilitated to bring until Phuentsholing and store in go-downs.”

As of yesterday, only cardamom was being exported.

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