The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) has collected more than Nu 2 million in fines since January this year on chili, cauliflower and beans from across the southern borders, the import of which was suspended in July last year because of high pesticide content.
BAFRA also seized since January this year 7,699 kgs (kilogrammes) of chili, 899 kgs of beans and 527 kgs of cauliflower imported from the nearby border towns.
Since the suspension, BAFRA officials has been inspecting vehicles at the Richending and Tanalum check posts on the Phuentsholing- Thimphu highway and imposing fines 10 times the market value of the product but this has not deterred smuggling of banned vegetables.
The existence of a flourishing black market is largely because domestic supply has not been able to meet local demand that has sourced its requirements from across the border for decades. Government initiatives to fill the gap by encouraging local commercial production, is yet to gather steam.
“Not a day passes without someone being caught and fined,” said BAFRA In-charge Phuntsho at the border town of Phuentsholing, the main road-entry point for goods from India. “Everyday one of two people are caught importing banned vegetables.”
He added that BAFRA is yet to collect fines from some people who were caught with huge quantities of banned imports. Those caught are given a month to pay the fines, which was recently extended from a week.
Phuntsho said that they are now engaging informants to help curb illegal import. “This has been the most effective method and we confiscated huge quantity of chilies engaging informants,” the In-charge said.
Last week, BAFRA introduced a weekly surprise mass inspection using the services of day workers and other informants.
The current market price for a kg of chilli is Ngultrum 50 and a person caught with banned chili is fined Ngultrum 500 a kg.