The two and half sacks of semi-dried Pipla, worth approximately Nu 37,500 confiscated on April 22 from an Indian driver was surrendered to the Department of forest in Samtse after months of storage with the customs office.
Any forestry products seized by any agencies are supposed to be handed-over to the forest department who will take course of actions as per Forest and Nature Conservation Rules.
Earlier the confiscated forest products ended up for storage with the customs officials since no two sides took actions, be it taking-over or to auction it.
The product was surrendered to the department by the Regional Revenue and Customs Office (RRCO) after receiving directives from the headquarters when they were not sure how to go about with the confiscated product.
The Divisional Forest Officer Kaka Tshering had written a formal and official letter to the Regional Director for customs regarding such confiscations made in future by which such information sharing by the RRCO would help them penalize the defaulter as per FNCR, 2006.
The defaulter Anob Bansal, apprehended by the RRCO was released without penalties for his illegal act on the condition that he’ll come back with the people involved. But he did not turn up.
The RRCO officials said this is the first time they seized such smuggled forest products and it is a wakeup call for them to step-up vigilance to inspect the products that are exported out of the country.
“Not only Pipla, but other forest products could be smuggled out of the country,” Samtse DFO, Kaka Tshering said. He said that he would tap all sources to dig deeper into the smuggling business and unravel all possible links in the country.
According to him the confiscated product is still marketable though it lay idle in the RRCO stores for more than a month.
The confiscated Pipla will be auctioned providing fine preference to the Institute of Traditional Medicine and Services (ITMS) and to Bio-Bhutan with royalty and farm gate prices.
The Forest office in Samtse with the Road Safety and Transport Authority has started investigations to seize the van and the defaulters who had escaped.
According to the Sr. forestry officer Sonam Peldon of Social Forestry and Extension Division (SFED) of forest and park services department under the agriculture and forests ministry, the forest and park services will liaise with Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority( BAFRA ) to impart training on how to determine the legality of the forests products being smuggled outside or brought into the country.
As of now the BAFRA officials do not have required knowledge to identify the forest products being smuggled.
The BAFRA officials who are currently placed and stationed in strategic locations are mainly involved in plant quarantine services. This would be an advantage to determine the legality of the plants, and other forest products.
Pipla is a non-wood forest product commonly used in Indian Ayurvedic System, as well as the Tibetan and Bhutanese medical tradition owing to its rich content of medicinal properties.
Such medical tradition recognizes the fruit of the plant as a powerful stimulant for the digestive and respiratory systems, and also as a rejuvenating agent, longevity enhancer and tonic for the immunity.
Growing as bushes to a height of 1-2 meter, Pipla is a perennial plant and has smooth dark greenish leaves. Only female plants are known to bear fruits which have commercial value. Pipla fruits start ripening in the months of August or September.
In Bhutan, Pipla grows widely under the canopy of broadleaf forests or in open areas in Zhemgang and Pema Gatshel, and in other sub-tropical areas. Pipla is also known to thrive best in damp and moist soils with good shade.
It is normally the fruit of the plants which has commercial value. Today, at the fair market value, a kilogram of fruit fetches prices ranging from Rs. 165-200 in the Indian market.