Seized medicinal plants get comfy in customs office

The Revenue and Custom officials in Samtse confiscated two and half sacks of semi-dried Pipla, worth approximately Nu 37,500 at fair market value on April 22 from an Indian driver.

Officials usually do not inspect Indian vehicles passing through the border gates when they return after a Sunday market. But, due to the current rupee crunch in the country, custom officials on one Sunday inspected vehicles to check groceries items being taken out of the Country.

That’s when they came across illegal forest product being smuggled out of the country in one of the Indian Maruti van. When asked to produce the required documents to prove its legality, the accused failed to do so. This led to the confiscation of the product.

Now, after a month of confiscation, the seized product still remains with the Samtse regional revenue and custom office.

A senior forestry officer, Sonam Peldon of the Social Forestry and Extension Division (SFED), under the agriculture ministry, who looks after non-wood forest products in the country, said any forestry products seized by any agencies should be surrendered to the department who will take course of actions as per Forest and Nature Conservation Rules, 2006.

The seize products was neither surrendered to the forest department nor was it auctioned. According to a source, it is still lying idle in the customs office stores.

Asked why nothing was done to dispose the product, RRCO Regional Director Sonam Jamtsho in a telephonic response phone said, “We’ve reported it to the headquarters and are waiting for their directives.” He added that since it is the first time that they confiscated such products, they were not sure how to go about with it.

When authorities had questioned the driver, he said that he could not reveal the defaulters. They let go the driver on the condition that he’ll come back with the people involved.

The Indian driver who was caught carrying the product pleaded innocent saying he was never aware of who the product belonged to and what was inside. The driver said that someone had loaded the product inside his van.

According to the Regional Director, the product may soon be auctioned. It will be done in presence of local community, representatives from Royal Bhutan police, Department of forest and park services and other relevant agencies.

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 Pemagatshel.

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