Thousands of Nepali girls, illegal weapons, fake Indian currency and terrorist elements enter India every year through the open Indo-Nepal border. But another item is also cause of concern for Indian authorities.
Hundreds of tonnes of betel nut, the main ingredient in ‘paan’ and ‘gutka’, also make way to India. Couriers and small time operators at the border smuggle the item to feed surging demand in India.
Surprisingly, Nepal is not a major producer of betel nut. The product enters the Himalayan nation through India as an imported item from south-east Asia. It is then smuggled into Indian states bordering Nepal.
Last month, Nepali border police seized 2,275 kg of betel nuts from people involved in smuggling using rickshaws and motorcycles through Kakarbhitta. It was one among many instances of betel nut smuggling.
Indians consume nearly 500,000 tons of betel nut annually. But domestic production caters to less than four-fifth of this demand. The rest comes from outside. As import duty on betel nut is a steep 108 pc, those involved in the trade resort to smuggling through Nepal.
Since import duty for the product is only 20 pc in Nepal, an Indian trader pays less than half the amount if he gets betel nut from that country. Due to the illegal nature of the trade, India is estimated to be losing around R300 crores annually.
But more than the loss of revenue, India is worried about the inferior quality betel nut smuggled from Nepal. The inferior betel nut unfit for human consumption is used by ‘gutka’ factories thus adding to the scourge of oral cancer in India.
In order to discourage this, India had banned import of betel nut from Nepal in 2007. But clandestine trade continues. A delegation of MPs from Karnataka had appealed to Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in September to conduct a probe into this.
India has taken up the matter with Nepal on several occasions. But laxity on part of authorities on both sides of the border is aiding this trade. The issue was dropped from the agenda of the last inter-governmental committee meeting between both nations.