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Smuggling of yarsa still rampant

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Dang, May 31, 2016: Like in previous years, Barajeet Ghartimagar, a local of Maikot in Rukum district, climbed up the meadows last Friday to pick yarsagumba, the rare and precious medicinal herb.

He reached the alpine meadows a day before official commencement of the yarsagumba picking season. The next day he collected some yarsagumba.

Ghartimagar came home with 20 pieces of the herb. None of them is straight and all have broken into pieces. “This time, making the trip for yarsa has been futile,” he said. “Thieves have destroyed them all.”

There are foot marks in the area. Although yarsa was found in some places, only the stems were left, according to Ghartimagar. “It seems the thieves already picked the medicinal herbs even before any collecting was permitted,” he added.

Ramita Ghimire, another local, was also on her way to the meadows on Thursday to pick yarsagumba when one of her relatives informed her over the phone that the herbs were all gone. “I was advised not to go any further but I went anyway in the hope of getting something,” he said.

Maikot is a yarsa collection hub in the border area between Rukum and Dolpa districts. It is over 4,000 meters higher than any human settlement. There is no security in the area as it is beyond the reach of police or forest officials. This has led to rampant smuggling of the unique herb.

Under the regulations, the local administration has to issue the permission for collecting yarsa and it is only for a specific period of time. But there are no security checks or monitoring.

“As there’s no restriction by police and the local administration, anybody can climb up to the meadows. And the smugglers move in and pick the yarsa before any official permission is announced,” Ghimire said.

Given the lack of any security presence, the smugglers had already picked the yarsa last month and supplied it to Kathmandu, according to locals. Hundreds of locals and people from outside the district are also involved in the smuggling, it is learnt.

“Five or six individuals from my village alone have picked 100 to 500 pieces of the herb,” Ghimire said.

A local yarsa committee frames regulations for the yarsa pick and determines the revenue. It announces the collection for a limited period of time. But the committee seems more busy collecting revenue than curbing the rampant smuggling, he said.

Meanwhile, admitting that there is no mechanism for countering the smuggling, DSP Rupesh Khadka at District Police Office (DPO) Rukum, said, “We usually deploy policemen only to provide security to the yarsa pickers.”

DSP Khadka claimed that the active involvement of the local committee could curb the smuggling.

Likewise, the district forest office (DFO), the authority responsible for controlling the smuggling, has also overlooked the problem. “There is no restriction in the area. Anyone can pick yarsa anytime,” District Forest Officer Jagannath Prasad Jaiswal of Rukum said. He admits that the smuggling has been on the rise every year.

The DFO collects Rs 20,000 in revenue on one kilo of yarsa from the local traders. The price of a kilo ranges between Rs 1.5 to 2 million, according to Jaiswal.