Nepal ignores India's cancer concerns over betel nut

Nepal ignores India's cancer concerns over betel nutKathmandu, April 2 : While pressing for trade concessions from its largest business partner India, Nepal, however, has been stolidly ignoring New Delhi's growing health concerns with government and customs officials working in cahoots to flood India with the carcinogenic betel nut.

After the World Health Organisation said chewing the betel nut, also called the areca nut, or consuming it in other forms like pan masala, can cause oral cancer, the Indian government slapped 108 percent customs duty on the nut to discourage its import.

However, Indian officials say the move has become futile since Nepal is flooding its southern neighbour with clandestinely smuggled out betel nut that is not even grown in Nepal but imported from third countries with the sole intention of being sold in India.

The issue was raised during the bilateral trade talks held in New Delhi last month when Indian officials pointed out the steep rise in Nepal's betel nut imports.

In 2008-9, Nepal imported betel nut worth NRS 183 crore, which shot up to NRS 208 crore the following year.

"Nepal's own domestic need is met by the betel nut grown at home," said a senior Indian official who took part in the talks but declined to be named. "Therefore, the import is solely meant for export to India illegally."

After Indian authorities took up the issue strongly in 2010, pointing out the health hazards the rampant smuggling posed to India, the government of Nepal agreed to increase the customs duty to a mere 20 percent from the existing
15, making it no deterrent at all.

Nepal has also constantly been turning down India's proposal for a one-time lock system to be clamped by Indian customs officials during the transport of goods to prevent the misuse of transport facilities.

Indian officials say Nepali traders send innocuous goods which after customs inspection are substituted with the contraband betel nut and sold in India.

Indian officials also say that though they presented the government of Nepal with a list of names of businessmen carrying out illegal activities from Nepal along with other details, the government has failed to take action against any of them.(IANS)