Border trade shifted to Rasuwagadhi but not quarantine staff
KATHMANDU, July 8: It has been three years since the transit point for trade with Tibet shifted to Rasuwagadhi from Tatopani following the big earthquake. But the food quarantine post still remains at Tatopani.
The food products imported via Rasuwagadhi are not tested while the quarantine officials at Tatopani have nothing to do. The import of food items via Rasuwagadhi has seen a big jump recently.
Bharat Bahadur Puri of Tatopani Quarantine Post has had no work since 2015 and a position for technical assistant lies vacant. But the quarantine post has not been shifted yet nor are the authorities doing anything to that end.
The Department of Food Technology and Quality Control has not considered it important to shift the quarantine post even as the import of packaged food from the northern neighbor has increased hugely, said consumer activists.
The supply of unchecked food products may have serious human health risks as these products are commonplace in Nepal, they said. The quarantine post examines the permits issued for importing the food products, monitors samples in its labs and also checks the labels on packages.
Spokesperson of DFTQC, Purna Chandra Wasti, acknowledged that food imports have gone unchecked through the sole commercial entry point from Tibet.
“There were discussions on shifting the quarantine post to Rasuwagadhi but we could not take a decision on our own as we would need a new setup for any new quarantine post,” said Wasti, adding that they are awaiting a cabinet decision.
“Setting up a quarantine post at Rasuwagadhi is urgent as imports of packaged food including fish are increasing significantly,” said Bishnu Prasad Timilsina, general secretary of Consumer Welfare Protection Forum Nepal.
“We have asked ministers and other government officials about the lack of a food quarantine post at Tatopani but they seem not to be aware about this,” said Timilsina. Such negligence is a direct risk to public health as the use of Chinese packaged foods has skyrocketed among urban dwellers and youths.
Staff of the Tatopani quarantine post can linger in Kathmandu as there is no formal trade via that route. Several other food technicians and quarantine examiners remain at home in Kathmandu and do not go to their designated postings.
Meanwhile, not all food products imported from the south are checked either. There are only three stand-alone food quarantine posts -- at Kakarbhitta, Birgunj and Mahendranagar. The extended food quarantine services under DFTQC’s regional offices are available in Bhairahawa, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj and Janakapur.
DFTQC’s proposal to set up eight other separate food quarantine posts including extended quarantine posts for the regional offices remains stuck in the cabinet. Wasti said they are awaiting cabinet approval. “Our plan is also to add four other food quarantine posts at Jaleshwar, Krishnanagar and Rasuwagadhi,” added Wasti.