With the seizure of 13,550 kgs of endangered lichen, a form of fungi and algae, from an herbs trader in Banke District, the police claimed to have busted a racket that was active in smuggling the plant to India a since long time.
A joint squad of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), Kathmandu and Mid-Western Regional Police Office, Surkhet raided a warehouse and arrested Mohammad Yakub Ansari aka Gobare, 53, of Nepalgunj Sub-Metropolitan City-6, Banke. Ansari is the president of Nepal Herbal Entrepreneurs’ Association.
As per the Nepal Gazette of March 10, 2011, unauthorized collection, use, trade, transport and export of the lichen to foreign land is strictly prohibited and anybody found engaging in such activities could be slapped fines and a prison term of up to a year.
According to DIG Madhav Nepal, chief of the regional police, the warehouse was raided following a tip off by a special source who claimed that a huge amount of contraband was packed in 542 sacks, ready to be exported to India. Lichen, which is found in high altitudes and has slow growth, takes about 20 years to gain maturity.
“Locals were lured into collecting the plant with the promise of good pay. The plant was then exported to foreign land showing it has legal herbals in trade documents,” DIG Nepal told Republica.
According to the police, lichen fetches Rs 1000 per kg in India.
Lichen is used in preparing testing powder, enamel, spray deadener, and special dishes in South India. It is also used for curing stereocaulon diseases.
Ansari has been sent to District Forest Office for further investigation after he was remanded to five days in custody.
Refuting the allegations against him, Ansari has stated to the police that he had received the permission from respective authorities before the ban, but could not export the plant to the destination citing various reasons.