Minister Yadav says he was misinformed about the capacity of the quarantine labsThe Cabinet revoked its decision to test imported farm products for chemical residues citing lack of facilities
Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Matrika Yadav on Monday blamed the secretary to the ministry of misinforming him about the capacity of the quarantine labs at the border which forced the government to reverse its decision to test imported farm products for chemical residues.
The Cabinet had ordered last fortnight that all imported fruits and vegetables should be tested before they are allowed entry into the country. But on Thursday, the Cabinet revoked its decision citing the absence of well equipped laboratories to conduct the tests.
Speaking to the press on Monday, Minister Yadav said the ad hoc decision was the result of ‘lack of preparation and coordination among government agencies. Yadav said he took the proposal to the Cabinet without taking a close look at the documents given to him by Commerce Secretary Kedar Bahadur Adhikari. Adhikari is currently on a foreign trip.
Yadav said the Commerce Ministry had formed a committee to study the policy proposal before taking it to the Cabinet. According to Industry Secretary Yam Kumari Khatiwada, the panel consisted of the agriculture and commerce secretaries, director general of the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control and a representative of the Prime Minister's Office.
“These officials deceived me by providing false information,” said Yadav, admitting that he made a mistake.
Industry Secretary Khatiwada said that the Agriculture Ministry and the Department of Food Technology had both agreed to implementing the policy. Defending Yadav, Khatiwada said the commerce secretary has a key role to play in the decision taken by the minister.
Addressing a National Assembly meeting on Sunday, Agriculture Minister Chakrapani Khanal also tried to distance himself from the fiasco saying that his ministry came to know about the regulation only after it was published in the Nepal Gazette on June 17.
The government’s decision to rescind the order followed pressure from India. Commerce Ministry officials said they received a letter from the Indian Embassy expressing concern over the damage caused to large quantities of Indian vegetables stranded at the border due to delays in obtaining the test results.
Indian Embassy officials told the Post on Thursday that they had communicated with high level government officials regarding the issue. But Yadav expressed ignorance about any letter sent by the Indian Embassy to the Commerce Ministry. The Indian Embassy sent the letter to the ministry on June 29 calling the test requirement a ‘non-tariff measure’.
“The National Plant Protection Organisations and the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority of India have been issuing phytosanitary certificates for export of such items to Nepal that have been acceptable to Nepali authorities. Due to the re-testing requirement, vegetable trade has been halted,” the Indian Embassy said in the letter.
The country has quarantine facilities capable of testing for diseases in imported plant and animal products at 15 customs points. According to the Agriculture Ministry, 11 customs points on the Nepal-India border—Kakarbhitta, Biratnagar, Bhantabari, Jaleshwor, Malangwa, Birgunj, Bhairahawa, Krishna Nagar, Rupaidiya and Gaddachauki—have quarantine facilities.
The government maintains Rapid Bioassay for Pesticide Residue Laboratories at seven locations—Kalimati, Birtamod, Malangwa, Nepalgunj, Attariya, Butwal and Pokhara.
These labs can test for the presence of chemicals in vegetables and fruits, but they can test for only two groups of chemicals—organophosphate and carbamate—out of the more than two dozen types of chemicals mixed in farm products along the supply chain.
The ministry plans to upgrade the chemical testing laboratories and quarantine facilities which will take around 10 months, Yadav said. “The ministry will take a proposal to upgrade the labs on a fast track basis to the next Cabinet meeting,” he said.