Despite letter from the Indian embassy making its rounds online, prime minister and commerce minister both profess ignoranceOli and Yadav say they have not seen any correspondence from India asking that pesticide tests be recalled.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Matrika Yadav, the minister for industry, commerce and supplies, have both denied allegations of Indian pressure on the reversal of the government’s decision over pesticide testing for imported fruits and vegetables.
Addressing a Sunday meeting of parliamentarians from the Nepal Communist Party, Oli outright denied that the Indians had anything to do with the decision, said Ram Kumari Jhakri, a parliamentarian from the Communist party.
“The government did not backtrack from its decision on anyone’s pressure. I heard there was a letter from India, but where is that letter? Who has that letter? Who read it? I do not know,” Jhakri quoted Oli has having said at the meeting.
Oli was responding to criticism from his own party for backtracking from a decision to test fruits and vegetables imported from India.
Bishnu Rimal, the prime minister chief adviser, too said he had little idea about the letter.
“As far as I know, the embassy generally engages through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said. “I am not aware of whether the prime minister knew about the letter.”
Two weeks ago, the Cabinet had swiftly approved to a proposal from the Ministry of Commerce to make pesticide residue tests mandatory for fresh vegetables and fruits imported from India. Soon, hundreds of trucks laden with agricultural goods had started queuing up at the Nepal-India border as officials scrambled to performs tests. A shortage of technicians, equipment and laboratories at checkpoints meant that samples were brought to Kathmandu for tests, which took time.
In response, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu had sent a letter to the Government of Nepal to halt the pesticide residue tests and allow Indian produce to enter Nepal unhindered. On June 29, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu had sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking for clarification, along with documentation that had led to the urgent imposition of non-tariff barriers halting the trade of all vegetables and fruits, resulting in huge economic losses for Indian exporters.
According to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, the Indian Embassy had urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to advise concerned authorities to rescind the imposition of these non-trade barriers and allow the import of items on the basis of phytosanitary certificates issued by Indian agencies, as was past practice.
But despite the publication of the Indian embassy’s letter by several publications, even Yadav professed ignorance about the existence of any such correspondence.
“I do not know about any letter from India. I haven’t seen it,” Yadav said at a press conference on Monday.
Yadav instead blamed government secretaries for the ongoing fiasco.
“Government secretaries have put us in the dark. Secretaries at the Prime Minister’s Office, the Agriculture ministry, and two secretaries in my own ministry instigated me to take a decision in haste. That’s why a mistake was made,” said Yadav. “We did not have the infrastructure required to test pesticides at the border and I take responsibility for that decision.”
However, senior government officials told the Post that a Cabinet meeting on Friday had discussed the Indian embassy’s letter in detail, before deciding to take back the decision to test pesticides.
Navaraj Dhakal, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Industry and Supplies, accepted that correspondence does take place between the ministries and embassies.
“We receive dozens of letters every day, so it should not be called pressure,” said Dhakal. “The most important thing is differentiating between a pesticide test, pesticide residue and quarantine test. We have pesticides and quarantine tests at the border but there is only one pesticide residue test centre, which is in Kathmandu. So we are upgrading our infrastructure in the border.”