Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gangtok police seizes 2.1 kgs of Himalayan medicinal herb

GANGTOK, July 24: Gangtok Sadar police today arrested five persons while they were trying to illegally sell 2.1 kgs of ‘Yarsa Gumba’ (Cordyceps Sinensis), a Himalayan medicinal herb famed for its aphrodisiac properties.

Police arrested Bhim Bahadur Rai (20), Pawan Pradhan (34), Bikash Gurung (27), Suk Bahadur Subba (26) and Nar Bahadur Gurung (47) in a sting operation conducted today.

Gangtok Sadar police station in-charge police inspector Tshering Sherpa told media that the police had been tipped off a group trying to peddle ‘Yarsa Gumba’ in the capital.

A decoy was sent to strike a deal with the group and after much negotiation and evasive maneuvers by the group, a deal for Rs. 2.7 lakhs per kg was struck.

When the deal was through, a police team in plainclothes led by Sherpa pounced on the group at 12:30 pm near State Guest House here and recovered the consignment. The total weight of the medicinal herbs was 2.1 kgs, said Sherpa.

It was informed that some members of the group had brought the ‘Yarsa Gumba’ from the high altitude region of Lachung in North Sikkim.

A taxi vehicle used by the group was also seized by the police.

Sherpa said that the police have informed the Wildlife authorities of State forest department about the seizure. We will hand over the consignment and the arrested persons to the wildlife authorities, who will take up the case, he informed.

State chief wildlife warden NT Bhutia said that the department will be investigating the case and registering the case under relevant Acts which includes Wildlife Protection Act and Forest Conservation Act.

Under the Acts, collection of forest produce from reserve forests, sanctuaries and national parks without prior permission is illegal and attracts penalties of fines and imprisonment depending on the degree of the crime.

For the uninformed, the particular medicinal herb which is known as ‘Yarsa Gumba’ in the Himalayan belt is also called ‘caterpillar fungus’ as the herb is half-insect and half-plant shaped like a caterpillar.

Though its medicinal properties are still to be scientifically substantiated, ‘Yarsa Gumba’ is famous in the Himalayan belt including Nepal and Bhutan for its aphrodisiac properties and is also known as ‘Himalayan Viagra’.

In Sikkim, ‘Yarsa Gumba’ is found in the high altitude areas above 8,000 ft in East and North Sikkim like Green Lake, Dzongri, Thamjey, Nathu La Pass, Doman Valley and Tholung Pass. All these areas are under the forest department.

One kg of raw caterpillar fungus used to fetch as much as 2000 US dollars a couple of years ago but its price has reportedly come down to 1500 US dollars presently.

Regulated collection and trading of ‘Yarsa Gumba’ is allowed in Nepal and Bhutan. Sikkim had also taken tentative steps last year to legalize collection of this medicinal herb from its forest areas.

The State forest department had followed the steps of its Himalayan neighbours, by legalizing the collection and marketing of Yarsa Gumba’ from the selected forest areas of the State.

Realizing that its bio revenue source has been lying untapped, the State government had on July last year framed rules for sustainable collection and trading of Yarsa Gumba’ abundantly stored in its highlands.

Only registered Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) and Eco Development Committees (EDCs) are allowed to collect the medicinal herb after due permission is obtained from the Range Officer who will issue after field verification and approval of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) of the state forest department, it had been notified. The collection was to be monitored by a forest officer not below the rank of Block Officer.

However, no collection is permitted in the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the State.

On the request of the JFMC or EDC, forest areas suitable for collection of ‘Yarsa Gumba’ was to be surveyed in the month of May every year by the state forest department in collaboration with the JFMCs and all other local self government institutions and institutions having knowledge on the medicinal herb.

After collection, the herb was to be auctioned by a committee set up by the state government with 75 percent of the proceeds going to the JFMC who have collected the ‘Yarsa Gumba’ while the remaining 25 percent will be deposited in the government revenue. However, sources inform that the initiative of the forest department could not take place this year due to objections from the villagers living in the fringe areas where the medicinal herb used to be found.

The department was told by the villagers that low production of the ‘Yarsa Gumba’ had taken place this season and hence, it was not economically viable for the collection, sources informed.

With the stakeholders themselves not interested in collection this season, the forest department had not proceeded ahead, sources said.

However, it was now also suspected that the opposition from the villagers could also have been due to the margin they had had to share with the forest department after collecting the ‘Yarsa Gumba’.

It was informed that clandestine selling of ‘Yarsa Gumba’ collected illegally from the forest areas have been going on Sikkim for a long time.

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