So does government, in a rush for profits from a medicinal herb
The Maoists mean business
Did Nepali Maoist rebels make (Indian) Rs 3.15 crore last year from the trade in medicinal herb Yar Tsa Gumba (Cordyceps sinensis) in Dolpo, a mountain region in Nepal's Midwest? Yes, say local sources, quoting the figure. The government doesn't know the exact amount of profit, but it has concluded that Yar Tsa Gumba is a major source of income for the rebels. And that is why it initiated 'Operation Herb' in Dolpo in August 2004. The government deployed a special task force -- a joint force of the Royal Nepal Army, armed police, Nepal Police and the intelligence bureau -- that helped it collect around (Indian) Rs 10 lakh from this region last year. Prior to this, the government's collection record was nil.
Yar Tsa Gumba is available in the western highlands of Nepal, and in the collection season -- mid-August to mid-October -- is a major source of income for local people. The normal practice in this trade is that the exporter gives an advance to the local trader, who collects the herb from locals. Earlier, the government used to tax either the local trader or the exporter; the Maoist rebels tax both.
"The size of this business is very big, you can not calculate it just by looking at the revenue collected by the government," says an herb exporter based in Kathmandu, requesting anonymity, "It is 100 times more than the government statistics. You can sell a kilogramme (kg) of Yar Tsa Gumba for (Indian) Rs 1 lakh to an Indian trader; 1 kg contains only 300 to 500 pieces, and that is why it is easy to smuggle. And, you have to give the local collector nothing but just (Indian) Rs 20 to Rs 30." It's good profit; "that is why the Maoists are after this business," he told Down To Earth.
According to a source in Nepal's ministry for forest and soil conservation, the government has reduced the royalty it used to levy on exporters based in the Dolpo region from (Nepali) Rs 20,000 to Rs 10, 000 (Indian Rs 12,382 to Rs 6,191) per kg of Yar Tsa Gumba to promote legal business in the herb. The source says that after consulting the local administration and traders, the government is planning to reduce it to (Nepali) Rs 5,000 (Indian Rs 3,095) within a year, to further encourage local traders to do the business legally. But, as the source says, "The main aim of this policy is to reduce the income of the Maoists."
In Tinker, a small village on the India, Tibet and Nepal border, a Maoist commander named Ramesh told this reporter that they helped smugglers cross the border into Tibet and got (Indian) Rs 25, 000 per kg of Yar Tsa Gumba. "In three months we helped to smuggle 30 kg from this point to Tibet," he said.
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