Mumbai: In a major breakthrough for the Mumbai police, the authorities have seized 33,000 kg of a “protected” Himalayan herb that was being smuggled into the country via sea route from China. Officials of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), western region, identified the plant as the rare “Saussurea costus”, or “kuth”, which grows only at high altitudes of 8,000-12,000 feet in very cold climate.
The drug is used variously as an aphrodisiac, in perfumes, incense sticks, ayurvedic oils and for curing asthma, arthritis, inflammation, etc. Authorities estimated the three seized consignments to be worth a few crores at least. M Maranko, regional deputy director of WCCB in Navi Mumbai, said, “The first such parcel was received at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) in Raigarh in March. The second came in April and the third in June. Together, they weighed 33 metric tonnes”, reported India Today.
The drugs were allegedly imported and smuggled from China by shopkeepers in Delhi’s Khari Baoli spice market and a drug house in Amritsar in the name of Pushkarmoola, a non-protected herb. “When the Customs alerted us, we went and checked it and found it to smell and feel like Saussurea costus instead. We sent it to the Central National Herbarium in Howrah, West Bengal, and later National Botanical Research Institute in Lucknow, for testing and they confirmed our suspicions that it is kuth,” Maranko said.
Kuth is now included in the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, Schedule VI, which covers only six plants in all, such as the pitcher plant and lady’s slipper orchid found in the Northeast. It means these plants can be cultivated, harvested or sold only under a licence from the chief wildlife warden (CWW) of the respective State and also the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has declared it a “critically endangered” plant.