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Delhi’s Khari Baoli spice market

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Mumbai authorities have seized 33,000 kg of an endangered species of Himalayan herb that was being smuggled via sea route from China to India. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), western region identified the herb as the rare species known as “Saussurea costus”, or “kuth”, found only at higher altitudes of 8k to 12k feet in extremely cold climate.

The herb is used as an aphrodisiac, in perfumes, ayurvedic oils and agarbattis/dhoop/ incense sticks. It is also used to cure arthritis, asthma, inflammation and others. Mumbai authority estimated the worth of the consignments to be in crores at least. One of the Officials 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.”

These consignments were allegedly imported from China by traders in Delhi’s Khari Baoli spice market and a medical store in Amritsar in the name of Pushkarmoola, which is 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,” WCCB Official reported.

Currently, Kuth is included in the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, Schedule VI, which covers six plants in total including the pitcher plant and lady’s slipper orchid found in the Northeast. So, these plants can be planted, harvested or distributed with an approval from the chief wildlife warden (CWW) of the respective State.

Futhermore, the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has declared ‘Saussurea costus” as “critically endangered” plant, which means trading  of “kuth” across the world will take place only with a CITES certificate.

WCCB official said, “As kuth is now cultivated in a very small area in Himachal, but its demand in ayurveda, the Chinese and Tibetan systems of medicine, is increasing, it is being trafficked across countries. We definitely need more experts in this field to give optimum protection to such vanishing variety of flora.”