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KARACHI, Aug 3: A large quantity of infected betel nut (chalia) has once again made its way into the local market, as some importers have managed to bypass the set rules of inspection at the country of origin and at the clearance stage at the port of Karachi. “Some unscrupulous importers somehow managed to get shady inspection companies at the country of origin and also made arrangements at the clearance stage at the Karachi Port by paying illegal gratifications,” importers confided to Dawn on Tuesday.

They said that during the month of July alone around 6,200 tons of betel nut were imported, but over 70 per cent of this quantity was not fit for human consumption. The importers managed to get their infected consignments certified, as some of the world-renowned pre-shipment inspection (PSI) companies started appointing representative companies that worked on their behalf, the importers complained.

These representative companies instead of inspecting the consignments directly issue certificate of inspection on quality and quantity based on test and laboratory reports issued by the official laboratory of the country of origin, they added.

Reports suggest that most of such cases are witnessed in the consignments originating from Indonesia where representative companies are operating in violation of the set rules of inspection.

“One can not believe that the certificate issued by these companies is purchased for $100 only and they base their report on lab tests done by the government’s department of health and do not own any responsibility or liability of any sort,” a leading importer lamented.

He said that the importers of such consignments had also developed links at the local level to get their infected betel nut cleared at the customs stage without any check. “If you pay Rs55,000 per container the customs authorities would not go for physical examination of the consignment. Similarly, an equal is needed to bypass the group inspection,” he added.

However, it becomes more painful when the customs authorities in the process also harass genuine and honest importers of betel nut just to get illegal gratification, he maintained.

Inferior quality or infected betel nut is being quoted at around $500 to $550 per ton in Indonesia. It is being sold at Rs42-45 per kg in the local wholesale market. The superior quality is available at around $850 per ton in the international market.

Poor quality betel nut is mostly used in ‘gotka’ and sold at pan shops in slum areas. It is also widely used in unbranded ‘sweet supari’ and ‘pan masala’.

About three years ago, a similar issue cropped up after the customs authorities did not clear a large consignment of infected betel nut loaded in 3,000 containers. On the intervention of the CBR and a lengthy negotiation of over 19 months between the importers and customs authorities, the importers were finally allowed to re-export the consignments in order to minimize losses.

Only last June, the CBR had allowed the import of betel nut after entering into an agreement with the importers and fixing criteria, including issuance of lab test and inspection of PSI companies at the country of origin and also test samples in the country by the PCSIR and the HEJ Institute of Karachi University.

During the fiscal year 2004-05, the country imported around 47,229 tons of betel nut cleared by Karachi’s customs appraisement.

The importers believe that if appropriate measures are not taken immediately, the flow of inferior betel nut will rise. They also feel the genuine importers will be sidelined in the process as they would not be able to compete with low-priced and inferior quality betel nut.