Mumbai authorities have seized a mammoth 33,000 kg of a threatened plant variety that was being smuggled into the country via sea route from China. The plant is a protected Himalayan herb and grows only at high altitudes of 8000-12000 feet in very cold climate. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) officials, western region identified the plant as the rare “Saussurea costus’ or “kuth”. The plant is used mainly as an aphrodisiac, in perfumes, incense sticks, ayurvedic oils and for curing asthama, arthritis, inflammation etc. The three consignments which have been seized are estimated 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.” The herb is a supposed sex drug.

The plant was allegedly imported from China by Delhi’s shopkeepers. The shopkeepers of Khari Baoli spice market in Delhi and a drug house in Amritsar were the importers. The herb was imported under the name of Pushkarmoola, a non-protected herb. M.Maranko said, “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,” The herb has been declared a threatened plant variety.

Saussurea costus or kuth grows across Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, parts of Pakistan and China but its wild population is almost gone and constantly diminishing. Kuth has found a place in the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, Schedule VI, which covers only six plants in all, such as the pitcher plant and the lady’s slipper orchid found in the Northeast. According to the Wildlife Protection Act these plants can be cultivated, harvested or sold only under a license from the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW) of the respective state.

These plants have been declared “critically endangered” by the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). So any import or export of the plant around the world requires a CITES certificate. Chief of the WCCB, Tilottama Verma which functions under the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, 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.”