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SHC seeks reply on demurrage issue of re-shipped consignments of betel nuts

SHC seeks reply on demurrage issue of re-shipped consignments of betel nuts

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) directed customs officials to file their comprehensive comments on constitutional petitions filed by different importers on demurrage charging issues on betel nuts consignments which were reshipped on direction of this court.

A two-member bench, headed by Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi, heard the matter on August 16, 2018.

During the hearing, Abdul Sattar Pirzada advocate argued that court had directed during last date of hearing to re-ship all the consignments lying at the port of betel nuts infected with high level of aflatoxins. He argued that customs officials are demanding demurrages which are higher than consignments’ price and they cannot pay such high demurrages.

During the hearing, counsel for the customs department did not satisfy the court on this issue. The court showed displeasure on that situation and directed customs’ counsel to make sure filing of their comments on next date of hearing.

It needs to be mentioned here that on last date of hearing, Salman Talib Uddin, additional attorney general, had argued that there is no chance that government would allow these dangerous betel nuts for sale in Pakistani markets because these betel nuts are infected with high level of aflatoxins and not fit for human consumption. At this stage, Sattar Pirzada argued that there is no legal binding and no notification has been issued by the federal government which described that what level of aflatoxins should be allowed. Additional attorney general argued that customs officials recommended the ministry of commerce to issue notification for what level of aflatoxins should be allowed.

After the hearing, court had directed all importers to re-ship all the consignments laying at port and Federal Government Issue notification for make standards that what level of aflatoxins would be allowed. The court had also adjourned the matter for June 27, 2018.

It needs to be mentioned here that on last date of hearing, test report declared that imported betel nuts are infected with high level of aflatoxins as compared to its admissible limit and it is important to point out that such aflatoxins  limits in betel nuts consignments are carcinogenic as well as highly hazardous for human consumption, the release of such consignments into Pakistan shall also introduce and spread invasive and alien moulds producing such aflatoxins in the country which are also destructive for domestic, agriculture, natural resources and environment.

Salman Talib Uddin, additional attorney general, had produced a test report prepared by Muhammad Sohail Shahzad, deputy director (quarantine) department of plant protection in which he submitted that on pursuant to court order dated 18/4/18, the department asked the petitioners to submit application for quarantine inspection, testing and plant protection release order (PPRO)/ biosecurity clearance of their imported betel nuts consignments.

On submission of applications by the petitioners, the authorized officers of the department made their quarantine inspection. During inspection, the consignments were found contaminated with moulds. The authorized officer of the department took the samples and one portion of the samples were submitted to Pakistan Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (PCSIR) Laboratories Complex, Karachi, Ministry of Science and Technology for detection and verification of aflatoxin and other poison produced by the invading moulds.

He further had submitted that the PCSIR Laboratory test had declared that such betel nuts samples are infected with high level of aflatoxins as compared to its admissible limit and it is important to point out that such aflatoxins limits in betel nuts consignments are carcinogenic as well as highly hazardous for human consumption and contamination requires deportation or destruction of betel nuts consignments as per rules 13 of Pakistan Plant Quarantine Rules 1967 and guidelines of international plant protection convention.