Illegally tasty: Indian curry leaves easily available

Banned for pesticide content but brought in from Oman

More than a year after the UAE banned import of curry leaves from India, the product is easily available in the country, thanks to smuggling of the leaves from neighbouring  Oman.

Curry leaves, used in many Indian dishes, had been banned in the UAE after consignments from India were found to have more than the accepted level of pesticide.

But Indian curry leaves are available in plenty in the Al Awir Fruits and Vegetables Market, various groceries and even the big Indian supermarket chains. The leaves enter the UAE from Oman, the only GCC country that has not banned the import of Indian curry leaves.

“Indian curry leaves were banned after our inspectors found more than the accepted level of pesticide. A few shipments were regularly monitored after a serious food poisoning case in Al Qusais in Dubai in which a few children died. Our investigation found that the food last consumed by the victims had curry leaves that contained more than the allowed level of pesticide,” a municipality source told 'Emirates24|7'.

Dubai Municipality officials inspected and fined many vegetable traders for illegally selling smuggled Indian curry leaves but the trade continues to flourish.

Leading hoteliers and restaurant owners said they are not aware of the ban on Indian curry leaves and they procure it from the Al Awir market suppliers and supermarkets.

"We dont know that it is legally banned in the UAE. We get it from the Al Awir market and it is also available in supermarkets. We will check whether there is any ban on selling Indian curry leaves here," said a leading Indian hotelier.

An official from Calicut Paragon, a Indian restaurant chain in the UAE said: "We are getting curry leaves from Al Awir market and traders said it is produced in Al Ain and Oman. These curry leaves come from local suppliers in Oman and Al Ain. When we hear of a ban, we procure from local producers."

Meanwhile, the price in the local retail chains have almost doubled after the Indian ban, he said.

A box of curry leaves costing Dh150 is sold for Dh200 and Dh250 and even after paying a fine of Dh2,500, traders make good money. The Dubai Municipality issued a circular to all the inspectors at the Dubai port that with effect from June 14, 2010, the import of fresh curry leaves from India will be banned as per the Ministry of Environment and Water decision number 2010/649 of June 1, 2010.

Since then there has been no change in the government’s policy and some vegetable traders stopped import Indian curry leaves and switched to curry leaves from Sri Lanka. Between 500 kg to one tonne of curry leaves were sold in the UAE per day before the ban.

After Dubai Municipality banned import of Indian curry leaves, its price shot up in the market and traders began smuggling the leaves through Oman and mixing Indian curry leaves with the Sri Lankan variety.

“The price of a kilo of curry leaves is now Dh30 and a small packet costs Dh 3. The price was only Dh 10 per kilo before the ban. Now traders spend Dh4500 to bring one trailer of curry leaves into the UAE through the Oman border. First, they import the leaves to Oman and from there it is brought to the UAE through the land borders. The curry leaves are hidden inside the trailers and kept with other vegetables to avoid being seen by inspectors,” said a trader.

Vegetable vendors don’t sell the leaves inside their shops but keep the boxes of leaves inside parked containers or trailers to avoid being seen by health inspectors. Indian curry leaves coming to the UAE are grown in Tamil Nadu state and brought to Kerala for export through the airports there.
Since it takes four to five days for the product to reach here, traders or farmers use strong pesticides to preserve the aroma and green colour of the curry leaves.

While some grocery owners and traders are not aware of the health hazards involved, others are doing it knowingly to cater to customer demand. “Even though Sri Lankan curry leaves are available, nobody is buying it because it does not have the strong aroma of Indian curry leaves. People who are used to Indian curry leaves won’t use alternative products,” said a trader in Sri Lankan curry leaves.

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