55-Year-Old Ban On Cheap Dal Khesari May Be Lifted But Questions Remain
Experts say khesari dal once widely cultivated will be mixed with other dals and sold.Panna, Madhya Pradesh:
In the drought-hit district of Panna in Madhya Pradesh, khesari dal is the main source of nutrition for 20-year-old Jayanti Malik. Ms Malik’s family owns five acres of land this year and has not sown anything except khesari Dal on almost a quarter of the land.
This is the only crop, they say, which can survive the harshest climates, ripens quickly and yields up to 500 kilos per acre. Despite these advantages, khesari was banned in 1961 because its consumption was linked to the neurological disorder lathyrism – which causes paralysis of legs.
Ms Malik told NDTV, "We consume khesari because it is a cheap source of protein and we don’t have to do much to grow it. We are not aware that it is banned and have been growing it for years. So far, no one in our family has fallen ill after consuming it."
But, now it seems that the ban on the poor man’s lentil may soon be lifted. In a reply to an RTI query, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research admitted that a research panel headed by India Council of Medical Research has proposed lifting the ban. In the new varieties of the dal, the toxicity is "negligible." The proposal is now being considered by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.
Dr S Swaminathan, Director ICMR says, "When it is cooked, there will be negligible levels of toxins. Three varieties have been released. Research has been going on for at least six-seven years."
Research agencies feel the new varieties of the dal — mahateora, ratan and prateek — can reduce nutritional deficiencies in the poor. States like Madhya Pradesh are concerned because khesari is used for food adulteration. Agriculture expert and Activist Rakesh Deewan, who in the 70s even went to the Supreme Court to ensure effective implementation of the Ban on Khesari Dal, too says that lifting the ban will lead to khesari being mixed with more expensive dal varieties.
"The research panel says that the new varieties have negligible toxicity and not zero toxicity… The effect of the toxins cannot be felt immediately after consuming khesari but after some time," says Mr Deewan.