After fifty five long years, the Indian Council for Medical Research has decided to lift a ban on khesari dal, banned in the year 1961 for what scientists and medical experts had then said could cause lathyrism a condition which could lead to paralysis of the lower body and even cause numbness in the limbs and spine.
However, Shantilal Kothari, a 73-year-old microbiologist and nutrition expert based in Nagpur, made it his mission to get the nation-wide ban on Khesari dal revoked.
Over the last 30 years, Kothari has been campaigning against the ban seeking its revocation. He claims that if farmers are allowed to cultivate Khesari dal, farmer suicides will reduce in the country.
Now that the ICMR has lifted the ban, will it be a game-changer of sorts for farmers as well as for domestic households in the country, which have been staring at sky-rocketing prices over the last few months?
Here’s a quick guide to khesari dal, which, for now, has a new lease of life:
* Khesari dal was so popular in India, that it was accepted as a form of payment in areas where it formed a significant part of the agricultural economy, an August 1984 report in the magazine New Scientist, claims.
* Interestingly, in 1907, following a severe drought, the Maharaja of Rewa banned the cultivation of Kesari dal.
* Also known as lakholi dal, it was earlier used as fodder, but that stopped after its harmful effects were made known by government agencies, forcing farmers to stop cultivation.
* In 1961, all state governments banned the dal, except West Bengal. Chhattisgarh, which gained statehood in 2000, did not ban it.
* In the 1970s, farmers growing khesari faced stringent action such as burning of standing crops by government officials and also seizure of pairs of bullocks.
* According to medical research, consumption of the dal could lead to lathyrism – paralysis of the lower body as well as numbness in the spine. This, because it contains di-amino-pro-pionic acid.
* However, despite the ban, the dal is still readily available across markets, and is used to adulterate other pulses.
* With the price of arhar dal shooting up to Rs 200/kg, retailers have started mixing khesari dal as it looks similar. This also ensured reduction in the price, thereby making it accessible to the economically weaker sections of society.
* In 2008, after Kothari went on a fast, the Maharashtra government lifted the ban on production, consumption and sale of the dal.
* But Kothari was not one to give up, and continued to petition the government, seeking a nation-wide revocation of the ban. After the government’s decision to revoke the ban was communicated to Kothari in December last year, he called a meeting of farmers, the first of which was held in Kuhi area of Nagpur district on January 15. The meeting saw a turnout of over 15,000 farmers.
While the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s Scientific Panel and Scientific Committee will now put the dal under intense scrutiny, before it will be allowed to hit the market legally, the production of khesari dal will continue to be watched closely. Will it be a game-changer? Only time can tell.