Home » FSS ACT » Khesari dal could be answer to arhar crisis, says activist who fought ban for 3 decades

Khesari dal could be answer to arhar crisis, says activist who fought ban for 3 decades

In 2008, Kothari’s efforts had led to the Maharashtra government lifting the ban on production, consumption and sale of the khesari dal, also known as lakholi dal. It was at the end of a hunger strike over 80 days.
When the Indian Council for Medical Research lifted a ban on khesari dal after 55 years, few would have been as delighted as Dr Shantilal Kothari. For over three decades, Kothari, now 73, a microbiologist and nutrition expert in Nagpur, had made it his singular pursuit to get the ban lifted.
“I stand vindicated at last with the ICMR upholding my contention that khesari dal is absolutely safe for consumption and that the impression that it causes lathyrism (a paralysis of the legs) is scientifically misplaced,” a beaming Kothari told The Indian Express.
In 2008, Kothari’s efforts had led to the Maharashtra government lifting the ban on production, consumption and sale of the khesari dal, also known as lakholi dal. It was at the end of a hunger strike over 80 days.
Last year, he was fasting again, this time against the ban nationwide. “I explained the issue to Union minister Nitin Gadkari, who met me during my 56-day hunger strike last November and promised to look into the issue positively,” Kothari said. “I thank him for whatever he has done.”
He had begun his campaign in 1985 after touring villages in eastern Vidarbha’s paddy-growing districts that have traditionally grown khesari. The provocation was an acute shortage of pulses in the country then and he thought khesari could be the ideal alternative. “I travelled to several villages with Bapusaheb Lakhnikar, a prominent personality from Bhandara district, and spoke to people, only to find the impression of lathyrism was wrong. These villages have been eating the dal for decades,” Kothari said.
“What has been found is that when khesari is consumed as the only staple diet, about three per cent get affected. But if consumed in small quantities, it is found to have a salutary effect insofar as cardiovascular functions are concerned,” Kothari added, citing a research by former Osmania University professor S L N Rao.
What followed was several agitations and hunger strikes.
Kothari had left his job as assistant professor in G B Pant Agricultural University in present-day Uttarakhand in 1973, following a dispute with officials on the process of manufacturing soya milk from soyabean. In Nagpur he set up a soyamilk plant, which manufactures about 300 litres per day. Since then, he has pursued the khesari ban issue.
Khesari was banned by all states in 1961, except West Bengal. Chhattisgarh, which became a state later, didn’t ban it. “Farmers growing khesari faced stringent action such as burning of standing crops by government officials and also seizure of pairs of bullocks in the 1970s. It had become a source of corruption for officials as farmers continued to grow the pulse on the sly,” Kothari said.
Kothari doesn’t have a definite figure of the pulse’s production, but says, “It is grown along with rice and is very easy to grow —farmers just have to randomly throw the seeds on paddy fields. After harvesting paddy, the ban had their fields empty but earlier they used to have khesari as a second crop.” Another advantage of the pulse, he says, is it costs Rs 40-50 per kg and promises 20 per cent more production than paddy.
Kothari believes if promoted as a regular crop, about 240 lakh quintals khesari can be produced in the country and it can be a potential game-changer in situations like today’s arhar crunch. “Khesari has the potential to improve not only the biological health but also the financial health of farmers and consumers, thereby becoming a potential tool to prevent farmers’ suicide,” he said.
Kothari says Food Safety and Standards Authority of India conveyed him to him on December 28 that the ban has been lifted. He has set about encouraging farmers to grow khesari. The first meeting of farmers in Kuhi of Nagpur district on January 15 saw a turnout of over 15,000 farmers.

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