India lifts ban on lentil
linked to paralysis as Modi seeks self-sufficiency
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[January 19, 2016]
By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is lifting a
five-decade-old ban on a type of lentil that has been linked to nerve
damage and paralysis, in a desperate attempt by Prime Minister Narendra
Modi to cut legume imports and make the nation self sufficient in the
Hit by back-to-back droughts for the first time in over three
decades, India's lentil output has fallen and prices have nearly
doubled. Now the government has cleared three varieties of the
khesari lentil, which can grow in dry or wet conditions.
But the opposition Congress party, which is trying to pressure Modi
over continuing rural hardship, said the government was playing with
the health of unsuspecting Indians by allowing the cultivation of
The varieties developed by Indian scientists, however, contain a
lesser amount of a neurotoxin that can damage nerve tissues and
weaken the legs of both humans and animals than previous varieties,
said Narendra Pratap Singh, director of the state-run Indian
Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR).
"The government thought if in a reasonable quantity it can be
consumed then why not allow it, particularly when there's a crisis
and we're importing pulses," said Singh.
Despite the ban placed on the lentil in 1961, khesari is still eaten
in eastern India and neighboring Bangladesh, mainly as a cheap
source of protein for millions of poor people.
"This is how the Modi government is tackling price rise - by lifting
(the) ban on a pulse that's medically proven to cause paralysis,"
Congress party spokesman RPN Singh said on Twitter.
The three varieties now allowed have been ready for the last 10
years and "various experiments on animals have shown there are no
adverse long-term effects if consumption is in reasonable quantity,"
IIPR's Singh said.
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Every year Indians consume about 22 million tonnes of lentils used
to make a thick stew called dal, commonly taken with rice or flat
bread across South Asia. About a fifth of the volume is imported
from countries like Canada, Australia and Myanmar, which grow the
legumes mainly to sell to India.
Modi wants India to be self sufficient in lentils and last month
approved a scheme to encourage greater cultivation of the legumes.
Higher incentives for water-intensive crops like wheat and rice have
made India a big grains producer at the cost of other key crops like
lentils and oilseeds.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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