Nutritionist fights for lifting ‘absurd ban’ on a dalMarch 23rd, 2008 - 12:19 pm ICT by admin
By Shyam Pandharipande
Nagpur, March 23 (IANS) It was banned by the Maharashtra government more than four decades ago as it was thought to cause a kind of paralysis. But now a nutritionist is waging a lonely battle to get the ban lifted on lakhodi dal, a pulse variety, that is consumed by millions daily in the state. The state government banned the sale of lakhodi dal (Lathyrus sativus) in December 1961 following a directive from the central government based on reports that tribal farm labourers in Chhattisgarh suffered paralysis of the legs, called lathyrism, after its large-scale consumption that famine year.
The pulse, also called ‘kesari dal’ in Bihar and other parts of northern India, is widely consumed in the countryside as it is a sturdy crop. Tribal communities in several states cultivate the crop.
Now, Shantilal Kothari, president of the Nagpur-based Academy of Nutrition Improvement, is on a hunger strike to demand lifting of the “nonsensical” ban on the sale of the dal. The septuagenarian nutrition expert, who suffers from heart ailment and diabetes, told IANS he
would not call off the fast unless the state government issues an order revoking the restriction.
Kothari, who prefers to sip an extract of the lakhodi dal during the fast, said farmers continue to cultivate the pulse variety and traders continue to exploit them by buying it at throwaway prices.
According to him, the dal is sold underhand by poor farmers in Bhandara, Gondia, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli in east Vidarbha to unscrupulous traders at extremely low rates and mixed with the costly gram pulse for preparation of ‘besan’ (gram flour).
“Almost everybody in the state, including bureaucrats in the state secretariat and medical practitioners, blithely consume the lakhodi dal whenever they eat `pakora’, `wada’ or `bhujiya-sev’,” Kothari told IANS.
During the severe drought of 1960, the tribal labourers in Chhattisgarh ate the lakhodi dal almost exclusively over a long period of time as no other food crops survived. Landlords also paid wages to their bonded labourers mostly in the form of the dal leading to some of them developing the crippling disease, a study then conducted by Medico Friends Circle, a group of young doctors, revealed.
Acting on the central directive, the state government along with its several counterparts except West Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh imposed the ban on the sale of the “dangerously toxic” pulse variety while allowing its cultivation and consumption.
The state government, which passed a resolution in 2004 to lift the ban and has been seeking permission from the central government to enforce it, said that the ball is in the central government’s court.
State Food and Drugs Administration Commissioner Dhanraj Khamatkar said the government has written an urgent reminder to the central government earlier this month pointing out that the Hyderabad-based National Institute for Nutrition (NIN) has done precious little in the matter in the last two years after it was directed to conduct tests on the effects of its consumption on goats and sheep and submit a report within six months.
Food and Drugs Administration Minister Baba Siddique told members of the state assembly in Mumbai Wednesday that the state government has requested the central government twice in the last two months to expedite the matter with NIN.
“The rigmarole to find out whether it would be safe to lift the * Bangalore: started much earlier,” said Kothari, pointing out to the setting up of the Sengupta Committee in 1992 and the Mrinalini Pathak study group the following year.
“While the former committee vaguely reported rare occurrence of lathyrism among the tribal population in the lathyrus growing areas, it said there is no conclusive evidence that consumption of the pulse variety alone caused it.
The Pathak group said equally vaguely that the possibility of adverse effect of consumption of the dal cannot be denied,” added Kothari.
(Shyam Pandharipande can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tags: chandrapur, farm labourers, gram flour, heart ailment, hunger strike, lathyrus sativus, lonely battle, maharashtra government, medical practitioners, more than four decades, northern india, nutrition expert, pakora, poor farmers, septuagenarian, state government issues, state secretariat, throwaway prices, tribal communities, vidarbha