India importing pulses despite self-reliance

Despite the Centre's claims of not importing pulses the previous year, foreign dal still entered the country

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 12 July 2019
Various types of pulses. Photo: Getty Images
Various types of pulses. Photo: Getty Images Various types of pulses. Photo: Getty Images

The Union government has been claiming that it has not directly imported pulses but at the same time, it has made imports through private parties. In 2018-19, India imported 2.527 million metric tonnes (MT).

Union Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Danve Raosaheb Dadarao told the Lok Sabha on July 9 that the government had not imported any pulses in 2018-19. In the same written reply though, the government also put a list of countries, quantities and value of imports.

According to the documents provided by the government, 50 per cent of pulses were imported into India from Myanmar and Canada. Around 700,000 tonnes were imported from Myanmar, followed by Canada with 520,000 tonnes.

India has imported 228,000 tonnes from Mozambique, 155,000 tonnes from Russia and 118,000 tonnes from Tanzania.

“India has a memorandum of understanding with Mozambique with an import clause stating that import will be done through private parties,” an expert who follows the pulses trade, told Down To Earth  on the condition of anonymity.

“The government only regulates such import,” he added. According to the expert, India had signed deals with Mozambique in 2015 to import 750,000 tonnes of pulses over five years through private parties.

Interestingly, the imports were done despite the government putting restrictions on them. In April 2018, the government put restrictions on the import of up to 2 lakh tonnes of tur dal (spilt pigeon peas). For other kinds of pulses, restrictions were put at 4 lakh tones. The government had only allowed processors / dal mills to import stocks.

“The government restricted imports of up to 6 lakh tonnes of pulses but it was violated by traders and multi-national companies,” said Suresh Agarwal, chairman, All India Dal Miller Association, Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Traders and companies went to different high courts, where they challenged government restrictions on imports. They claimed they had already made deals for the year.

“The Madras high court was the first to put a stay on the Union government order to restrict imports. It did so for a period of 20 days in which, the traders imported pulses from Myanmar,” said Agarwal.

“Later, the court had given a further stay. At the time, 75 traders imported pulses for a different period of time on the pretext of the deals they had made during previous years,” he added.

Traders in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan also got a stay from their respective high courts and imported pulses. The Gujarat high court did not put a stay on the government order so traders there approached the Supreme Court.

In February, the apex court dismissed the petition, stating the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics had the authority to put restrictions on imports.

In April 2019, the government again put restrictions on the import of pulses, allowing only pulses mill processors to import. It put restrictions of the import of 200,000 tonnes of Tur, and 150,000 tonnes each of moong (green gram), urad (black gram) and yellow peas.

“The government put restrictions again because traders and MNCs were hoarding a large amount of pulses,” said Agarwal.

Paradox of self-reliance

India’s pulses production fell from 19.25 MT in 2013-14 to 17.3 MT in 2014-15. It further reduced due to subsequent drought years in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

In the wake of rising prices of pulses in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to Indian farmers to make the country self-reliant.

Because of increasing support price for pulses and government interventions like procurement, farmers were encouraged to grow more pulses and the country became self-reliant.

In 2016-17, the production of pulses was 23.13 MT and in 2017-18, it was 25.42 MT. The third estimate of pulses production in 2018-19 is 23.22 MT.

The total consumption of pulses in India is estimated at around 23 MT.

However, despite a spurt in the production of pulses, farmers always struggle for proper prices. This is because the government has been importing pulses from different countries, which created a further glut in the market. 

India was importing 3.17 MT of pulses in 2014. This rose to 5.8 MT in 2016. It further rose to 6.6 MT in 2017, followed by 5.6 MT in 2018. This year (2018-19), imports reduced to 2.527 MT.

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