How India achieved atmanirbharta in edible oils during the early 1990s?

In the early 1990s, India had achieved self-sufficiency in edible oils by focusing solely on indigenous oils. That changed after cheaper imports began to flood the market, discouraging farmers who used to plant indigenous oilseeds.

  • The late Verghese Kurien of Amul milk fame played a critical role by launching the Dhara brand when he was the chairman of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB).
  • Kurien ensured that mustard growers were paid a profitable price while ensuring price stability for consumers. Dhara was a success and became the leading edible oil brand within a few years.
  • The oil lobbies of other countries were unhappy, since imports fell by 90% by 1993. Many NDDB officials were physically assaulted and its cooperative oil mill in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, was repeatedly set on fire.
  • The brief window of self-sufficiency continued until India signed the WTO agreement in 1994 and edible oil imports were allowed by the Narasimha Rao-led government. By 1998, imports had climbed to account for 30% of consumption.
  • Coincidentally, the argemone adulteration dropsy case took place in August 1998. More than sixty people died and thousands reported sick in Delhi. Following this incident a ban was imposed on the sale of loose oil. The episode led to a permanent shift in consumer preference towards colourless and odourless solvent extracted refined oils, which are ripped off their nutritional properties of oilseeds.
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