Oil s not well

Oil s not well Prem Chand Goyal, proprietor, BR Oil Mills in Bharatpur, Rajasthan is usually quite a phlegmatic character. But any talk of his trade is enough to ruffle his placid exterior. "My unit can crush 1,000 sacks of mustard seeds every day, but it is functioning at only half its capacity,' he says. Smaller factories are doing much worse. "The demand for mustard oil has fallen in the last few years. We are just not able to compete with imported edible oil,' rues Goyal. More than 50 per cent of India's edible oil requirements come from imports. The technology mission initiated in 1986 by the Union ministry of agriculture did ensure that the country met 97 per cent of its edible oil requirements in 1992-93. But then things took a turn for the worse in 1998.

When the slump began That year, close on the heels of a government order raising tariffs on edible oil imports, dropsy struck Delhi: 60 people died and around 3,000 fell sick. Mustard oil laced with argemone was blamed for the malady. Sale of loose mustard oil was banned, packaging increased prices, small manufacturers suffered and imports increased. The domestic mustard oil industry suffered in spite of the rise in import tariffs. It therefore smells a conspiracy in the dropsy episode. That the disease had struck in the wake of a World Bank report arguing for the liberalisation of the oil seed sector adds weight to their argument. "Why would manufacturers add poison to their products?' asks Krishan Kumar Agarwal, proprietor, Shree Om Industries

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