NEW DELHI: The government may look at demands for raising the import duty on edible oil gradually in a bid to incentivise farmers to grow more oilseeds locally as well as plug loopholes which allow export of edible oil routed from elsewhere via Nepal and Bangladesh into India.
Edible oil extractors have been demanding that duties on soyabean, palm and sunflower oils should be raised from their current levels of 37.5-45 per cent. However, the commerce ministry has been resisting such a move fearing that a duty hike could increase consumer prices of a produce which is essential to Indian kitchens.
However, officials agreed that a combination of incentives and duty safeguards were needed to encourage local edible oil farmers. India spent an estimated Rs 75,000 crore to import 23 million tonnes (MT) of edible oil in 2019, accounting for about 70 per cent of the oil consumed in domestic market.Also, India’s huge appetite for edible oil has resulted in peculiar situations. Palm oil imports from Nepal rose three times last financial year to 1.9 lakh tones, while import of edible oil rose five times from Bangladesh. Though this year’s edible oil demand and consumption is expected to fall given the nationwide lockdown and the adverse impact of Covid-19 on the economy, officials agree that it is time India worked on plans to rebuild its pulses and edible oil policy.
“Since the 1980s, we have not really worked out holistic plans to encourage significant increase in production of oilseeds and pulses and there is a crying need for this if we are to gain self-suficiency in food and not just foodgrains,” said officials. According to a study commissioned by the government, India has a potential of two million hectares of palm cultivation. However, the actual area under oil palm is 15 per cent.