Locusts reach Gondia in Maharashtra, Delhi mulls plastic cover for saplings

A swarm of locusts are seen over a farm at Fatehgarh Salla village near Beawar.. Photo: PTI
The Central government is mulling using helicopters to control locusts, as swarms of the deadly pests on Thursday moved towards Maharashtra’s Gondia district after attacking some fields in neighbouring Bhandara.

In capital Delhi, the city state's forest department said that it is considering covering the saplings in its nurseries with polythene to protect them against the desert locust attack.

In the last few weeks, swarms have moved from Rajasthan to newer areas in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, UP, Maharashtra and Punjab.

The Central government on Thursday said it has set up 11 control centres across the country to monitor the movement of locusts and could provide additional financial assistance to states to control the menace.

So far it has sanctioned nearly Rs 19 crore to states such Rajasthan, Gujarat to purchase tractor-mounted sprayers, chemicals and pesticides.

It has already ordered around 15 special chemical sprayers from England which are expected to delivered soon, while orders for another batch of 45 more sprayers has been placed. These are likely to be delivered in the next one and a half months.

It said the pests are presently stationed largely in Dausa, Sri Ganganagar, Jodhpur and Bikaner in Rajasthan, Morena in Madhya Pradesh and also Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, but are splitting and moving to newer areas.

In Delhi, the state government asked its concerned departments to spray insecticides and pesticides on standing crops, vegetation, gardens and orchards to prevent a probable attack.

The city state's forest department is also considering covering the saplings in its nurseries with polythene to protect them from the desert locust attack.

In Rajasthan, which has been the worst hit, state government officials estimated that around 90,000 hectares in 20 districts have been affected due to the locust attack. Officials said standing crop in over 4,000 hectares in Sri Ganganagar and 100 hectares in Nagaur has been destroyed, a PTI report said.

In Delhi, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Ishwar Singh said it is not possible to cover the trees, so the government is considering at least covering saplings in the nurseries.

He said covering plants with polythene can also be counter-productive during the heat and hence this measure will only be adopted when they know for sure that any swarm of locusts is headed towards Delhi.

"If we spray the vegetation, trees and plants with chemical in anticipation of a locust attack, we should also consider how dangerous it will be for the environment," Singh said. There are 1.4 million saplings in 14 government nurseries across Delhi.

In Maharashtra’s Gondia, an agriculture team rushed to Bhandara in the early hours of Thursday and sprayed pesticides with two fire tenders on trees in one-km radius in Temani village of the district, divisional joint director of agriculture Ravi Bhosle told PTI.

"When the team reached the area in the early hours, pests were seen on mango, teak, moha, jambhul, ber and other trees. Pesticides were sprayed and by morning, a large number the crop-eating pests fell from trees and died," he said.

"Mango trees were the most affected. The pests ate leaves but fruits were not damaged. Also, no damage was reported in the paddy fields," Bhonsle said.

The locust swarms were now heading eastwards, in the direction of wind, towards Tiroda tehsil in neighbouring Gondia district, the official said.

Meanwhile, in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, which has been hit by an attack by desert locust, overnight the authorities to clear swarms in Moth and Garautha areas of Jhansi along with Sonbhadra district carried out operations.

Senior officials, including those from a central team, were present during the nightlong operation and a close vigil is being maintained on further movement of locusts, officials said. Locusts had earlier attacked some parts of Jhansi district on May 22 and 24.

In Sonbhadra, a swarm of locusts reached Bemauri village in Ghorawal tehsil on Wednesday night where a team of the Agriculture Department sprayed chemicals until late night, killing a large number of insects.

District Agriculture Officer Piyush Rai said the swarm reached the village in the evening but as there were no standing crops, no damaged was done by them.

"A team from the Agriculture Department reached there at 11 pm and continued spraying chemicals till 1.30 am, killing the insects in large numbers," he added.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had issued directions to district magistrates of Jhansi, Lalitpur, Agra, Mathura, Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Mahoba, Banda, Chitrakoot, Jalaun, Etawah and Kanpur Dehat to take all necessary measures to deal with the situation.

At the state-level, teams have already been formed and control rooms established to track the movement of locusts.

India is battling the worst desert locust outbreak in recent times. The crop-destroying swarms first attacked Rajasthan and have now spread to Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

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