Forget bijli “(electricity), paani (water), sadak (roads).
Plagued by an explosion of rat population, farmers in West Bengal’s Sundarbans region are looking for a Pied Piper. The region may be known for the ferocious Royal Bengal Tiger but farmers are more worried about the millions of rodents that are hurting their crops.
“I lost more than 200 kg of potato and almost 120 kg of paddy last year because of these devils. We have been complaining to the district administration and zilla parishad but to no avail,” said Sanjay Saha a farmer at Lahiripur village – one of the last human habitats before the tiger territory starts.
“This time my family and I will vote for the candidate who can offer a solution.”
The problem originated from the 2009 cyclone, Aila, which disturbed the ecological balance of the region by killing thousands of snakes that kept the rat population under check.
“Rats have really become a menace in my constituency Gosaba. A few other constituencies are facing the same problem. It seems the party that can come up with a solution will earn the blessings of the villagers,” Uttam Kumar Saha, the RSP candidate of Gosaba, told HT.
A visit to the Sundarbans revealed at least five constituencies of Basanti, Gosaba, Patharpratima, Hingalganj and Sandeshkhali are hit by the rat menace.
The rodents run amok and wreak havoc in the farmlands, eating everything in their path – from paddy to potatoes.
Some have tried to eliminate the rodents using pesticides while others rely on traditional methods. They seal one end of the burrow and flood the opening to either drown the animals, or force them out into the open, where they can be killed.
“Whatever the method applied, their numbers seem unending. I killed more than 50 in just 15 hectares of a potato field just three months ago. But they have returned in greater numbers,” said Bhagyadhar Mondol a resident of Satjelia village – a village adjacent to Lahiripur.
Rats have one of the highest reproduction rates in the animal world and multiply much faster than snakes do. They produce six litters a year while snakes lay eggs just one a year.
“May–June are the breeding months for snakes. When Aila struck, snakes died in large numbers as they could hardly move with eggs inside their womb. This destroyed almost two generations. The rats, however, managed to take shelter on trees and rooftops and survived,” Pranabesh Sanyal, former chief wildlife warden of West Bengal, told HT.