Of all the villages nestling in the Shivaliks, Mirzapur is the one that has again been invaded by thousands of millipedes. These 'vegan' creatures are crawling all over, including kitchens, toilets, walls, living rooms, in a replay of July 2013 when the invasion had first besieged this picturesque village overlooking Mirzapur dam. What has compounded the woes is the district administration passing the buck and leaving the villagers to their fate.
A few families, including that of former sarpanch Gurcharan Singh, have evacuated their kids from the village since the millipedes are toxic if consumed and give off a nauseating odour if killed. "The entire day we are sweeping 'ghumaar' out of our homes or flushing them with water or dosing them with pesticides/kerosene. They fall in our cooking utensils and spoil cattle feed. When the sun comes out, they are less, but the invasion peaks in humidity,'' a housewife, Nimmo, told HT.
One of the prime reasons could be lack of hygiene. The dam's catchment area is a mess of weeds and congress grass. Mirazpur's streets are splattered with buffalo dung and plant matter lies rotting all over. Nobody seems interested in cleaning the streets and common areas.
Entomologist and former head of zoology department, Panjab University, Prof Neelima R Kumar is convinced that a "significant ecological change has been effected in the Mirzapur area that has led to the millipede population explosion".
"The availability of rich organic matter is a definite factor for their over-breeding. Manuring of fields with dung also contributes. Changes in villagers' lifestyle and agricultural/cultural practices are likely to have triggered the ecological disturbance in the Mirzapur area. Millipedes are often found in monsoons, but not in the kind of numbers that Mirzapur is facing,'' added Prof Kumar.
Karnail Singh, the brother of former Mirzapur sarpanch Gurcharan Singh, has been busy ringing up different officials. "They are all saying 'speak to another department' or tackle the problem yourself. I spoke to the health department and the doctor said since the millipedes are coming from forests, it is a matter under the forests and wildlife department." said Karnail.
In July 2013, Mirzapur had witnessed the millipede invasion for the first time. It was of an even more catastrophic dimension as compared to the current influx. Ajitgarh deputy commissioner TPS Sidhu had directed that "geologists" be consulted to find a solution to the problem. However, when asked on Friday, Sidhu said, "Moisture seems to be behind the invasion. I will direct my officials to take action and help out the villagers.''
Sidhu admitted that no study had been undertaken by the administration since 2013 to determine why Mirzapur alone was afflicted by the millipedes.
Mirzapur is one of the most picturesque villages of Punjab, commanding awesome views of the sprawling check dam and located on high ground wedged between verdant hillocks. The situation is tricky: as long as the millipedes are alive, they neither smell, nor bite, though they do typically "repulse with their hairy looks". Toddlers even play around with these creatures. But when killed with sprays, they raise a noxious stink that blends with insecticide fumes and leads to villagers suffering headaches and breathlessness. But if not killed, the sheer numbers of millipedes make human life inhospitable. Some of the villagers, in fact, opposed the killing of millipedes, saying these were "holy armies of devtas and devis"!