Interministerial group set up to tackle locust invasion across states
The Centre has set up an inter-ministerial empowered group led by the agriculture ministry to intensify measures to deal with crop-devastating locusts in six most “at-risk” states, including through the use of helicopters and more advanced drones, Union agriculture minister Narendra Tomar has said.
On recommendations of the group, the civil aviation ministry has relaxed conditions for the operation of civilian drones for locust operations, Tomar said. It has allowed the use of engine-powered drones of up to 50kg and use of drones at night for the locust control.
The empowered group, set up on Tuesday, which has representatives from helicopter operator Pawan Hans, Directorate General of Civil aviation and Air India, will serve as a command-and-control centre for decisions to control the pest that has now become endemic in Rajasthan.
Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are the most threatened states as the country heads into its summer-sown kharif crop season.
Swarms of locusts on Sunday moved further from Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr to Kasganj, Oraiyya, Farrukhabad, and Hathras after the operation to control them a day earlier when they flew over parts of the National Capital Region were ineffective
The agriculture ministry has hired five technology firms to provide advanced drones. Each firm will provide five large drones. So far, 12 drones have been deployed in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Nagaur. Drones are effective for covering tall trees and inaccessible areas. One drone can douse crops with pesticides in 16-17 hectare area in one hour. One hectare equals 2.5 acres.
According to the UN, locusts pose a “serious threat” to the country’s agriculture this year.
Desert locusts can fly hundreds of kilometres a day and one square-km swarm can eat as much crop food as 35,000 people in terms of weight in a single day, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Desert Locust Information Service manual. If unchecked, locust infestations can cause a considerable drop in food output.
In its latest update on June 28, FAO said breeding in Pakistan’s Sindh near the Indian border, the Indus Valley and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region poses a fresh threat of locust invasions into India.
On Tuesday, the agriculture minister gave the go-ahead for a Bell helicopter with spray equipment from a helipad in Greater Noida. The helicopter will be based at the air force station at Uttarlai from where it will be deployed for locust control in Barmer, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur and Nagaur.
“The government is in full preparedness. The Centre is working in full coordination with states on locust control operations,” Tomar said.
The Horn of Africa has been witnessing large breading by locusts since 2019 due to frequent cyclones possibly linked to climate change and swarms have invaded several regions from there, according to FAO.
Currently, 60 specialised teams with spray equipment-mounted vehicles and more than 200 federal personnel are engaged in locust control operations in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.