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Tackling wheat blast: Bengal government bans wheat cultivation within 5 km of B’desh border

Wheat blast had affected crop in Nadia and Murshidabad districts of West Bengal earlier this year and the state administration is on the alert because in 2016 the fungus destroyed crop spread over 20,000 hectares in Bangladesh.

kolkata Updated: Jul 19, 2017 16:59 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times
Bengal,Bangladesh,Wheat Blast
Wheat being destroyed in Nadia district in 2016 after the wheat blast fungus infected the crop.(Suvankar Chakraborty)

The Mamata Banerjee government has issued an order banning wheat cultivation within five km from the Bangladesh border. The direction has been prompted by an advice from the Centre to avoid the deadly wheat blast disease, the fungus of which travelled to some bordering villages earlier this year and posed the threat of spreading throughout the country.

The fungus has become the latest menace after fake currency notes and infiltrators that enter India through the Bangladesh border.

Bangladesh has a 4,096-km border with India of which 2,217 km is with West Bengal.

Read: Fungus sees wheat crops in Bengal go up in flames as govt controls its spread

“We are in constant talks with agriculture scientists for this purpose. But unless a lasting solution is available, banning wheat cultivation is the only option,” West Bengal agriculture minister, Purnendu Bose, told HT.

Wheat blast is a deadly virus that devastated the wheat production of Brazil for the first time in 1985. In 2016, the fungus entered Asia for the first time, creating havoc in Bangladesh where crops of over 20,000 hectares in six districts had to be burnt. Subsequently, it travelled to the West Bengal districts of Murshidabad and Nadia. Experts said cattle straying into India from Bangladesh can be a carrier of the fungus.

A farmer helplessly stares at his crop after setting the field on fire in Nadia district. (Suvankar Chakraborty)

Alarmed that it may find its way into the wheat bowl of north India, the state government tried to tackle it on a war footing and ordered burning of wheat crops in March this year.

The agreement to ban cultivation was reached at a meeting between the officials of the Union agriculture ministry and Bengal agriculture department in New Delhi on June 27, following which the state government issued the order on July 15.

Read: Ground Zero: Farmers stare helplessly as govt race against time to contain spread of ‘wheat blast’ like symptoms

The minister said that about 800 hectares of land in Murshidabad and Nadia districts will come under the ban. “The crop on this land in the two districts had to be burnt to control the spread of the disease. The state government also paid compensation to the wheat farmers following the loss,” he said.

During 2016- 17, the state government paid around Rs 4 crore to the wheat farmers to compensate for their loss. “The government paid a total compensation of about Rs 4.10 crore. The rate was Rs 1,625 per quintal, which is the minimum support price of wheat,” said a state agriculture official.

Bose also said the government is now trying to trying to decide which crops can be cultivated as an alternative to wheat in these areas.

First Published: Jul 19, 2017 16:59 IST