No locust swarm heading for Mumbai; experts rubbish theories

Updated on May 29, 2020 12:13 AM IST
Unverified photographs on social media had led to panic among Mumbaiites that a locust swarm from Gujarat was expected in Mumbai on Thursday.
A pesticide spraying drive was done at a village in Bhandara district between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.(State agriculture department)
A pesticide spraying drive was done at a village in Bhandara district between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.(State agriculture department)
Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai

The Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), which functions under the Union agriculture ministry, clarified on Thursday that there is no swarm of insects heading to Mumbai. Unverified photographs on social media had led to panic among Mumbaiites that a locust swarm from Gujarat was expected in Mumbai on Thursday.

“The invasion is restricted to parts of eastern Maharashtra, with districts in Vidarbha affected. The wind direction from Madhya Pradesh is favourable for their movement within this area and food availability in these zones. No such warning has been given for the Konkan region, including Mumbai, as the wind direction will not allow their movement to the coastal city from Gujarat,” said KL Gurjar, deputy director, LWO.

Experts, too, dissed the reports of locusts swarming the city. Entomologists said locust swarms prefer dry places and would avoid areas such as Mumbai that have excess humidity.

“Since 1pm on Thursday, I have been getting messages, images and videos of some grasshopper species from several locations in Mumbai. Many seemed fake or photoshopped,” said Sunjoy Monga, ornithologist and naturalist. “On an ecological level, although not entirely impossible, it is highly unlikely for desert locusts to swarm humid zones.”

Dr Himmat Singh, an entomologist from Rajasthan studying locusts extensively, said, “People should not panic as locusts are not a threat to humans. Also, considering large green patches over Vidarbha, where it rained during March and April, makes for a suitable habitat for them to feed on fruit trees. This is not the case in Mumbai and considering the present wind direction, it is highly unlikely that a swarm could enter the city,” he said.

Unverified videos on social media platforms made the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) insecticide department call up ward officers across the city to verify whether they had received any complaints. “Not a single complaint was recorded. We found that all videos being claimed to be from Mumbai were fake. The current wind direction over the city will not allow the pests to move over this region, and in case there was such a movement, districts further north of the city would be alerted first,” said Rajan Naringrekar, BMC insecticide officer. “Action needs to be taken against those making such false claims and the police needs to look into this at the earliest,” he added.

Dr Kailas Shinde, Palghar district collector, issued an advisory to villages bordering Palghar and Gujarat on locust swarms having reached some parts of the state. The collector advised farmers to keep a vigil in their fields at night. He also asked them to burn tyres and dig trenches to prevent the locusts from damaging the crops.

Meanwhile, at Temani village in Bhandara district, two fire tenders carried out a spraying operation across a radius of a kilometre between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. “In the morning the locusts were found falling from trees and dying in large numbers. Tree species on which they rested were mango, teak, moha, anjan, jambhul, kinhi, ber etc, with mango trees affected the most. However, no damage has been recorded across paddy fields where harvesting is underway during early mornings,” said Ravindra Bhosale, divisional joint director agriculture.

“While thousands of locusts were killed, those that survived are moving towards Gondia district, which might be the state’s fifth district (after Amravati, Nagpur, Wardha, and Bhandara) to be affected. We are still monitoring their movement,” he added.

The state agriculture department on Thursday said there was no indication of locust movement towards Mumbai. “We are constantly getting updates from the LWO and no such warning or alert has been issued for Mumbai,” said Suhas Diwase, agriculture commissioner, Maharashtra.

The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) aerodrome meteorological division in Santacruz (for civil aviation services) said there was no difference in visibility on Thursday. “If there was a large locust swarm, it would have been spotted by us,” said Sunil Kamble, scientist, IMD.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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