Swirling swarms of the deadly grasshoppers have eaten up 75% of standing crops in the hardest-hit Sriganganagar district, according to assessments by officials and farmers. The other nine affected districts are Hanumangarh, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur, Jalore, Sirohi, Nagaur and Churu.
The first attacks were reported in May last year, when lakhs of pink locusts flying in from southern Pakistan damaged the kharif crop (July-Sept) in the 10 districts. Now, a major wave of fresh attacks have hit the rabi crop (October-March), leaving farmers devastated.
TOI visited at least 60 villages and hamlets in Sriganganagar and Bikaner districts to see the damage wrought by locust attacks that began a fortnight ago. Many farmers said the current attack is the biggest ever seen in the region.
Among the crops in the line of attack are wheat, gram, mustard, cumin and taramira (arugula). “Locusts are not eating the entire plant but are chewing the flowers, thereby damaging the crop,” said Shyam Somra of 20KYD village in Bikaner district.
“Rajasthan witnessed first locust attack in May 2019 and since then, everyone — including the agriculture department, Locust Control Organisation (LCO) and others — has been merely spraying pesticides. This is the biggest-ever attack. Can’t they find out why the attack is still unstoppable and uncontrollable? If breeding is happening in Pakistan, the state administration should urge the Union government to talk to their Pakistani counterparts to control it,” said Subash Sehgal of Kisan Sangarsh Samiti.
K L Gurjar, deputy director at LCO-Jodhpur, has been surveying the damage in villages of Sriganganagar and Bikaner districts. “I think the menace is under control in the state, except for Sriganganagar and Jaisalmer districts. A good monsoon, greenery and moisture have been the reasons behind the excessive presence of locusts this year. We have ample pesticides and are checking their movement to control them while they are settled in non-farming areas,” Gurjar told TOI.
Farmers alleged that for the last eight months, the state government had neither completed girdawari (cross assessment report), nor had it taken any effective measures to check the swarms of locusts coming at regular intervals.
“I have 75 bighas of land and ever since we witnessed fresh locust attack a fortnight ago, we have been spraying pesticides, playing loud music and doing everything to scare away these devils. Government authorities are merely coming and clicking pictures with their mobile phones,” said Soha Lal Bishnoi, a farmer of 12KND village in Sriganganagar.
“Almost 1 lakh hectares in Sriganganagar and nearly 2.6-lakh ha in the remaining nine districts have been affected by locust attacks. We have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged his intervention in expediting the relief process. We demand a compensation of Rs 20,000 per acre to each farmer,” said Sehgal.