None of the six states, affected by locust attack, have pressed into service any helicopter for the aerial spray of chemicals despite a large number of crops continuously being destroyed.
Parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are in the grip of large swarms of locust attack and alerts have been released for far more severe attacks in days to come. Despite that, locust control authorities are using either sprayer mounted on a vehicle or a drone for an aerial sprinkling.
Experts say that both the measures have their own limitations and a helicopter is the most deadly weapon against the locusts.
“There is no dearth of helicopters in the country but we don’t have Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV) spraying kit which is specially made and fitted on both sides of a helicopter,” KL Gujjar, deputy director, Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage (PPQS), said.
PPQS comes under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare and it has various sub-offices across the country.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has identified five helicopters for this purpose but in the absence of ULV kit, they are of no use as of now,” Gujjar said.
He further said, “There is only one UP-based company in the country which manufactures ULV spraying kit for helicopters but due to the lockdown they couldn’t manage spare parts to manufacture it. The company can deliver only in September.”
Experts believe that September would be too late, because, according to alerts issued by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, India will witness more severe locust attack by the end of June and in the month of July.
Sources say that the government is trying to import kits for helicopters but it hasn’t materialised yet. So, as of now, sprayer-mounted vehicle and drone are the only options.
“Even with full pressure, a sprayer-mounted vehicle cannot take the chemical for more than 15 feet high in the air. The locusts fly higher and rest on top of the tall trees of up to 30 feet of height,” GK Bunker, Assistant Director, Locust Circle Office, Bikaner, said.
Bunker added, “We take the help from fire tenders but that’s not feasible every time and at all places.”
Field officials also find drone an inefficient tool to fight against large swarms of locust.
“A drone can take 5 to 10 litre of chemicals at one go and it can fly for only 15 to 20 minutes. It needs to be recharged after that. Where you need thousands of litres of chemicals to be sprayed to control a huge population, what can a couple of drones do,” Kamal Katiyar, deputy director, agriculture, Jhansi district, said.
Katiyar adds that locusts rest at night on trees and bushes and that’s the right time to spray chemicals on them.
“We start spraying from 12 in the night and continue until the early hours. But often due to varying physical features of an area, it is difficult to reach places where they rest. So, a helicopter is the most potent weapon against the locusts,” Katiyar said.