IT IS 5 am on a mild foggy morning, but Agriculture Supervisor Manoj Kumar is already up for the day, and so is Assistant Agriculture Officer Raj Kumar — both posted at Sri Ganganagar district of Rajasthan. “Spraying has to start by 7 am and today we have to do it close to the border in 10S village of Karanpur constituency of Sri Ganganagar. The operation is to kill the ‘tiddi dal’ (swarm of locust) which has come from Pakistan and hit Rajasthan. Last night, it was sitting on the trees of 10S village,” says Manoj.
The team includes Gurvinder Singh, agriculture supervisor, M P Upadhayay, driver-cum-mechanic, with plant protection officers Vijaypal Singh, N K Mina at the spot to supervise the operation. Even Deputy Director, Agriculture, Dr G R Matoria has reached the site to ensure that everything goes according to plan.
“You need to be on the field in order to check how the operation goes on….you need to listen to the farmers’ concerns. We have been on the job since the New Year day….In most villages fogging starts at 6 am, but as it is the last village close to the border, we are doing it an hour late due to security reasons. Moreover, teams reached close to the fields after crossing a km path which is muddy and kuccha and hence wanted to travel in daylight only,” says Dr Matoria.
Rajasthan’s 12 districts have been hit by locust attack since May last year, but the worst attack started since mid-December. Over 400 employees have been pressed to work in Sri Ganganagar which is one of the worst-hit districts of Rajasthan. Just 20 feet away from the border fence, workers spray Kikar and Babool trees that stand next to fields where farmers have sown mustard, jowar, and wheat.
“We do the spraying from 6 am till 11 am and remain in a particular area till around 2 pm. We have farmer friends in every village who are connected with us on WhatsApp groups and hence they along with our local area supervisor inform us as where the swarm has rested in the evening. By the time sun sets, the pest gets tired and rests on the trees. They fly only on a sunny day. Our teams get information by 6 pm about the next spot and hence we march ahead for evening spray session which continues till 10 pm,” says Manoj Kumar, Agriculture Supervisor, who sits ready with a tractor fitted with a sprayer at its back.
“Wherever the locust rests during the night decides our next day’s operation. We do not get permission for night sprays in areas close to the border,” he adds.
For this day’s operation at 10 S village along the Indo-Pak border, farmers have come with four tractors. Tiddi Mandal staff came is in four jeeps loaded with insecticide bottles. Two fire brigade vehicles have also come along. It is 7 am and the staff has reported close to the Pak border.
Plant Protection Officer, Vijay Pal, who was left behind, has reached the spot tracking tyre impressions as phones of his colleagues were not reachable close to the border. Pal, who is posted in Amritsar, is on emergency duty for the past one month in Rajasthan.
“I have no time even to manage my clothes..I am on duty all the time,” he says.
Raj Kumar, who was in village 24 H a day before which is about 20 km away from this place, said, “Every day the team members are not the same.. You never know where the locusts will reach, hence the local staff of the area joins and few employees are given duties in the evening only as where to report the next day.”
The teams have been using chlorophripos, melathien for the sprays which kill the insect in three to four hours after the spray. As farmer Gurdev Singh, whose mustard fields are located nearby, asked for stronger medicine, Dr. Matoria, told him that “we need to take care of the environment too”.
The vehicles keep moving on the kucha path along fields and spraying trees spread over 2 km area till 9.30 am. “We want to control locusts before the sun gets to the top, but still a few getaway. Also, there are more coming from the other side,” says Manoj Kumar, adding that the team runs on two to three cups of tea during the operation and take a longer break only around lunchtime.
N K Mina, Plant Protection Officer, adds,” Though we all wear masks, many have headaches. We have asked staff to drink more fluids, eat jaggery and chana every evening. These precautions need to be taken as we are under the influence of sprays all the time.” Farmers in the area also chip in as they take medicine from the department and start the spray work on their own. “It is not a one-man job. hence it is a combined exercise. Sometimes, even BSF supports us,” says Dr. Matoria, adding that the first village that the team touched was 40 km from this spot.
There is another team at work at Dhanur village, about 5 km away from 10S. “We have to stay here for some time…You never know, where we have to go in the evening,” Raj Kumar tells as he buys some biscuits and snacks from a small kirana shop. There is news of a swarm approaching 4V village, about 10 km from Dhanur.
“In 10 S, evening spray is not possible as it the last village on the Indo-Pak border. Over 2000 acres are there in 4V village, operation begins at 6 pm and will continue till 8 pm,” declares Raj Kumar about the plans for the team for the evening. “Yesterday, they had used drones as well in few areas. It gives instant results,” says Ranjit Singh, a farmer of 4V, who was worried about the locust swarm.
As the spraying continues into the night, team members use torches to light up the area and spot the flying insects. The day ends with a plan for follow up operation at 4V and 10 S yet again. A new Tiddi Dal has, meanwhile, reached 41H village as well from across the border. “Yeh natak hai.. pata nahi kab khatam ho.. ( this is a drama.. wonder when will it end),” remarks Manoj Kumar as he heads back after a long day’s work.
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