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The 1949 Act Modi govt could use to pull in boys above 14 to fight off locusts

The Act also has punishable provision — violation invites conviction with fine, which may extend upto Rs 50 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 days.

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New Delhi: With over two dozen states being put on alert over locust invasion, the Narendra Modi government could use the help of local youths above 14 years of age in the affected districts to fight the menace if the situation escalates.

Although the Union agriculture ministry is currently resorting to various measures like spraying pesticides, among others, to ward off the locusts, it is also looking at a legal provision to thwart off the invasion.

Senior agriculture ministry officials told ThePrint the Centre is looking at invoking the provisions of the East Punjab Agricultural Pests, Diseases and Noxious Act, 1949, if the situation turns severe.

A ministry official, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint invoking the provisions of the archaic legislation was discussed during meetings between the Centre and the states earlier this month.

Kahan Singh Pannu, Punjab agriculture department secretary, told ThePrint there is no decision to implement this Act as of now, but it might be brought in later if the situation turns worse.

“There are no substantial standing crops in farmland as of now because the kharif sowing has just begun. So there is little scope of damage and no point in implementing this Act now,” he said.

“(But) There are alerts from the Food and Agriculture Organisation about more waves of migration in July as locusts from East Africa are expected to move north and cross into India by surpassing the Arabian Sea. In July, there is a substantial amount of paddy and cotton crop standing in farmland, which will be threatened by the locust swarms and then we can utilise this Act if the situation turns severe,” Pannu added.

ThePrint reached agricultural ministry Secretary Sanjay Agarwal through email for a comment, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.

Also read: The ‘insect plague’ that’s eating crops in India & why monsoon may not bring good news

What does the Act say?

According to the Act, in the event of a locust invasion, the district authorities may call any male above 14 years of age to render all possible assistance in carrying out preventive and remedial measures in the destruction of locust.

The Act further states it shall not be necessary to notify every person individually for his services and a proclamation by the beat of drum or other customary modes in the village or locality shall be deemed sufficient notice to all affected persons residing in that village or locality.

A second agriculture ministry official, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint: “The state government (concerned) has been using this Act to declare weed as ‘noxious’, which in turn mandates that every occupier of land would take measures to eradicate this weed and prevent its spread or reappearance.

“The government may do the same to invoke the locust attack clause to bring every possible help in need, if the infestation turns from bad to worse as under the Act any male above age 14 would be duty-bound to assist in preventive or remedial measures to control the attack, failing which he is liable to be punished.”

The Act also has punishable provision for anyone who fails to render the assistance required of him to ward off the invading locusts.

Violation of the Act invites conviction with fine, which may extend upto Rs 50 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 days, and the offence shall be tried summarily as provided in section 260 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. 

Also, whoever is once convicted, if he is again convicted shall be punishable with a fine, which may extend to Rs 250 or imprisonment not exceeding one month.

At present, the primary method of controlling locust swarms is with mainly organo-phosphate chemicals applied in small concentrated doses by vehicle-mounted aerial sprayers along with knapsack and hand-held sprayers.

However, in rural areas, farmers resort to beating steel utensils during late afternoons and evenings, playing loud music at night, creating wood-fire and running the tractor inside their fields to ward off locust swarms.

Also read: Beat drums, hire DJs, bartan bajao to scare locusts away, farmers are being told

Act protects govt from legal suits

There are various other provisions under the archaic Act, which empowers authorities to ensure that a pest, plant disease and noxious weed is wiped out from a particular place. 

Under the Act, the state government may, by notification in the official gazette, appoint persons as inspectors for local areas as may be specified in the notification. Any inspector, after giving the prescribed notice, may enter any land or premises situated in the notified area within his local jurisdiction to ascertain whether there is any pest, plant disease or noxious weed on such land or premises and whether the preventive or remedial measures have been carried out. 

There is also a provision under this Act that no suit, prosecution or legal proceedings shall lie against the state government concerned or any officer of the state government in respect of anything in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or of any damage to property caused by any action taken in good faith in carrying out the provisions of this Act.

ThePrint had earlier reported the locust usually arrives annually in the July-October cycle. In the 2019-20 cropping season, around 3.75 lakh hectares of crops were devoured by locusts, with a loss of over Rs 100 crore. Also, the locusts have destroyed over 2 lakh hectares of crops in India since the beginning of May, and threaten another 6 lakh hectares of crop.

Experts attribute the current deep invasion of locusts to the fact that while rabi crops have been harvested, kharif sowing is yet to begin. The low availability of crops is leading the swarms to devour leaves on trees, and vegetable, fruit and cotton crops, and move deeper into India in search of fodder.

Also read: RSS affiliate wants India to ‘replicate’ Pakistan’s idea of turning locusts into chicken feed


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