Viewing the Locust Invasion through the Lens of Law

Agriculture with its allied sector is the largest source of livelihood in India. Almost the entire population of India is primarily dependant on this sector for their livelihood. Thus, it is no wrong in calling India as an agrarian economy. But this economy is left impaired by the invasion of the devouring swarm of locusts. Such an invasion of locusts on a wider scale is termed as a ‘locust plague’. It refers to a situation when a swarm of insects belonging to the family of grasshoppers attack the crops and thereby devastates the entire agricultural economy. The UN Food and Agriculture estimated that in a single day a locust swarm of nearly one square kilometre can eat the same amount of food as equivalent to almost 35000 people.

Reports and New headlines have stated that the havoc caused this year by the desert locusts seemed to be the worst as compared to previous years. In February this year, Pakistan has declared a nationwide emergency in light of massive desert locust plague in the eastern parts of the country. Several Indian states especially Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have already experienced the numerous upsurges caused by these locust attacks. For instance, in the month of May, the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra was struck with the worst locust attack in 46 years. Furthermore, nearly a kilometre long swarm of locusts was seen on June 11 in cities of Uttar Pradesh. Also, a five-kilometre lengthy swarm of desert locusts was sighted on June 28 bursting into Gurgaon. This blog is an attempt to look into the locust invasions through the lens of law and analyse the various legal provisions prevalent in the country to deal with such an intimidating situation. This blog also brings into light the lacunae that are present in these provisions and accordingly suggest the technical measures in combating the devastating effect.

THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK

After the Bengal famine of 1943, an inquiry commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Woodhead was appointed in the year 1944. This Famine Inquiry Commission (Woodhead Commission) in 1945 said, “As an instance of the possibility of the control of a pest over a vast area, the effective control of the desert locust, during its present cycle, may be mentioned…This warfare against the locust has been conducted by such simple means as trenching and poison-baiting.”  The report of the commission was published in 1945 which eventually led to the establishment of the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage. The Directorate apart from increasing the agricultural production attempts to minimise crop losses by adopting locust and pest control measures. It adopts such orders through the application of the Destructive Insects and Pests Act, 1914 backed by the Plant Quarantine Order (Regulation of import in India), 2003. But the Directorate administered statutes like the Destructive Insects and Pests Act (1914), its 1992 amendment, and the Insecticides Act (1968), neither of which is specific to locusts.

For locusts specifically, one should look towards the East Punjab Agricultural Pests, Diseases and Noxious Weeds Act (1949). Section 4(1)(2) of this statute mentions locusts, a section inserted in 1951: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, in the event of any area being invaded, or in danger of an invasion, by locusts, the Collector of the district or other officer authorised by him in this behalf may call upon any male person not below the age of 14 years resident in the district to render all possible assistance in carrying out preventive or remedial measures and in the destruction of locusts…It shall not be necessary to notify every person individually for his services, and a proclamation by the beating 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.” However, this provision has been subject to severe criticism because of its antiquated nature. The reason behind this is that the male residents are called for their services through a ‘a proclamation by beat of drum or other customary modes in the village or locality’ In the 21st century which is flooded with advanced modes of communication it is more feasible to reach out to the residents individually but the archaic provision remains unamended. Though the act provides a mechanism to deal with locust invasions, it does not take into account the different stages of the attack.

Each stage, be it the epidemic, the upsurge or the plague, has different requirements. Consequently, it becomes necessary for the legislator to modify this law or introduce a separate law to specifically combat locust invasions.

DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT- WHETHER THE SOLUTION?

The fundamental legislation when it comes to disaster management in India is the Disaster Management Act, 2005. However, the locust attack has again put the disaster management framework under scrutiny in India. Section 2 (e) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 defines disaster management as ‘a continuous and integrated process of planning, organising, coordinating and implementing measures which are necessary or expedient for—(i) prevention of danger or threat of any disaster; (ii) mitigation or reduction of risk of any disaster or its severity or consequences; (iii) capacity-building; (iv) preparedness to deal with any disaster; (v) prompt response to any threatening disaster situation or disaster; (vi) assessing the severity or magnitude of effects of any disaster; (vii) evacuation, rescue and relief; (viii) rehabilitation and reconstruction.’ Also in the case of N.D. Jayal v. Union of India the Supreme Court observed that “Disaster Management means all aspects of planning, coordinating and implementing all measures which are necessary or desirable to prevent, minimize, overcome or to stop the spread of a disaster upon the people or any property and includes all stages of rescue and immediate relief.”

Under section 11 of the act, a national plan has to be drawn up by the executive in consultation with stakeholders while dealing with disasters. As per the National Disaster Management Policy, 2019 a Locust control and research division has been established under the Ministry of Agriculture, and Farmers Welfare. The division conducts survey in approximately two lakh square kilometres of the Scheduled desert area in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The government also acts on warnings issued by FAO and take measures accordingly. It coordinates with the Desert Locust Information Centre to get monthly updates and holds talks with the neighbouring state of Pakistan. Furthermore, the Directorate of Plant Protection, quarantine and storage under MAFW takes all the precautionary measures to protect crops and other plants from pest invasion. Despite the fact that these departments have the above mechanisms to develop safeguards, these mechanisms are not properly implemented on the ground. During the ongoing crisis in several states, the government agencies have not been able to overcome the situation and farmers are continuing to face large scale losses. Although training programs are conducted by the Directorate, officials of the grass-root level still lack a clear understanding of how the local machinery can help the farmers who are largely left to fend for themselves.

THE WAY AHEAD

Although disaster management law attempts to address the growing threat of locusts in India through various mechanisms, there is still a lack of direction and coordination on what to do during this type of epidemic. The particular nature of the problem calls for a coordinated international response to the problem. Private parties should be encouraged to try to resolve the problem using modern technology. African scientists have already started experimenting with supercomputers to find the solution to prevent egg hatching and reduce the locust population. The Indian government must also take such a proactive measure to resolve this problem and provide the agricultural sector with the protection and security it so badly needs in its trade.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Milind Anand

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Milind is a third-year law student at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi. He has a keen interest in reading and writing about contemporary legal issues.

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