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A swarm of desert locusts attacked Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan on Thursday. Mumbai's lack of agricultural farmland marks it relatively safe. (ANI Photo)
A swarm of desert locusts attacked Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan on Thursday. Mumbai's lack of agricultural farmland marks it relatively safe. (ANI Photo)

Locusts no more: Mumbaikars, please open your windows

Even as social media users from across Mumbai shared images of locust spottings in the city, rumours have been debunked by entomologists and the Locust Warning Organization

Since Thursday afternoon, social media users in Mumbai were swarmed with rumours of a desert locust attack in the city.

The rumours started with with grainy images of lone-wolf locusts, standing on the floor and perched near a window. By early evening, videos surfaced of a full-blown drove of insects lurking outside high rises. Messages forwarded on WhatsApp groups and Twitter timelines spoke of locusts being spotted in all parts of the city: Juhu, Goregaon, Tardeo, Bandra, Vikhroli and Malabar Hill.

At 2.30 pm, writer Shobha De too tweeted an image of a locust perched by a window. “Welcome to Mumbai, locustji," she wrote. “Feel free to mingle with our political pests." On being contacted, De told Mint hat a friend from Tardeo had sent her the image. Her friend also claimed to have clicked it, but De added she “cannot vouch for it".

The rumours have since been roundly debunked by entomologists and authorities from the Locust Warning Organization (LWO), which functions under the Ministry of Agriculture.

Experts said that locusts have mostly been spotted in eastern Maharashtra, where the attack was documented on 26 May for the first time since 1993. Before that, the insects were documented to have ravaged farmlands in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

“No such warning has been given for the Konkan region, including Mumbai, as the wind direction will not allow their movement to the coastal city from Gujarat," KL Gurjar, deputy director of LWO, was quoted saying by Hindustan Times.

“If there was a large locust swarm, it would have been spotted by us but nothing like that has been identified by us," Sunil Kamble, scientist from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) was quoted saying in the same report.

Rajeev Mehta, general manager of Mumbai Air Traffic control, too said that no visible groups of locusts were spotted in or around the Mumbai airport. The reported sightings, he told the Times of India, might be “a small bunch of locusts that have entered Mumbai."

“If it is not a big swarm, it’s not likely to cause any significant impact on airport operations," he added.

Environmentalist D Stalin, director of the Mumbai-based NGO Vanashakti, said that even if the reports of locust sighting were true, it would hardly cause any damage to Mumbai’s ecosystem. “Mumbai has no agriculture farms. Our natural environment, of dhool-mitti (dust and grime), of pollution and humidity, are not preferred by locusts. But areas outside Mumbai like Kalyan and Virar, where there are large farmlands, might be affected."

Although highly unusual, it’s not unlikely for locusts to have entered Mumbai, he added. The reason, he said: climate change. "One can choose to keep their doors and windows shut but there’s no need to move the potted plants indoors too." Even if they entered houses, locusts were harmless, he added. “You can walk through a locust swarm without getting affected."

On 25 May, the Mumbai police had issued a directive prohibiting people from spreading false information from various social media portals. The admins of WhatsApp groups spreading rumours will be personally held responsible, the order added. It remains to be seen how the Mumbai civic body and police respond to the locust rumours.

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