Greater Noida, Jun 30 (PTI) Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Tuesday flagged off a Bell helicopter with pesticide spraying equipment from a helipad here for effective control of crop threatening locusts in the worst affected areas in Rajasthan.

The country is battling locust attacks, largely in northern states. Last week, swarm of locusts reached outskirts of Delhi and even in Uttar Pradesh.

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The government is using all kinds of equipment, even modern drones and vehicles, for effective control of locusts and stopping its spread to more states, an official statement said.

After launching helicopter service, Tomar said the helicopter will fly for Air Force Station at Uttarlai, Barmer, where it will be stationed initially, and will be deployed for locust control in desert areas of Barmer, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur and Nagaur.

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The Bell 206-B3 helicopter will have single pilot operation with a pesticide carrying capacity of 250 litres in one trip, and can cover about 25-50 hectares area in one flight, he said.

An Empowered Committee had finalised the firm for deploying one helicopter for aerial spray in desert area after getting all clearances from Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Ministry of Civil Aviation.

In the statement, the Union Agriculture Ministry said that since April 11, locust control operations have been done in 2,33,487 hectares in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Bihar.      

"No significant crop losses have been reported in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Haryana. However, some minor crop losses have been reported in some districts of Rajasthan," it said.

The government said deployment of helicopter follows the need to strengthen air control capabilities for locust control through drones, helicopters and aircrafts.

"It was estimated that this year there would be greater locust problems, but the government is in full preparedness. All the state governments have been alerted and are working in close coordination with the Centre," Tomar said.

Deployment of machines, vehicles and manpower has been increased and concerned states are utilizing funds from State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) to tackle the problem, he said.

An order has been placed for five aerial spraying machines from a UK-based company, and once these are received, they will be deployed in IAF helicopters and pressed into operation for locust control, Tomar added.

Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary, Member of Parliament and former Union Minister Mahesh Sharma, and Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal were also present on the occasion.

On use of drones, the government said it has engaged five companies to provide a total of 25 drones for effective control of locusts settling on tall trees and inaccessible areas.

Till now, 12 drones have been deployed for locust control in Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Nagaur.

India has become the first country in the world to use drones for locust control after finalising the protocols. Use of drones has added one additional dimension as it is effective for tall trees and inaccessible areas, the statement said.

One drone can cover 16-17 hectares area in one hour. The Civil Aviation Ministry has relaxed norms and allowed engine-powered drones up to 50 kg and use of drones during night times for anti locust operations.

Presently, the major strategy of locust control is through 60 control teams with spray equipment mounted vehicles, and more than 200 central government personnel are engaged in such operations in states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The government said Locust Warning Organization (LWO) and ten Locust Circle Offices (LCOs) are monitoring and controlling locusts in 2 lakh square kilometer scheduled desert areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

For effective control of locusts beyond the scheduled desert areas, temporary control camps of LCOs have been established in Jaipur, Ajmer in Rajasthan, Shivpur in Madhya Pradesh, Fazilka in Punjab and Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, it added.

As per the latest update by UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), virtual meetings of technical officers of South West Asian countries (Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan) have taken place on a weekly basis to tackle the locust problem.

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