KOLKATA: The border with Bangladesh in West Bengal, infamous for smuggling of fake currency notes and cattle and infiltration of ISI agents, has gained notoriety on another count - entry of a deadly fungus which has caused devastation to the wheat crop.
The "wheat blast" disease, which first struck Brazil in 1985 and some other Latin American countries destroying three million hectares of cultivation, has now invaded India, affecting wheat crop in two bordering districts of West Bengal — Murshidabad and Nadia.
"Around 800 hectares in eight blocks of the two districts of Murshidabad and Nadia have been affected by the Wheat Blast disease," state agriculture minister Purnendu Basu confirmed.
Another official in the department said that around 1,000 hectares had been affected by the disease, which was first noticed at the Jalangi block of Murshidabad district in the last week of February.
From Jalangi, it has spread to the blocks of Domkal, Raninagar-I, Nawda and Hariharpara so far and affected wheat production in more than 509 hectares of land in Murshidabad district, the official said.
"In Nadia, the disease has affected wheat production in more than 500 hectares in blocks of Tehatta-II and II, Karimpur I and II and Chapra," he said.
Basu said that the state government was burning standing crops to prevent the disease from spreading to the rest of the country.
A team from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) scientists visited the two districts and was conducting a survey jointly with state government representatives.
Last year, the fungus entered Asia for the first time through Bangladesh where in six districts wheat crop in over 15,000 hectares had to be destroyed.
In fact, after the outbreak in the southern districts of Bangladesh, the ICAR had cautioned the Centre, describing the matter as "quite serious" and suggested adoption of a strategy to fight it, Dr Jeet Singh Sandhu, Deputy Director General (Crop Science) Division of Crop Science, Krishi Bhavan, ICAR told PTI from Delhi.