The Bihar police claim that rats consumed several thousand litres of seized liquor from their maalkhanas, or record rooms, has led to much media mirth and merriment. Years ago, a police station in Kolkata had claimed that a hanuman had broken into their maalkhana and stolen a huge cache of jewellery recovered from robbery.
While we might chuckle over such claims, rats do cause immense damage to police record rooms. Consider this: Hapless police in Karnal, Haryana reportedly hired a couple of domesticated white rats to scare away an army of rats merrily chewing its way through documents. The damage goes way beyond maalkhanas. Rats eat and contaminate thousands of tons of food stored in government godowns and trains. To the extent that a sub-clause in the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954, says “wheat, maize, jowar, bajra, rice, masoor, urad, moong, chana and arhar shall be free of adulteration, but with five pieces of rodent hair and faeces permitted” (per kilogram). When challenged, the government said that a zero-rat-excreta/hair level would be “impossible to comply with”.
Rats gnaw into the insulation of power lines, causing short circuits and fires. Field rats, apart from damaging crops, build burrows which weaken irrigation canal banks, causing unexpected floods. In 2001, after terrorist rats attacked the Parliament, India mobilised troops along the border. This involved laying and mapping minefields in sensitive locations to deter enemy incursions. In 2002, when we decided to stand down without a fight, the area had to be demined. But field rats had apparently shifted hundreds of small anti-personnel mines to their burrows. Fifty-eight civilians and a 100 soldiers were killed, while 310 others were hurt by these landmines between January 2002 and March 2004 in the three states bordering Pakistan. After causing so much death and destruction, can we really blame the rats in Bihar for wanting a drink?