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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 June 2006, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Indian army's new enemy is rats

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Rate in India
Hundreds of the rodents have been killed
Indian troops in the six north-eastern states of the country are used to dealing with insurgencies which over the years have exacted a bloody toll.

But now in parts of the north-east they are dealing with another adversary - an infestation of rats.

There has been a population explosion of the rodents in the state of Mizoram and in parts of Manipur.

Hordes of rats have destroyed crops and eaten tonnes of grain, generating fears of food shortages and disease.

Big threat

"The situation is serious in many parts of Mizoram and the Churachandpur district of Manipur," said James Lalsiamliana, plant protection official of Mizoram's agriculture department.

While the civil authorities in Mizoram are battling the rats themselves, in Churanchandpur the situation has become so serious that the army has been called in.

The rats are eating off the fat of the land
"Our presence in Churachandpur is substantial because the troops have been fighting the separatist insurgents there.

"Now that the rats are a bigger threat for the local communities, we are turning our efforts to fight them," said military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Santanu Dev Goswami.

He said that troops were not only helping to hunt down the rats, but were also educating the villagers on pest and rodent control.

They had also set up community farms to grow aromatic spices such as ginger and turmeric, which keep the rodents away, he said.

In danger

The sharp multiplication in the rat population is attributed to the flowering of a certain kind of bamboo crop in the north-east, which happens only once every 50 years.

The crop attracts rats, which feed on the flowers and seeds and multiply rapidly.

Their appetite is so voracious that the bamboo crop itself in danger.

In the 1960s - the last time that bamboo in the region bloomed - the damage to crops by rodents led to a famine in Mizoram, which at the time was part of the state of Assam.

Largely as a result of this, angry Mizo young men formed a separatist group, the Mizo National Front, which fought India for 20 years before an agreement in 1986 ended the rebellion.

One of the leaders of that rebellion is now Mizoram's chief minister.

Zoramthanga remembers the misery of his people during the Mautam (rat famine) and swears history will not be repeated.

"We know the danger is real and we are taking no chances," he told the BBC.

The Mizoram government is arranging for alternative crops - such as potatoes - to cover any crop failures.

Mass rat poisoning is now being undertaken in villages in the east of the state, and hundreds of rodents have been killed.

Rat boom sparks India hunger alert
04 Dec 02 |  South Asia
Bamboo puts India on famine alert
11 Oct 04 |  South Asia

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