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INSECT INVASION: The red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, is swarming houses at Gandhi Ma Nagar. - Photo: K. Ananthan
INSECT INVASION: The red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, is swarming houses at Gandhi Ma Nagar. - Photo: K. Ananthan

Subha J Rao

Red flour beetle invades houses; `they emanate from FCI godown'

Coimbatore: R. Meenakshi is getting ready to set the cooker for dinner. The rice has been washed clean. And, before she can measure out the water, she sees brown insects fly through the nylon mesh-protected window and fall into the rice container. With an air of resignation, borne out of more than 12 years of putting up with these insects, this resident of the Tamil Nadu Housing Board Ganapathy Neighbourhood Scheme (TNHBGNS), near Peelamedu railway station, cleans the rice yet again before getting back to cooking.

The red flour beetle (scientific name: Tribolium castaneum) has driven Meenakshi and the residents of the 370 houses in the locality to their wits' end. These insects, which they claim emanate from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) godown nearby, are everywhere.

T. Sam Victor, a retired bank official, maintains a neat house. But, walk into his first floor home and you can see the remnants of last night's pest attack a handful of these shiny, brown insects that had invaded the cupboards and rice containers have been swept into a corner. "Insect screens and repellents are of no use.

The pests fly into every crevice. As a last resort, I now stuff newspaper into the space between the door and floor so that I can minimise the attack," he says.

Despite that, his spick and span cupboard is teeming with these insects.

The residents acknowledge that they don't fall ill because of the insects. "But, the revulsion we feel cannot be explained. They fall into every foodstuff and enter our ears and eyes. Our eyes smart for hours on end and remain red for two days," say Sumathy and G. Banumathy, residents.

The insects spare nothing. From rice to flour to bottled oil to pickles, they have infested all. The residents have tried killing the flying insects with electronic pest-control bats, but say the home smells after some time.

Banumathy, member of a self-help group, says they have agitated in front of the local FCI office and made numerable representations, but in vain. "The cell poochi (as they call the insect) still flies in," she says.

The infestation is severe in June and July. In June this year, the TNHBGNS sent a petition to the Manager, Quality Control, FCI, Peelamedu, asking him to take action to control the pest attack. But, it elicited no response.

Officials in the Coimbatore Corporation's health department say a complaint has already been received against the FCI and a public health notice served on the organisation. "The FCI assured it would set right the issue within a time frame. Now that another complaint has come in, we will take follow-up action," they say.

Sources in the FCI, on condition on anonymity, say that infestation is severe in June and July because it is the breeding season. But, they assert that pre-monsoon fumigation was taken up with a cocktail of chemicals to destroy the pests.

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