Findings on pest menace under a cloud

The Central Island Agricultural Research Institute (CIARI), Port Blair, one of the premier institutions under the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), is in the eye of a storm over allegations of research misconduct and fabrication of scientific data on the occurrence of pollu beetle, a pest infesting black pepper.

The charges against scientists at the CIARI surfaced in a scientific paper by K.D. Prathapan of the Department of Agricultural Entomology, Kerala Agricultural University, challenging their claim to have identified the pollu beetle (Longitarsus nigripennis) as a major pest of black pepper on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

It was in 2011 that a team of researchers at the CIARI, led by Ajanta Birah, published their work in the Indian Journal of Entomology. Countering the finding, Dr. Prathapan, who is credited with the taxonomic identification of the pollu beetle as Lanka ramakrishnai, argued that three field surveys and review of literature had failed to provide evidence of the occurrence of the pest on the islands.

In his paper published in the same journal, he maintained that the CIARI had failed to produce taxonomic or photographic evidence of the beetle or any symptom of infestation on berries or leaves of pepper.

Repeated requests for permission to examine the specimens or visit the research farm of the institute to confirm the presence of the pest and its damage were reportedly turned down by the institute citing issues of copyright and intellectual property rights, he said.

Gaining traction

Dr. Prathapan’s charges gained traction with the publication of another paper in the Current Science journal on December 25, 2016, accusing the CIARI of research misconduct. Titled ‘The pollu beetle in the Andamans — Do several lies make a truth’, the paper by S. Ramani, former scientist at the National Bureau of Agricultural Insect Resources pointed out that CIARI’s recommendation to spray quinalphos, a broad spectrum nerve poison to control the pollu beetle, would harm the fragile island ecosystem and thwart any attempt to market organic pepper from the islands.

Reacting to the charges, Director, CIARI, S. Dam Roy told The Hindu that Dr. Prathapan’s conclusion was based on limited surveys and suffered from the required technical perfection to rule out the non- occurrence of the pollu beetle on the Andaman Islands. “Basically, ours was a work on pest management and not a taxonomical study,” he said.

Dr. Roy explained that the occurrence of the pollu beetle on the islands had been reported way back in 1973 by the Central Plantation Crop Research Institute, Port Blair, and confirmed last year by scientists at the Uttar Banga Krishi Viswa Vidyalaya, Bengal. The National Horticulture Mission had also identified it as a major pest affecting the pepper crop.

He, however, admits the need for a systematic study to establish the occurrence of the beetle in the islands.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 9:26:38 PM |

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