The poisonous and invasive parthenium, commonly known as ‘congress grass’ or ‘gajar ghas’ which has created nuisance in many parts of the world has now reached the Kullu villages where it is spreading rapidly. The weed, which is known to cause skin and respiratory diseases owing to its poisonous property, has already created havoc in many Indian states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh among others.
The congress grass grows extremely fast along the roads in many villages and kills many other flora species on its way. The weed has managed to thrive even at places where other species of weeds have not survived and cattle, too, stay away from them. According to experts, the weed needs to be removed manually with hands before it escalates and reaches the next phase. The species is harmful to humans as well as animals.
The highly dangerous and absolutely useless congress plant has been silently killing the green cover and sucking nutrition from the soil in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana as well. Because of lack of precautionary measures, the weed now covers as much as 1/4th of the land in both the states and is spreading rapidly. This has also affected yield of crops, which has come down by as much as 26-27 per cent.
If uncontrolled the grass could cover an entire area is a span of 3-4 years. The plant grows about 5-6 feet in height and can produce as many as 5,000-10,000 seeds. The seeds, which are lightweight can spread far and wide with help of wind, rain and human and cattle movement, leading to uninterrupted growth.
During the 1950s after independence, India was facing a food shortage. To mitigate this crisis, the Congress government at the centre at that time decided to import wheat from the USA. The foodgrain was obtained under the PL 480 (food for peace) programme of the USA. But the wheat that was shipped to India was of inferior quality, and it was mixed with seeds of the parthenium weed. Thus from this shipment from the USA, the dangerous weed spread in India. Spotted first in Pune, five decades down the line, it can now even be found in Andaman-Nicobar islands. It is alleged that when the weed was first spotted, the government didn’t take any step to stop its spread. For this reason, people named the weed as ‘Congress grass’, considering it as a gift of the Congress government to the nation.
In Hindi, it is called gajar ghas because the plant resembles a carrot plant.
A highly successful weed, it is difficult to get full control. The only way to get rid of it is to remove the plant with the roots before they flower and set seeds. Cassia tora (Thounam macha), a legume, can also be introduce to reduce parthenium by 28% to 30%, according to studies.