TV9 Bharatvarsh, a Hindi news broadcasting channel on May 13th claimed that an unknown virus has been detected in tomatoes grown in Maharashtra and that this virus is a more dangerous version of Coronavirus.
In the broadcast which has since been taken down, it was also claimed that this new virus is transmitted to humans on the consumption of the infected tomatoes, therefore 'people would have to give up eating tomatoes for a year.'
Our readers sent us the video of the broadcast, seeking verification.
During the broadcast, the anchor can be heard saying that there is a new virus. "It is being claimed that this is a new version of coronavirus (Translated from Hindi)". She adds that this new version can be found in vegetables and that the "Tiranga virus" has taken over Maharashtra.
"Deadly Tiranga Virus in everyone's kitchen (Translated from Hindi)," a voice-over artist says in the video.
Further, Dr Ajit Nawale, General Secretary of All India Kisan Sabha has been quoted as saying that the tomato crops are under attack from a new virus across Maharashtra. However, his name was erroneously labelled as Prashant Shende.
Netizens expressed confusion and outrage over the report.
An unknown virus infecting tomatoes is linked to the coronavirus and can be transmitted to humans upon consumption.
The claim is misleading.
According to a report by Indian Express, farmers cultivating tomato in Maharashtra have complained of an unidentified disease that is causing early ripening and loss of yield of their crops.
Reportedly, the samples of affected tomato plants were sent to Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Horticulture Research on May 14, to identify an "unknown" virus wreaking havoc in the crop.
"The damage to the crop has been extensive. The plant leaves are drying up and the ripened tomatoes are developing irregular shapes and losing their sap. The crop ready for harvesting has been lost to the viral outbreak," Hindu Businessline quoted Dr Navale as saying.
None of the reports mentioned any link to the contagious Coronavirus.
A keyword search led to a video uploaded by Zee 24Taas, a Marathi news channel where Dr Navale rubbishes all connections between the virus affecting tomatoes and the novel Coronavirus.
A website called Agri News Network published a report that said that Dr BNS Murthy, Horticulture Commissioner, Department of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers Welfare (DAC&FW) has written a letter to the channel TV9 Bharatvarsh, asking them to retract the 'the baseless and scary capsule.'
"...the second part of the story that eating such fruits would cause much more complications than that of Corona virus is absurd. As of date no plant virus affecting plants has affected human beings as they lack the receptors for such an infection," the letter reads.
It is noteworthy to mention that TV9 Bharatvarsh in a report on May 15 said that people had connected a report by them to coronavirus and were spreading rumours.
According to the channel they had said no such thing in their report and the earlier report only spoke about the damage to the tomato crop faced by tomato farmers.
Appealing for legal action against the channel, the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan called out TV9 Bharatvarsh on Twitter.