West Bengal culls one million birds to combat avian influenza

Kolkata, Jan 25 (IANS) West Bengal has met nearly half the culling target by killing over one million poultry birds in the past 10 days even as the avian influenza continues to cause havoc in the state and impact its rural economy.

With a target of killing over 2.1 million birds in nine of the 19 districts, the state government has declared that bird flu is under control and that the pace of culling operation has picked up.

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“We have killed more than one million birds by now. We hope to finish the rest in the next five days,” West Bengal Animal Resource Development Minister Anisur Rahman told IANS.

“There are an estimated 700 million poultry birds in West Bengal. Less than five percent of that is being culled,” he said.

He said 750 culling teams were involved in killing poultry birds.

Rahman said the culling operation was almost complete in Burdwan, Bankura and South Dinajpur districts.

With the culling and the flu severely affecting the rural economy, Rahman said a rehabilitation package was being worked out.

The state government has sanctioned Rs.50 million to battle the flu while the central government has disbursed Rs.35 million. West Bengal has sought Rs.80.25 million more from New Delhi.

Farmers were being given tokens at culling sites and asked to contact their panchayat or village block offices for compensation. The payment is Rs.40 for a country chicken, Rs.30 for a broiler and Rs.10 for a chick.

Many villagers, however, are unhappy with the compensation. The nine districts now in the grip of the epidemic are Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, Burdwan, Bankura, Malda, Hooghly and Cooch Behar.

With almost half of West Bengal gripped by the deadly bird flu, the state’s poultry industry says it has lost over Rs.1 billion in the past weeks owing to the spread of the virus and sluggish culling operation.

The Rs.5 billion industry in West Bengal is facing its worst ever setback, said West Bengal Poultry Welfare Association president Sheikh Nazrul Islam.

Village women who relied on poultry farming for their livelihood are devastated.

Reports from Arambag in Hooghly district said close to half the farms have shut shop since the outbreak.

B.K. Farm, the biggest farm in the area, is under the scanner of the district administration. Day-old chicks are supplied all over the country from here.

India confirmed Jan 15 the outbreak of bird flu after laboratory tests found the H5N1 strains in the dead poultry in Birbhum and South Dinajpur districts of West Bengal.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the situation in West Bengal as “serious”. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday ordered a nationwide campaign to contain the spread of the disease.

The H5N1 virus causes a type of influenza in birds that is highly contagious. It does not usually infect people unless they come in close contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.