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Fighters serve up message but few bite

New Delhi, Feb. 21: Bureaucrats in the health and agriculture ministries today polished off large quantities of chicken ostensibly to ease the bird flu panic, but cabinet ministers, Opposition MPs, the Speaker, the army and the two national carriers remained too scared to touch it.

An advisory sent by the animal husbandry department was not enough for Parliament and the army to revoke the ban on poultry. Joint secretary (animal husbandry) Upma Chawdhry was the lone woman, with a handful of other bureaucrats, fighting to control panic caused by reports of Parliament and the army banning chicken in their kitchens.

“I am a vegetarian. But in national interest, I will eat chicken,” Chawdhry said. Along with Indian Council of Medical Research director-general N.K. Ganguly, who heartily enjoyed his chicken, Chawdhry told the media it was “perfectly safe” to eat the bird’s meat.

The animal husbandry department later sent an advisory, along with necessary WHO documents, to urge Northern Railway ' its catering department serves the Parliament canteen, Indian Airlines and Air-India ' to immediately revoke the ban on poultry items.

However, “national interest” was not enough for parliamentarians to take chances. “I don’t eat chicken on Tuesday. Anyway, I would avoid it till it is perfectly safe,” said BJP MP Ram Kirpal Parmar.

“Why should I take any risk' If somebody has to send symbolic signals, it should be the health minister. If the health minister or the agriculture minister come and cook chicken here, I would certainly eat.”

There were some in Parliament who thought MPs should not contribute to spreading panic about the flu. “I am not against a reasonable amount of precaution but Parliament should not send panic signals.

“Poultry items should not have been banned here. If we are advising other people to feel safe enough to eat, then we should do it ourselves,” said CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta.

The BJP, said its parliamentary party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra, had not taken an “official” decision on whether or not to eat chicken in the wake of the bird flu scare.

“I don’t eat chicken on Tuesdays. Anyway, there are no directions from the party in this regard,” Malhotra said.

The chairman of the food committee in Parliament, K. Yerran Naidu, said he had “suspended” all poultry supplies till the committee comes to a decision.

“It is not such an essential food item that we cannot live without it for a couple of days. We haven’t received any advisories yet. The food committee will meet in three-four days and we would take a final call. Till then, we don’t want any chicken here,” he said.

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