'Can I have a chicken dish please'
'You want chicken! People aren't even having eggs these days, leave alone chicken'
Ordering chicken at a Writers' Buildings canteen on Wednesday may have left the man behind the counter gaping, but that didn't stop most of the chief minister's men from championing the cause of chicken.
Leading by example was the health minister. 'I've had chicken for the past two days and I plan to have it again tomorrow,' said Surjya Kanta Mishra, at Writers' Buildings.
Urging people not to panic, Mishra stressed that no case of avian flu had been detected in Bengal so far. When asked why government hospitals had stopped serving chicken to patients, Mishra clarified there had been no directive for chicken to be withdrawn from the hospital menu. 'But if patients refuse to eat it, we can't force them,' said Mishra.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the ongoing scare would subside in a few days, but there was no question of him setting the eat-chicken pace.
'I eat neither chicken nor mutton. With age, I'm drifting towards vegetarianism,' he admitted, while expressing surprise that chicken had been all but withdrawn from most Writers' Buildings canteens.
A state animal diseases emergency committee, formed on Tuesday with experts from relevant fields, has got into the act.
Animal resources development minister Anisur Rahaman continued to back the cause of chicken in the times of flu fear. 'There's no harm in eating chicken,' he stressed.
In the past four days, 215 out of 93,200 birds have died at Arambagh Hatcheries, the minister clarified, pegging the mortality rate at a 'normal 0.14 per cent'.
The poultry industry on Wednesday recorded a sales slump of 40 per cent, against 50 per cent of the last two days. 'But unless consumer confidence is regained, there is no hope,' said P.K. Roy, managing director of Arambagh Hatcheries. For that, the industry has set up a sub-committee and sent a detailed report to the government mentioning all the firms from where hatching eggs are sourced.