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Farmers refuse to give up poultry
- On the job, but far from target

Balurghat, Jan. 17: Resistance from poultry owners and fear of confrontation prevented a door-to-door culling here today, officials of the animal husbandry department said.

Reports received late in the evening said 6,000 birds had been culled. The target was around 26,500 chickens within a 5km radius of the state-run farm, where tests have confirmed the outbreak of the deadly H5N1 or the bird flu virus. In the farm, all the 1,444 birds were culled yesterday.

The South Dinajpur animal husbandry department has formed 49 rapid response teams for the purpose. Sritanu Maity, the deputy director of animal husbandry in the district, had said it took time to do the groundwork and hence the delay in starting the culling, which ought to have started yesterday.

Today, the team members claimed that there was a suppressed tension in town because of opposition from poultry owners.

“Why should we bring our chickens and ducks to you? They are fine and eating well. Besides, the compensation you are offering us is too low compared to the actual value of the birds. You are giving us Rs 30 for birds which cost Rs 100,” said a villager, echoing a common refrain in Koaron, Khidirpur, Dangi and Amritkhanda, areas located on the outskirts of the town.

A team-member on condition of anonymity said there was bound to be trouble if there was a house-to-house raid. To prevent it, the department set up camps at various places and asked people to bring the poultry there for culling.

Chicken-sellers like Bipul Laha from Koaron, however, stuck to the argument that since the infection had taken place in a closed area like the state farm, there was little chance of the outbreak spreading. But a delay in preventive action provides the H5N1 virus the opportunity to move away from its index zone — the farm where chickens might have first become infected — to neighbouring farms in the same district or even beyond.

Unlike yesterday, there was virtually no sale of chicken in town. Even eateries had removed chicken items from their menus.

Sujit Dutta, the assistant commissioner of animal husbandry at the Centre, claimed that everything was going according to plan. “There has been minor snags which are being dealt with effectively,” he said.

Around 250km away in Cooch Behar, the district administration has been instructed by the state government to send samples of droppings of migratory birds. A directive from the Centre states that the avian flu outbreak has taken place in Kurigram in Bangladesh, which is 34km from Cooch Behar.

Tapan Kumar Roy, the deputy director of the district animal husbandry department, said samples were being collected from Rasikbeel and Sagardighi.

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