Calcutta, Jan. 27: The Bengal government today showed signs of waking up to the human tragedy behind the bird flu, promising poultry owners Rs 500 each and stepping up vigil, after the virus marched into two more districts and reached the citys doorstep.
The H5N1 virus was confirmed in a Budge Budge village in South 24-Parganas, 15km from Taratala on Calcuttas southern fringe. Samples from a West Midnapore village tested positive, as did those from new blocks in Murshidabad and Cooch Behar.
The flu has spread to 13 of the states 19 districts, affecting five lakh families and running up losses of Rs 150 crore.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattachajee directed police to ensure no chickens from flu-hit areas entered the city.
Joint teams have been formed with Calcutta Municipal Corporation to monitor live birds in various city markets, health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said.
Deputy police commissioner (enforcement) Chanchal Dutta was appointed nodal officer to monitor chickens being sold in Calcutta.
Dutta will head a team that will visit marketplaces across the city. Officials will examine whether any dead or sick chickens are being sold cheap, said Vineet Goyal, deputy commissioner, headquarters.
The corporation was handed a list of 14 poultry farms from where chickens can be allowed into the city.
The government announced a one-time payment of Rs 500 to poultry owners whose birds are being culled. This will be over and above the culling compensation of Rs 40 for each backyard chicken, Rs 30 for a broiler and Rs 10 for a chick being handed out now.
In Murshidabad, six members of a culling team were arrested tonight after villagers accused them of fudging the compensation and inflating the number of birds culled. The team was allegedly getting villagers on sign on receipts for the full compensation amount but paying them less.
Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said Rs 25 crore would be needed to give Rs 500 to each family, and that the Centre would provide half the sum.
Poultry owners cannot set up new farms for three months after the culling. The government is planning to offer jobs to at least one member of each family under the rural job scheme for this period.
The Centre will also be requested to waive loans taken by poultry owners who are below the poverty line. For the rest, Dasgupta said, we will request the Centre for a long-term repayment facility.
In Maharashtra, the Centre had given a 50 per cent subsidy for buying birds and feed for new farms. Dasgupta said Bengal would ask for the same.
The flurry of announcements coincided with growing concern in the CPM over the possible fallout of the flu on the panchayat elections this summer. A backlash on this count could rub salt into the partys Nandigram and ration riot wounds in rural Bengal.
Over 12 lakh people who came in contact with the sick birds are under surveillance.
Rumours in Jalpaiguri and East Midnapore that four persons had died of the virus were dismissed by doctors.