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Police hot on trail of pigs in city

- Law-and-order force on encephalitis duty

Calcutta, July 26: Calcutta police are chasing a threat to society. Pigs, not extortionists or politicians making incriminating speeches.

Calcutta’s cops and civic officials have launched a drive to identify city pigsties and remove the animals, reservoirs of the dreaded Japanese encephalitis virus that has killed 203 people in north Bengal since January.

Catching pigs is hardly a routine police job, so Lalbazar would have been acting under instructions from very high. Joint commissioner (headquarters) Rajeev Mishra, though, wouldn’t say who had ordered the drive.

A government health official said that freeing Calcutta of pigs because of a Japanese encephalitis outbreak in north Bengal made little sense. The administration is taking no chances because of suggestions the government was slow to react to the situation in north Bengal.

Pigs are bred in slums scattered across the city but neither the Calcutta Municipal Corporation nor the police —who are helping the drive to prevent “possible law-and-order issues” — know the precise locations.

“We started identifying the spots and removing pigs today. The operation would gather steam tomorrow when more teams would fan out,” said the mayor-in-council member in charge of health, Atin Ghosh. “We are trying to work out a compensation scheme for the pig owners.”

Today, some 24 pigs were removed from a single pocket: a slum on Mirza Ghalib Street near the pork hub of New Market. The pigs belonged mostly to the civic body’s own Group D staff who live in the locality.

Some 45 civic officials and a police team led by New Market OC Tapan Paramanik arrived with two trucks. Traffic was restricted to one side as a group of civic staff, used to handling pigs, went about catching the animals.

“A pig catcher would chase an animal down and tie its feet together. It would then be lifted onto the truck,” a civic official said. “We caught pigs of different sizes, fully grown ones to piglets.”

An hour later, the pigs were driven to a spot near the Dhapa dumping ground off EM Bypass. Some of the pigs died on the way, probably owing to overcrowding. Nobody seemed to know what would be done with the animals.

A similar operation by the Bidhannagar municipality and police commissionerate netted 12 pigs in Salt Lake.

Pigs are a “host” of the Japanese encephalitis virus, which reproduces in their bodies and infects mosquitoes that bite the animals. It spills over into human populations through mosquito bites.

The National Institute of Virology, Pune, told the state government today that six of 10 blood samples — taken from north Bengal patients showing suspected symptoms and sent to it — had tested positive.

“It’s a high percentage,” an official from the Pune institute said, explaining that a 50 per cent positive result counts as an “outbreak”. “But 10 is a small number.”

The School of Tropical Medicine, Calcutta, had tested eight samples this week and found five positive.

An additional OC from central Calcutta said: “I’ve seen drives against hawkers and even illegal cowsheds, but I’d never before heard of a police drive against pigs.”

He added with a smile: “If the bosses want it, so be it.”

Civic officials said they had identified more pockets that have pigs: Bagmari in Narkeldanga, the spots below the Tollygunge railway bridge and Kalighat overbridge (close to the chief minister’s home), Canal East and Canal West Road, and the neighbourhood of the Swabhumi crossing in Narkeldanga.


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