Pigs on Sunday roam free on the Eastern Bypass of Siliguri, where a dumping ground is a stone’s throw from five educational institutions — Don Bosco School, Salesian College, Nirmala Convent, Auxilium Convent and Goodricke School for Special Education. Although the town neighbours Jalpaiguri district, which has reported the highest cases of suspected Japanese Encephalitis, effort on the ground to segregate pigs was not visible. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
July 27: A senior health official said today that 109 people lost their lives in north Bengal since January, a day after confusion over the number of deaths from suspected Japanese Encephalitis. That toll rose to 111 later in the day.
“In total, 109 people have died since January to July 26. Among them, 83 have died since July 1,” the director of health services Biswaranjan Satpathy said over phone from Calcutta. “Today, two more deaths have been reported in NBMCH,” he said.
North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb, asked about the death toll earlier in the day, said only the director of health services would speak on the figures.
Several health officials also said the director would be the only one to give the figures.
The patients who died today were Mozammel Mohammad, 59, of Harishchandrapur in Malda, and 10-year-old Tamanna Mahabodim of Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri.
Both died of what doctors term as Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, a usage to describe all cases in which tests have proved inconclusive.
“There had been some mistake in calculating the death toll,” Deb said today. The number of deaths in July were counted twice, which led to the wrong figure of 203,” he said.
He criticised Darjeeling BJP MP S.S. Ahluwalia who had said in the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital yesterday that over 200 people had died in the viral outbreak.
“The MP was here with political interests and has exaggerated the number of deaths,” Deb said.
After Ahluwalia left yesterday, hospital superintendent Sabyasachi Das, who took charge at north Bengal’s biggest medical facility yesterday, said the toll in the region since January was 203, a much higher figure than what officials had given till then.
The death count of 109 that Satpathy gave today, before the fresh fatalities were reported, is one higher than the figure cited by junior health minister Chandrima Bhattacharya yesterday.
Deb and Sushanta Banerjee, the director of medical education, said that from now, the director of health services would provide death toll to the media.
Over 400 pigs from farms in different districts of north Bengal have been brought to a farm of the state animal resource department at Ramsai in Mainaguri, Jalpaiguri.
The spot is 25km from Jalpaiguri town. But there are no instructions to officials yet on what should be done with the pigs, which if left in this farm for long would also attract mosquitoes. That would again aid the spread of Japanese Encephalitis, of which the Culex mosquito is a carrier.
“We have the capacity to keep around 500 pigs here. As of now, we will vaccinate these pigs. Arrangements have been made for their fodder by the department,” Biplab Basu, the coordinator of the farm, said.
“Some veterinary doctors have reached the farm to look after the pigs,” he added.
Yuvraj Tamang, the assistant director of the animal resource development department in Jalpaiguri, said: “As of now, there are no plans to sell the pigs. We are waiting for further instructions.”
In Siliguri town, though, there has been no drive to remove pigs that roam near garbage dumps. On a dumping ground on the Eastern Bypass of Siliguri this morning, pigs were seen foraging in the garbage barely a few hundred metres from five schools.
In Behrampore town, pigs being reared in a slum adjoining the Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital are yet to be isolated.
On Friday, officials in the animal resources department had said that pigs from piggeries in north Bengal would be isolated and tested for the Japanese Encephalitis virus.
The pigs found to be hosts of the virus would be culled.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had said that those who made a livelihood out of selling pigs would be compensated by the government.
“We will prepare a rehabilitation package for the affected later on,” she had said. Mamata had said there are 1 lakh pigs in the state.
The director of medical education, when asked why most of the deaths had been classified as Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, said doctors suspected an enterovirus outbreak could also have caused the deaths.
On July 25, The Telegraph had mentioned that experts from the National Institute of Virology, Pune, had expressed apprehension that unclean water could have caused an enterovirus outbreak.
The researchers from the Pune institute had travelled to parts of Jalpaiguri where they had found that people were drinking unclean water.
On the other hand, in Calcutta, the police have been deployed to catch pigs that are being taken to the Dhapa dumping ground, off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass that skirts the city.
In Siliguri, Opposition parties were not ready to relent on the death toll.
“There is a suppression of facts. The government has failed to handle the issue and is now creating confusion to hide the actual number of deaths. Every official and minister is giving different figures,” said Sankar Malakar, the Darjeeling district Congress president.