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Pig pick in JE death zone
- Overcrowding of ARD department farm spurs order to stop random capture of pigs

Siliguri, July 31: The animal resource development department has told its officials in four districts of north Bengal to pick pigs from only those areas where deaths from Japanese Encephalitis have been reported.

The instruction to the heads of the ARD department in Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Cooch Behar and Darjeeling was prompted by the overcrowding of pigs at a farm at Ramsai in Mainaguri, Jalpaiguri district.

ARD officials in north Bengal said they were confused by the order as it didn’t say specifically if pigs should be lifted from the surrounding areas of the JE death zones.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had announced last week that pigs would be picked from the four districts by the administration and if required, compensation would be paid to the owners. Employees of the ARD department and civic bodies and police were in hot pursuit of the pigs, which are the natural reservoirs of the virus that causes JE.

Most of the pigs were sent to the ARD farm at Ramsai, around 65km from here. Some of the pigs caught by civic bodies through agencies were even sold in the Northeast. Around 20 pigs died in the farm because of overcrowding.

“The indiscriminate capture of pigs was leading to the overcrowding of the Ramsai farm, where around 500 animals can be kept in healthy conditions. There are options to build makeshift pigsties in the farm where a vast stretch of land is lying unused. But to avoid the random capture of pigs and their shift to the farm, our department has ordered that henceforth, pigs be caught from areas where JE deaths have been reported,” Subhas Bose, the director of animal husbandry and veterinary sciences of the state, told The Telegraph over the phone from Calcutta.

“We are picking pigs from areas where deaths have occurred because of JE,” he added.

The order was issued by Dibakar Mukherjee, the additional secretary of the ARD department. He said chief medical officers of health of districts concerned would inform the ARD officials about the localities where people had died from JE.

Most of those who died of suspected Japanese Encephalitis were from Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts. Health officials couldn’t immediately give the area-wise break-up of the deaths.

In the order, the additional secretary mentioned that at least in Cooch Behar, officials of the ARD department had picked pigs indiscriminately.

“Deputy Director Cooch Behar is not following the instruction of the department and procuring pigs throughout the district. This may lead to chaos, lack of space at Ramsai for rehabilitation, fund crunch etc, which may lead to enormous death for the pigs....” reads the order.

“All concerned officials including the deputy director of Cooch Behar should be instructed to follow the guidelines strictly failing which stern action will be taken. No fund will be allotted for the extra pigs lifted,” says the order.

Sources said over 450 pigs had been brought to the Ramsai farm ever since the capture began.

The instruction from Calcutta has created confusion among ARD officials in north Bengal. “Earlier, we had also been told to catch pigs from the areas in the vicinity of the spots where JE deaths were reported. The latest order doesn’t say if the pigs should be picked from areas adjoining a spot where JE deaths occurred. We are confused over whether pigs should be caught only from the locality where the JE death has been reported or also from the adjoining areas,” said a senior official of the ARD department in north Bengal.

“Say, if a JE death is reported from Jayantipara of Jalpaiguri (known for piggeries), we should pick pigs from there. But it is not clear whether we need to catch pigs from adjoining areas like Pandapara or Sanskritipara,” the official added. A senior doctor at Siliguri district hospital said the order would be a blow to the drive against the spread of JE.

“It is interesting that pigs would be picked up only when JE deaths are reported in an area and not in case JE is detected among AES (Acute Encephalitis Syndrome) patients from a particular place,” the doctor said. “It is evident that if there is even one pig which is roaming in the area with the virus, it would infect people through mosquitoes. If there is no death in the area, the ARD officials and others cannot pick it.”