New Delhi, Feb. 20: If the bird flu doesn’t kill the Indian poultry business, the establishment will.
Parliament, the army and both the national carriers have banished chicken from their kitchens, striking the industry at least a symbolic blow in its hour of crisis.
The government’s message to the Indian citizen, as articulated by health minister Anbumani Ramadoss last night, is: “Eat chicken, no need to panic.” The minister repeated the assurance in Parliament today.
Hours later, as he ate his lunch at the Parliament canteen, the bird stayed off his plate though it was on the day’s menu.
The Speaker, too, avoided chicken, joining Cabinet ministers, ruling coalition MPs and the Opposition in a united front against the eating of poultry, which will no longer be served from tomorrow.
“Everyone wants to eat only mutton or fish. Nobody wants to touch chicken ever since the news (of bird flu striking northern Maharashtra) spread,” a Parliament source said.
“We had made about 10 plates of chicken masala today,” a canteen source said. “I didn’t want to take a chance ' some MPs may still have wanted chicken. But believe me, only three (out of the 700 from both Houses present) did.”
Ramadoss was today joined by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who recently turned vegetarian, in assuring Parliament that eating the bird was safe. Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party colleague and civil aviation minister Praful Patel perhaps didn’t hear him.
Indian Airlines (now known as Indian) and Air-India have joined Jet Airways in banning both chicken and eggs on their flights. IA plans to go totally vegetarian from tomorrow.
The airlines and army decisions will mean substantial losses for the poultry business.
“The ration for every soldier is a little over 100 gm of meat per day,” a source said. “For the 7 lakh soldiers, it comes to about 70,000 kg, of which over 30 per cent (22,250 kg) is the demand for chicken.”
“This (the army ban) is a totally unnecessary panic reaction,” said animal husbandry commissioner S. Bandopadhyay.
Among the airlines, IA appears to have been first off the blocks but the others quickly followed suit.
Taj Sats Catering Services, in-flight caterers of Indian Hotels, said it had taken chicken and eggs off its menus for domestic and international airlines. The Taj’s clients include IA, Air-India, Jet Airways, Air France, Malaysian Airlines, Virgin Airlines, American Airlines and Singapore Airlines.
Parliament, when in session, requires about 70 to 100 chickens daily from the Ghazipur wholesale market as chicken biryani happens to be a favourite with the MPs.
“Normally, chicken dishes are much in demand. We make several different types ' chilli chicken, butter chicken, chicken masala, tandoori chicken. By evening, almost everything is cleaned up. But the situation has changed completely,” a source in the Northern Railways catering department, which serves Parliament, told The Telegraph.
Health secretary P.K. Hota said his ministry would request Parliament and the army to “revoke” the poultry ban.
The Parliament food committee is to meet in the next couple of days, but the caterers already know what its decision will be.
“I don’t think we’ll order more stocks till the panic has ebbed,” a catering official said.
The airlines held out faint hope. A senior IA official said, “We will monitor the situation for the next couple of days and decide when these items have to be brought back on the menu.’’