The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sedative replaces bird stranglers

Navapur, Feb. 20: As the government continued culling chickens today, going beyond the promised 3-km radius from Navapur, upset farm owners demanded that fresh blood samples be taken to find out if the infection was indeed the avian flu.

The state government had sent the earlier samples to London for a second opinion after a Bhopal laboratory detected the bird flu virus in them on Saturday, triggering the culling drive from today.

This afternoon, a team of poultry owners led by Arifbhai Balesaria, president of the Navapur Poultry Association, met chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh as he arrived at the district headquarters, Nandurbar, for an inspection.

The farmers want the government to raise the compensation from Rs 40 per bird to Rs 110. They also requested Deshmukh to halt the culling drive till the London laboratory confirms the disease.

Balesaria refused to accept the bird flu theory and cited the February 10-11 tests by the state animal husbandry department after 1 lakh chickens died by February 10.

“The samples tested at the Western Regional Disease Diagnostic Centre laboratory at Aundh in Pune confirmed the virus to be the Ranikhet virus,” he told reporters.

“The Bhopal lab chief, Dr Pradhan, has merely said eight samples had tested positive for ‘suspected’ bird flu (and) that he would take three more days to complete the investigation and say with certainty.”

The destruction of chickens, however, continued, increasing the misery of the farmers whose business faces annihilation. Local officials couldn’t explain why the drive had been carried beyond the stipulated 3-km radius.

The government had said on Saturday that chickens would be culled at farms within 3 km of Navapur. Those within a 7-km radius beyond this would be only vaccinated and kept under watch.

At the Khaleel farm in Parangan village, 6-7 km from Navapur, Khaleel Bardolia watched helplessly as animal husbandry officials, wrapped in light-blue, gamma-radiated disposable suits, killed his 27,000 chickens through the day.

The government teams today used phenobarbitone, a sedative, for the first time in the operation. Till yesterday, the owners were themselves killing the birds with the help of farm hands. Some put the birds in gunny bags and buried them alive; some used the halal technique with the butcher’s knife; some suffocated the birds in plastic bags.

At the Khaleel farm, the cull team kept the birds thirsty from morning and then gave them water mixed with the sedative and waited for them to pass out. But a small fraction of the 27,000 chickens did.

When the officials found that the rest of the birds were still conscious, they wrung the necks of some and cut off their heads. The rest they drowned in phenyl water.

“The government has turned into a butcher,” the 56-year-old Bardolia said. “No bird deaths have been reported from farms in Parangan. We told the officials ‘do whatever tests you want; if you find an illness you are free to kill all the birds’. But they refused and went ahead with the culling.”

After killing all the birds at farms in the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation area, 2 km from the centre of Navapur, the cull teams had moved to Parangan where eight big poultry farms are located.

Set up in 1990, the Khaleel farm had 27,000 chickens, of which 21,000 were egg-laying birds. Bardolia claimed “80 per cent of my chickens are young birds who can still lay eggs. They are worth Rs 100 each. A compensation of Rs 40 per bird is too low.”

The compensation was determined on the basis of the price a bird fetches after 72 weeks when her egg-laying capacity ebbs. Chickens start laying after 20 weeks.

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