Chinsurah, March 12: The bird flu scare in Bengal claimed its first human victim today with the death of a 45-year-old poultry farmer who had drunk poison on Friday after his business collapsed.
Shantinath Mondal’s small, three-bigha poultry in Hooghly’s Arambagh had lost half its 3,000 chicken to probable Ranikhet disease; the price crash from the three- week-old avian flu scare proved the last straw.
He was taken to Arambagh hospital and then to Burdwan Medical College and Hospital, where he died this morning.
According to the poultry industry, chicken prices have crashed in Calcutta from Rs 55-60 a kg to Rs 29-32.
“We were selling as cheap as Rs 22 a kg,” Mondal’s wife Sandhya Rani said at their home in Ramnagar village, about 120 km from Calcutta. “It costs about Rs 30 to rear a bird.”
She said Shantilal was heavily in debt and was worried about how to repay his loans.
“About 1,500 chickens had died in our poultry over the past one month. My husband buried the birds in our farm but didn’t tell anyone, not even the district health authorities, out of fear that it could be bird flu. We would normally have about 3,000 birds ready for sale; but now we have only 1,000 left.”
District officials said it was probably the Ranikhet disease as the avian flu virus hadn’t been detected in any chicken in Bengal.
However, the poultry business across the state was hit ' with the smaller farms taking the brunt ' since a Bhopal laboratory on February 18 diagnosed the bird flu virus in blood samples of chickens from poultries in Navapur, northern Maharashtra.
Industry sources said the worst hit are small farmers who do not have contracts with any of the bigger companies but operate on their own.
“Around 52 per cent of the farmers are now into contract farming with the companies providing everything from day-old chicks, the feed, medicines -- even the training,” said T. Srinthi of Venkateswara Hatcheries. “Most of these farmers are assured a monthly income. For the rest, it’s difficult to survive the crisis.”
“The scare seems to be ebbing, but the industry hasn’t looked up. Since poultry is perishable, the losses have been mounting every day,” said Sameer Agarwal of Shalimar Hatcheries Limited.
“Mondal’s death is being probed but we have been told he was upset after suffering heavy losses in his business,” said Arambagh sub-divisional officer Uttam Patra.
He added that the police are investigating whether the farmer, who leaves behind three sons aged between 18 and 24, had written a suicide note.
The post-mortem will be done tomorrow. “After that, we will hand over the body to the family,” hospital deputy superintendent Manju Murshed said.