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Shadow of suicide as bird flu spreads

Jan. 20: Bankura today became the sixth district on Bengal’s bird-flu map but the virus may have claimed its first human victim in an area still not confirmed with the disease.

Ananda Haldar, 28, was found dead beside railway tracks near his home in Malda’s Englishbazar, with his family claiming the chicken seller had been driven to suicide by falling sales.

Bird deaths have been reported over the past three or four days in Malda but the test results from the Bhopal laboratory are yet to arrive. Panic, however, has caused many to lay off chicken.

Ananda had not sold a single bird in the past five days and had been “depressed” at the family’s main source of income drying up, his elder brother Prabhat said.

“We had taken a loan of Rs 20,000 from a moneylender a week ago to stock up on broilers since the picnic season was approaching. But for the past five days we could not sell a single bird,” said Prabhat, who ran the family’s small poultry business with Ananda.

“Ananda didn’t return home last night and we were worried. Just after dawn, some neighbours began screaming that he had killed himself. We rushed out… and saw his mangled body.”

District magistrate Chittaranjan Das, however, said some officers suspected that Ananda may have met with an accident while relieving himself beside the tracks.

“The man died after being run over by a train. It’s not yet clear if this was suicide or accident,” said Swapan Dasgupta, inspector-in-charge, Government Railway Police, Malda station.

With a sixth district affected and the overall culling target raised to 6 lakh, Bengal animal resource development (ARD) minister Anisur Rahman spoke of hiring personnel from Assam. He said the number of culling teams would be raised to 400 tomorrow.

Today, some 275-300 teams worked across the state, Rahman added, explaining that there was no dramatic increase in culling figures — which bettered yesterday’s 35,000 by just 5,000 — because many farmers were observing Muharram.

“About 105 ARD personnel from Assam are arriving tonight and will form 21 culling teams,” the minister said. “We chose to bring in people from Assam because they understand Bengali better than residents of other states.”

Fresh samples have been sent to the Bhopal laboratory from Bankura, Burdwan, Hooghly, Howrah, Malda, Nadia and North and South 24-Parganas.

Today’s positive samples came from Shaltora in Bankura. The five other affected districts are Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia and Burdwan.

Prabhat said chicken traders would be hit far worse this time compared with the February 2006 scare. “During the previous scare we had somehow managed to get back on our feet.”

He said the Haldar family was made up of himself, his wife and two children, his widowed mother and a third brother, Uttam, a driver. Ananda’s mother Srabani sat in the courtyard of the tiled-roof home, wailing as she clutched a photograph of her dead son.

Officials in New Delhi said central teams were touring Bihar and Jharkhand, which share borders with Bengal, to assess their state of vigilance and preparedness.

Joint teams from the Union animal husbandry and health departments will also visit Orissa, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.


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