People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 04, 2008
BIRD FLU SPREAD STOPPED, CULLING GOES ON
FOR the people of Bengal, the words ‘bird flu’ meant a panic, an alarm, a threat to human lives. For the larger poultry farms and much the more numerous backyard poultry farmers, and the lakhs upon lakhs of women-run self-help groups, the onset of the dreaded H1N5 virus signified an economic disaster of massive proportions. For the state government, measures to counter the spread denoted a task of very large and unwieldy proportions and for two reasons.
As Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) and an MP from Bengal Brinda Karat has recently pointed out, unlike in other states, where the state governments would only have the concentrated zones of big poultry farms to reckon with, in Bengal, poultry is a household phenomenon with the backyard and the front yard overwhelmingly dominant of the poultry especially the koeling, chick and duckling rearing scenario. Thus, execution of any amount of control on the spread of the flu has to be done not on any fixed or updated database but on search-and-find operations. A vast amount of human resources is necessary for the entire cascade of tasks.
Second, at the micro level, the affection and bonding that the Bengali poultry farmers and kisan households have for the birds has always been an ingredient of opposition to culling—itself a cruel if necessary process. There are always pockets of dogged if desperate, even tearful resistance to the culling teams as the rural folk are loathe to witness their ‘pets’ and their major sources of income, being taken away. Panchayat workers are often required to step in towards an amelioration of feelings on both sides. When the scions of the corporate media speak glibly of ‘incompetence’ and calls upon the Bengal government solicitously to follow the example of other states, of other countries even, they are expectedly out of touch with grounds realities, as usual.
The relief package was recently announced by the finance minister Dr Asim Dasgupta, the health minister Dr Surjya Kanta Mishra, and by the animal resources development minister Anisur Rahaman.
Every poultry farmer affected would be given an ad hoc quantum of Rs 500 in view of the fact that there could be no rearing / farming of poultry for the next three months.
At the end of the three-month-period, all farmers would be given necessary loan components at easy interest rates to help them start the poultry farming afresh—those under in the BPL category would be given subsidies in place of loan components.
Each self-help group (most are run by women in Bengal) would be supplied free-of-cost ten large birds of high breed variety, and a subsidy of 50 per cent on bird feed would be forthcoming: the union government has been called upon to underwrite this later component of the subsidy package.
The families who have lost their all would be immediately associated with REGA until they are able to get back to poultry farming.
The ministers have also released figures about the extent of the bird flu and the damage it has caused. Slightly over 4 per cent of the total population of poultry in Bengal (which stands at six crore) has been affected by the bird flu. Five lakh families and households have been affected financially because of the flu. There has been no instance of people being affected by the bird flu.
The total cost of the package announced would be Rs 25 crore: the union government was being written to towards bearing 50 per cent of the expenses at an early date. Rs eight crore has been allocated for culling operations with the central government supposed to provide a concomitant amount, Rs five crore of which is yet to be forthcoming.
Contrary to what was circulated in the local and the all-India media, the Bengal government had sprung to action the day it had received news of the H1N5 having been found in some chicks and ducklings during a routine random testing. Earlier, 26 districts of the neighbouring Bangladesh were under attack of the virus. The virus in all probability infiltrated from the neighbouring country to Bengal. Culling started from the morning of 16 January itself, a mere four hours after the test results were known.
The ministers admonished the media for spreading baseless if panic-laden rumour about the ‘uncontrolled spread’ of the flu, dropping heavy hints via ‘reportage’ and traducing op-ed pieces, that Kolkata and Howrah would ‘soon be affected.’ Anisur was clear in pointing out that poultry from 14 well-established farms in Bengal was eminently edible and quite safe, as was the poultry of the districts where there has been no attack of the flu. Anisur also disclosed plans of setting up a high-efficiency laboratory in Kolkata for testing poultry for diseases including the H1N5 virus.
Elsewhere Mamata Banerjee, increasingly marginalised even amongst her hard-core supporters, and slightly off-centre lately, has made another of her non sequitor comments that the ‘bird flu has been man-made,’ hinting darkly that it is another instance of the CPI (M) conspiring against people who would not vote for them.