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Bird flu spreads to more districts; culling targets increased

Special Correspondent

South 24 Parganas and Paschim Medinipur have been struck

Health authorities prepared to meet any eventuality: Minister

The total loss is estimated at more than Rs. 150 crore

KOLKATA: Parts of two more districts, South 24 Parganas and Paschim Medinipur, have been struck by avian flu that has now spread across blocks spanning 13 districts of West Bengal — well above half the total number in the State.

Fears in Kolkata

With two of its adjoining districts, South 24 Parganas and Howrah, having been affected fears of the disease spreading to Kolkata heightened on Sunday. Surveillance in markets selling chickens and poultry products in the city has been intensified and vigil against any movement of birds from the affected areas into Kolkata stepped up.

So far 15.75-lakh poultry birds have been destroyed. Reports of fresh outbreak in new areas keep pushing upwards the targets set for culling. More than 1.25-lakh birds have died of the disease.

It is expected that the previous target of culling 22-lakh birds — nearly four per cent of the total poultry bird population in the State — will be met “within a day or two,” said Anisur Rahaman, Minister for Animal Resources Development.

No humans have been affected by the virus and the health authorities are prepared to face any eventuality, said Health Minister Surya Kanta Mishra.

Economic spin-offs

The economic spin-offs are grim. The total loss suffered directly and indirectly because of the avian flu outbreak is estimated at more than Rs. 150 crore.

The earnings of more than 5-lakh families, whose livelihood depends largely on the sale of poultry birds and eggs, have been seriously affected. Their businesses are to remain suspended for the coming three months, according to guidelines.

During this period it has been decided that each of the families will be provided a one-time relief of Rs. 500 for which Rs. 25 crore [to be borne jointly by the Centre and the State] will be required, according to State Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta.

The State’s share is being released immediately.

Dr. Dasgupta said the government would try to compensate the entire loss and, with assistance from the Centre, would be looking at providing funds to the affected families through loans and government subsidies. Plans to provide them alternative employment under the National Rural Employment Programme were also being worked out.

As for culling operations, Rs. 17 crore is required of which the Centre should be providing half the amount. The State government has released Rs. 8.5 crore and the Centre has so far provided Rs. 3.5 crore.

“Determine the source”

“It is the Centre’s responsibility to determine the source of the virus which has led to the avian flu outbreak in the State and we shall be asking it to do so,” Mr. Rahaman said.

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