We had to improvise solutions

Published : Feb 15, 2008 00:00 IST

Anisur Rahaman, Minister for Animal Resources Development. - SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

Anisur Rahaman, Minister for Animal Resources Development. - SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

Interview with Anisur Rahaman, West Bengal Minister for Animal Resources Development.

Anisur Rahaman, Minister

WEST Bengal Minister for Animal Resources Development Anisur Rahaman spoke to Frontline on January 24 on the steps to tackle bird flu in the State:

As of January 24, what is the situation in West Bengal as far as the spread of bird flu is concerned?

The spread of the bird flu virus has hopefully been contained. No new areas beyond the 34 blocks and four municipalities in the nine districts have been affected. Another good news is that yesterdays [January 23] poultry casualty figure from bird flu was only 1,500. The casualty figure until yesterday is around 1.18 lakh.

As far as culling is concerned, we have stepped it up significantly; yesterday alone around 2.52 lakh birds were culled. Until now, the total number of birds culled is seven lakh. Today we deployed over 900 teams and expect to cull three lakh birds, thus attaining the figure of 10 lakh; the remaining 11 lakh birds are expected to be culled in three or four days time.

Culling operations in some of the districts, such as Bankura and South Dinajpur, have been completed. Work in Bardhaman is also almost over. Birbhum and Murshidabad still remain a slight problem, but by tomorrow we shall increase the strength of the teams deployed there and hope to complete the task soon.

What is your reaction to allegations from certain quarters that the State government has been complacent and callous in its response?

This is totally untrue. As you know, the virus has affected backyard poultry. Ever since the outbreak of bird flu in Bangladesh, representatives and experts from the Centre have made repeated visits to the State to hold discussions with us. We have together held workshops, trained people, visited susceptible areas, and the State government has followed in toto the guidelines laid down.

When it started happening, first as isolated occurrences, the local people did not take much notice and report it to the proper authorities. The moment we got to know of it on January 8, we initiated action. There are procedural formalities that have to be observed; samples have to be collected properly and sent for preliminary analysis to our regional laboratory whence it has to be sent to the High Security Animal Diseases Laboratory in Bhopal. There they again do a preliminary examination and if they suspect that the results may be positive the samples undergo a confirmation test, and that takes around three more days. Then the report is sent to the Government of India, which in turn notifies it [outbreak], and only then can we issue parallel notifications. We have been pursuing the case in right earnest, but only on January 15 afternoon could we get the report. On January 16 we took all necessary steps and started the culling operations. It is ridiculous for any party to think that we have deliberately delayed the operations. If there was a slight delay it was on account of the scattered nature of the cases and the procedural formalities to be observed.

Did you face any infrastructural constraints?

Not really. We had 45,000 PPE [personal protective equipment] kits ready, and even now there has not been any crisis on that front. One problem was that the guidelines stipulated one doctor per team, but we did not have so many doctors. Accordingly, the procedure was revised by allowing one doctor to oversee more than one team. Originally, we thought that only government functionaries will conduct the operations, then we had to include volunteers also; we had to adapt the procedure to the requirements of the situation.

Then there was the problem of providing food and accommodation for the teams for an indefinite period. Besides, identifying the chickens was not an easy task. Many refused to part with their birds and had to be persuaded. Then, payment of compensation had to be arranged promptly.

As and when the problems arose we had to improvise the solutions. A lot of reports that are baseless or patently false are circulating. We dont have time to rebut all of them.

Tell us something about the awareness programme that the State government has launched.

We have involved all political parties to propagate the right message through them. We are also distributing handbills and pamphlets and organising advertisements not just in newspapers but also on radio and television. Then, we are going from door to door and street to street, announcing on microphones; we have hired non-governmental organisations working in the affected areas to spread awareness among people. It is a multi-pronged strategy involving district officials, the State Information Department and panchayat bodies.

All political parties have involved themselves in this cause. I would like to take this opportunity to send a message to all concerned, that is, to those who are working tirelessly against the menace to them, my heartfelt thanks. To those who lost their birds, my sincerest sympathies, and I would also like to request the public not to be misled by rumours and false reports.

Apart from financial compensation, do you have any long-term plans for the rehabilitation of those whose livelihoods have been affected?

We are thinking on those lines a comprehensive rehabilitation programme for the poor victims. The Chief Minister [Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee] has spoken to Sharad Pawar [Union Agriculture Minister] over phone on this matter. There are certain demands that we will be placing to the Centre.

With our limited resources, we plan the following: In the affected areas, there should not be any poultry farming for the next three months at least. After that period those who are below the poverty line or otherwise badly in need of assistance may be given some form of assistance from our resources so that they can find their feet again.

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