UCHCHAAL, FEBRUARY 19: As Gujarat Animal Husbandry department officials, wearing masks and special protection suits, watch from a respectable distance, 10 labour hands in lungis and vests use bare hands to bring out the birds from a poultry farm in Uchchaal, just 1.5 km from Navapur, and dump them in a pit.
As the feathers fly, the officials retreat further, pressing kerchiefs to their already masked faces. The labour hands and the farm owner, Mohammed Ashrafi stand near the pit, keeping a count of the birds being culled. That in a nutshell is how Gujarat’s border with Navapur is responding to the outbreak of avian flu.
The Shabani Farm, one of the three largest farms in Uchchaal, is within the 3 km radius of Navapur. The WHO Action Plan on bird flu states that all birds within that radius will have to be culled and birds between 3 km and 10 km radius must be vaccinated.
While this is being done as a precautionary measure, assuming that even these birds might be carrying the virus, awareness levels about the flu and its effects is dismally low, not just among poultry farmers and labourers but officials too.
Many here still believe it’s just another outbreak of Ranikhet which strikes poultry from time to time and wonder what the new fuss is all about.
At the Asian Farm, 30,000 birds have to be culled early Monday morning by labourers with bare hands. Ditto for the Timol farm. Most villagers have never heard of the bird flu. The control room in Surat for information on bird flu only provide phone numbers of government veterinary doctors. When you call up Dr D B Gornia, government veterinary doctor in-charge of Surat, and ask him about the flu, he tells you to call the control room.
Even Mohammed Ashraf, the poultry farm owner, has no idea of the risk he runs and questions the culling. Scared by the visits of Health and Animal Husbandry teams, he agreed to dig a pit in his garden and bury the birds. “I am not sure why they are doing this. Navapur is 1.5 km from here and not a single bird in my farm has died of sickness. So why are they killing them?” he asks.
With word of the inspection teams spreading, farm owners have been selling chicken at throwaway prices. Munnabhai and Sattarbhai of Uchchaal both bought three birds each from one of the farms. “What disease? We got these birds very cheap. Just Rs 90. There will be a feast for a week,” says Munnabhai who trades in wholesale tobacco.