//Culling teams run into defiant farm owners, Sena gives it communal twist

Culling teams run into defiant farm owners, Sena gives it communal twist

NAVAPUR (NANDURBAR), FEBRUARY 20: Officials trying to contain the bird flu virus in Navapur faced their first wall of resistance this morning. The owner of Khalil Poultry farm refused to let the official culling team into his premises, claiming that his 27,000 birds were virus-free. Eventually, the police arrived and forced their way in. The culling team followed and emptied Khalil Bardolia’s coops.

As the masked men walked away, they side-stepped the growing divide on the future of the farms and shrill debates on what is slowly turning out to be a “haphazard attempt” to contain the outbreak. They also left behind a livid Bardolia. “I have been practically begging officials to come and take samples from my birds. There have been no deaths on my farms and yet they came and murdered my stock. There was no bird flu in my farm and tests would have proved that,” he said.

With his farm within the danger zone, there was no escaping the culling. Despite the fact that they started late and were nowhere near culling their nine lakh bird target, government teams are finally gassing the remaining birds and burying them.

But everywhere the teams go, they bump into groups of protesters demanding that the entire poultry business—the majority farm owners are Muslims—be shunted out of Navapur. Dominated by Shiv Sainiks, the protesters allege that the government has given poultry farmers enough time to transport their birds out of the region.

Outside Alisha farm, the discussion lasted forever. “Kill the birds” yelled protesters while an equally agitated owner wanted to know how and where he was expected to dispose the birds with JCB machines in short supply. In Navapur’s 40 affected farms, most coops have been empty for the last two days. Everywhere teams went, the birds were gone. Contrary to state government claims of culling eight lakh birds, at the end of the day on Sunday, they had managed to cull only 20,000 birds.

“There are no birds because poultry farm owners sent out their birds much before the emergency was declared,” alleges Arun Choudhary, Shiv Sena’s district president. “Trucks carrying the sick birds have been shunted out overnight. The owners are worsening the situation, not solving it.”

Firmly believing that farm owners are “vitiating the atmosphere”, Shiv Sainiks are reaching farms before government teams to “ensure” that all birds are killed. BJP’s district secretary Anil Vasave agrees. “We have been complaining since February 7 but no action was taken. We are not against poultry farms but in favour of public health they have to be moved out, at least 10 km away from villages.”

Joining their chorus are a number of villagers. “Since December, we have been complaining to the administration about the dead birds,” says farmer Vijay Stephen Choudhary of Karanji Khurd village. “The poultry business is dirty. They kill their birds and dump them on the streets. We live in unhygenic conditions. We don’t want this industry here anymore and we have said so in many petitions to the tehsildar.” But farm owners are standing their ground and asking for help to revive their business. “Nobody can blame anybody,” says Ghulam Vohra of the Navapur poultry association. “It is unfortunate it happened and now we are looking at how to revive the industry. The worst affected are going to be the 5,600 workers directly employed in the farms.