India Intelligence Report

   Culling of 70,000 birds begins

The Government dispatched several Rapid Response teams to cull 70,000 birds as a precautionary measure to check the spread of the dreaded H5N1 virus in a 10-kilometer radius around Jalgaon covering 173 villages.  Sixty teams with 4-5 members each have been deployed to cull the birds. Revealing this plan, State Chief Secretary D.K. Sankaran insisted that there are no human cases of infestation but that the state, if necessary, will provide adequate medical care for the 1 million humans in the area.

State Animal Husbandry Minister Anees Ahmed sought to contain panic and calm the people saying “the situation is under control” and reiterated that chicken cooked at 70 degrees or more is safe for consumption as the heat will kill the virus.

Most of the chicken in the area are backyard grown and not for commercial purposes. This means that the chicken is grown for own consumption or for local consumption. District Collector Vijay Singhal said that he was meeting with the Gram Sabhas to persuade the villagers to hand over their birds to the Government for culling.

Meanwhile, there are reports of false claims by villagers to seek Government compensation. One unnamed poultry industry owner says that since the Government had not maintained any records on how many birds have been culled in the Navapur culling, they have no way to verify the numbers claimed by individuals and operators. This problem is bound to get worse with the Jalgaon incident, which is mostly backyard stock, and there are fewer records on numbers. Many think that most of the compensation will be siphoned by corrupt administrative and political elements and very little will really reach the real losers.

It is obvious that time is not on the side of the LTTE. With practically whole world calling them terrorists, with finance from abroad drying up and SLG getting help from Israeli and Pakistani sources, military balance is not in favor of the LTTE. Given the current trends in the conflict it is not difficult to envisage a day without Prabakaran. The SLG and army are waiting for that day, continuing meanwhile its war against the LTTE. They will of course keep making internationally acceptable statements about how keen they are to find a peaceful solution through negotiations.

Some in the poultry industry are seeking international verification on the safety of their chicken. Venkateshwara Hatcheries, one of the largest poultry industries in India, had south Japanese Health Ministry certification to continue to export to Japan. Many are also asking the Government to zone areas into affected and non-affected and label produce from these areas so poultry in general is not affected in India.

Indian scientists are still trying to figure out the reasons for the outbreak. The Bhopal-based High Security Animal Disease Laboratory (HSADL) is the only facility in India that can handle highly pathogenic viruses say that they have so far tested 1000 migratory birds but with negative results. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is also starting broad based study of bird migratory patterns, bird populations, and GIS studies on migratory bird routes. All this activity only begs the question why some of these studies could not have been initiated proactively. Why should we wait for an epidemic to strike before the country responds?

Clearly, there is a lack of leadership and vision within the Food and Animal Husbandry and Health Ministries.