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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Time To Chicken Out!

I have always said it. And I say it again. Nothing that the Assam Government does surprises me. When it comes to bad functioning and callous attitude, no other State Government in India can challenge the Assam Government. We have left Bihar miles behind in this respect. Our State Government has panache for making mistakes and that too in the goofiest manner. We had always complained of bad roads, less electricity and other things like corruption. Ok. So these are things that are demanded by the rest of the country too. But I want to ask that how often do you come across a government that makes a mistake that affects the livelihood of tens of thousands of people? It’s a controversy, no doubt. And one which can land the present Congress Government in Assam in jeopardy ahead of next year’s elections.

It will be almost a month now that Assam is reeling under the outbreak of the avian influenza, better known as the bird flu. Culling operations have been on ever since the word broke out. Poultry products have been shunned and the prices of other meats have risen sky-high. Lakhs of poultry have been culled to avoid the spread of the virus to humans. But just when we thought that everything was getting under control and this epidemic would pass without any casualty, there came a bolt from the blue! The High Security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal reported that they did not find a single poultry sample that tested positive for bird flu in any part of the country, including Assam and West Bengal. Now we are forced to think what all this commotion was about? What was the State Veterinary & Animal Husbandry Department doing? Which divine intervention propelled the State Government to declare an outbreak of bird flu in the state if there was none?

I don’t know whether to call it as a mistake or carelessness. My reaction to this news was, well, pretty casual. Our State Government has a history of committing mistakes. So it was nothing like a surprise to me. But the problem is that the damage has been done. About 4.19 lakh poultry birds have been culled till now which will now take its toll on the poultry farm industry in the state. Poultry farmers have incurred huge losses and now most of them are rendered jobless, especially in the area of South Kamrup where the economy has totally collapsed with the unemployed youths as the worst affected. Apart from culling, large stocks of eggs were kept aside for the fear of the disease, which have now either rotten away or have hatched. Now people are questioning if there was any truth behind the official ruling of the Government that wild birds, besides poultry were dying of the bird flu too.

The situation has taken a political twist too. An independent MLA, Pranab Kalita has threatened to drag Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to the Gauhati High Court on the charge of killing lakhs of poultry birds in the State, especially in South Kamrup where the economy has totally collapsed. Now we are just waiting to see if the other political parties in the state will follow suit. The State Government was quick to react to this by confirming the outbreak of bird flu. The State Veterinary & Animal Husbandry Department Commissioner-Secretary S L Mewra said that samples that were sent to the HSADL in Bhopal between November 22 and December 20 tested positive for the H5N1 virus. And also that the presence of the bird flu virus was confirmed in the Rajabazar area of Hazo. The problem is that this thing has become rather serious with lots of money gone down the drain in the name of culling. The state’s economy has received a jolt that will take a huge toll on the poultry farming sector in the State. And going by the present scenario of devastation in the poultry farm economy of the state, few people are buying the government’s claim that Rs 1.38 lakh has been paid as compensation.

The coming days will tell us about the truth behind the outbreak of the bird flu. That too, if there really is any outbreak at all! Even if it turns out that the outbreak of bird flu is a lie, I really wouldn’t be surprised. This time, the Gogoi Government has got it for good. And they better clear the air regarding this one before it is too late. After all, nobody can call it a silly mistake on the part of the State Government this time.
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