West Bengal's unchecked bird flu epidemic spread to two more districts on Wednesday, one right on the outskirts of Kolkata and the other on the Assam border. Well over two million poultry in nine districts are now affected and will have to be culled.
West Bengal Animal Resource Development Minister Anisur Rahman confirmed to IANS on Wednesday that the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus had been found among poultry in Hooghly district, barely 30 kms from the metropolis here.
The same virus had been found in Dinhata area of Cooch Behar district on the Assam border, Rahman added.
Facing all-round criticism for the tardy pace of the culling operation that has seen the spread of the epidemic even eight days after it was announced, the state government on Wednesday said it was making spot payments to mitigate the losses of the affected rural families immediately.
"We have already disbursed Rs 45 million as compensation. We will disburse more money as and when required. The payments are being made on the spot itself or through the panchayats," West Bengal Animal Resource Development Minister Anisur Rahman told IANS on Wednesday.
Earlier, farmers were being given tokens at culling sites and asked to contact their panchayat or village block offices for compensation money. The payment is Rs 40 for a country chicken, Rs 30 for a broiler and Rs 10 for a chick.
Even before the spread of the epidemic to the eighth and ninth districts, the cull target had gone to a whopping 2.1 million.
On Tuesday, the centre's Animal Husbandry Secretary Pradeep Kumar said here that around 256,000 birds had been slaughtered and about 150 experts from other states would join the operation.
"Our concern is to find out how the disease spread from the initial outbreak in Birbhum and South Dinajpur districts," Kumar said.
The operation will be ramped up with induction of personnel from Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Orissa, Punjab and Maharashtra, officials said.
A team comprising officials from the union animal husbandry department and their counterparts from the states will monitor the possible spread of bird flu to Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and the Northeast, Kumar said.
The centre has provided the state with 5,000 sets of protective gear for the culling teams.
"More protective gear will be sent. Bird flu is a national problem," Kumar said.
The H5N1 virus causes a type of influenza in birds that is highly contagious and can be deadly. It does not usually infect people unless they come in close contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces. All human samples tested for infection have proved negative so far.
The nine districts now in the grip of the bird flu epidemic are Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, Burdwan, Bankura, Malda, Hooghly and Cooch Behar.
Several states have banned the import of chicken from West Bengal. The central government has asked the state to seal its borders with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.