Authorities in West Bengal battling to contain a fresh outbreak of bird flu said they were raiding farms at night to catch chickens and ducks and counter unwilling villagers who have refused to hand over poultry.
Only a month after authorities in West Bengal declared that bird flu was under control, a fresh outbreak was reported from the state's Murshidabad district, where 900 backyard poultry died over the last two weeks.
Some villagers have also let their poultry loose during the day and hide them inside their homes at night, Subir Bhadra, a senior district official said from Murshidabad.
"These are problems we are facing and therefore we have decided to surprise the villagers by conducting night-time raids," Bhadra said by telephone. "It is working, although villagers are superstitious and seem closely attached to their poultry, which also puts them at a health risk."
There have been no reported human cases of bird flu. Experts fear the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person, leading to a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.
During the earlier outbreak in January, the H5N1 virus hit 13 of the state's 19 districts, including Murshidabad, bringing down poultry sales by more than 70 percent in the state, but it had a limited impact in rest of the country.
They had then culled close to 4 million birds in the state after the World Health Organisation (WHO) described January's outbreak as the worst-ever in India. Officials say smuggled poultry from bird-flu hit Bangladesh could have triggered the latest outbreak.
Bird flu spread to another district in Bangladesh last week, affecting 47 out of 64 districts in the country.
On the bordering villages of Murshidabad, over 350 veterinary workers, accompanied by policemen, were visiting farms trying to convince villagers to hand over chickens. "I have asked the police not to use force, but we hope they at least agree to cooperate," Bhadra said.
Previous containment efforts in West Bengal were also hampered when villagers refused to hand over their chickens, saying they were disease-free.
Villagers have dumped dead poultry in wells and ponds, and many have even eaten undercooked dead chickens, officials said.
Officials said they were still collecting samples from other districts to see if bird flu was spreading to new areas. "We are not taking any chances now," Anisur Rahaman, the state's animal resources minister said from Kolkata.