These are the tense times at the Bird Hospital in Johri Bazaar area of Jaipur. Nearly all the cages meant for keeping the injured birds are full. The private facility run by a Jain Trust has only one doctor, who is currently on leave. Two workers, both retired government employees, are busy tending to the injured birds, most of them victims of the manjha – a razor sharp nylon thread or the cotton thread coated with ground glass and metal and used to fly kites.
“Sakraat (Makar Sankranti) is a festival that we love to celebrate but it does tremendous harm to the birds,” says R C Verma, one of the workers as he shows a foot long piece of manjha, which he had removed from the wings of a bird.
He started working at the hospital a month ago and has been trained by 73-year-old L N Verma who retired from the government veterinary hospital in Tonk as senior compounder.
R C Verma is apprehensive about the harvest festival on January 14. It is the day when hundreds take to flying kites as part of celebrations. Fierce competition is witnessed as enthusiasts try to bring down the kites of each other.
It is this kite flying frenzy that spells trouble for the birds.
On December 14 last year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned manjha for kite flying. The order had come following an outcry over injuries and deaths caused by the sharp string. The ban, however, is yet to be fully implemented in Rajasthan where the glass-coated or metal coated manjha is still available in the markets.
Another retired government employee Mohan Lal Pareekh, who too works at the bird hospital, shows a pigeon that lost both its wings after flying into manjha. “When birds get entangled into manjha, they flap their wings hard to free themselves. It results in severe injuries and, in some cases, loss of wings,” says Pareekh.
On an average, 20-25 birds are brought to the hospital everyday. “In the days leading to Sakraat, numbers go up to 70-80,” Pareek says and adds that at present the hospital is treating only two birds for sickness. Rest all are being treated for injuries due to manjha.
Manish Saxena, animal welfare officer with animal welfare board of India, claims to have been working for birds since 2002. Saxena and his team used to treat around 250-300 birds injured by manjha every year in Jaipur. “The number shot up to 800-900 in 2010 but fell in the subsequent years. It could be because other organisations too started treating the birds,” says Saxena.
He says that on the days preceding and after Makar Sankranti in 2015, his team treated more than 400 birds. “Nearly 15 per cent birds don’t survive and nearly 20 per cent can’t fly after treatment,” he adds.
He bats for strict and immediate and enforcement of the ban on manjha.
State convener of People For Animals, Babu Lal Jaju, says that thousands of birds are injured across the state in the kite flying season. “Although kite flying is observed more in Jaipur on Sakraat, it happens in other districts too. And manjha is easily available, probably because of administration’s negligence and poor enforcement of the ban,” he adds.