Around 50,000 birds have been culled in West Bengal since Wednesday to combat bird flu even as health workers fanned out in rural areas of the affected region to meet the target of slaughtering 400,000 poultry birds.
"We have been able to cull around 50,000 birds so far. The health and animal resource development workers are tirelessly engaged in killing the birds," West Bengal Animal Husbandry Minister Anisur Rahman told IANS.
Alarmed by the outbreak of the disease, dubbed the worst in India by the World Health Organisation (WHO), West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya on Friday said the state government would slaughter all poultry birds in areas reporting fresh cases of avian flu even before laboratories confirm the H5N1 strain.
"We have earmarked a sum of Rs 30 million as compensation for those losing their poultry birds," Rahman said Saturday.
Farmers are being handed over tokens at culling sites and asked to contact their panchayat offices for the money. The payment is Rs 40 for a country chicken, Rs 30 for a broiler and Rs 10 for a chick.
While the minister claimed that the culling operation has been stepped up, reports from the districts said the process is slow, often owing to resistance of the villagers to the Rapid Response Team (RRT).
But in some areas where a large number of poultry birds have died of the infection, the villagers are more eager to offer their chickens and ducks for culling.
"In the next seven days we will kill all the birds (an estimated 400,000) by increasing the number of health and animal resource development (ARD) workers," the chief minister told reporters here Friday.
"Our worst affected areas are Rampurhat subdivision in Birbhum district and Balurghat in South Dinajpur, where deaths occurred in government farms.
"But there are reports from Khargram and Baroa in Murshidabad besides Nadia and Burdwan. So we have decided to kill all birds in the new areas even before confirmation from the laboratories," Bhattacharya said.
"Wherever we will hear of new infections, we will kill birds. There are at the moment 60 teams comprising five workers each. We will increase the manpower," he 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.