With almost half of West Bengal gripped by the deadly bird flu, the state's poultry industry says it has lost over Rs 1 billion in the past weeks owing to the spread of the virus and sluggish culling operation.
Of the over 2.1 million poultry earmarked for culling in the nine districts affected so far, only 430,000 have been slaughtered so far, nine days after the outbreak was declared.
According to West Bengal Poultry Welfare Association president Sheikh Nazrul Islam, the industry has suffered a loss of about Rs 1 billion in the past week.
"Culling is slow and ham-handed. We are suffering because of that. The police are harassing us by intercepting our consignments and even demanding bribes while the fear of bird flu among people is affecting the business," Islam told IANS.
The Rs 5 billion industry in West Bengal is facing its worst ever setback, said Islam.
"We are impoverished. We have to start from scratch now," he added.
Village women who relied on poultry farming for their livelihood are devastated.
"How will we live now? All the 20 hens and ducks I had were slaughtered. We were heavily dependent on the earning from selling of eggs," said a woman from Mangolkot in Burdwan district, about 200 kms from Kolkata.
Islam spoke of instances where people in affected areas are still hiding their poultry. "In rural areas the government had given a woman member of each family 10 hens. Now when they are demanding them back for culling, the families are not coming forward," he said.
The owners are being given tokens at culling sites and asked to contact their panchayat or village block offices for compensation. The payment is Rs 40 for a country chicken, Rs 30 for a broiler and Rs 10 for a chick.
Many villagers are, however, unhappy with the compensation price even as Animal Husbandry Minister Anisur Rahman said spot payments were being made in many places.
The state government has sanctioned Rs 50 million for tackling the bird flu outbreak while the centre has disbursed Rs 35 million. The state government has asked for another Rs 80.25 million from the centre.
The nine districts now in the grip of the epidemic are Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, Burdwan, Bankura, Malda, Hooghly and Cooch Behar.
"From 640 culling teams we hope to increase the number to 750 on Thursday," Rahman said.
Meanwhile, even though the minister claimed that culling was in full swing, Malda District Magistrate Chitta Ranjan Das said the process was yet to start in the affected region and might not take off before Friday.
"We got the confirmation about the virus on Tuesday evening. We need some time for preparations. We have to make villagers aware (of the crisis)," he said.
While the bird flu has been confirmed in Chanchol I block of Malda, 350 kms from Kolkata, the culling would cover at least two more blocks (Harishchandrapur and Itahar) and parts of Bihar.
While inclement weather in Malda compounded the problem, the culling order was issued on Wednesday in neighbouring Bihar's Katihar district, District Magistrate Pran Mohan Thakur said.
The H5N1 virus causes a type of influenza in birds that is highly contagious. 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.
Several states have banned the import of chicken from West Bengal.