The CPI (M)-ruled West Bengal has not yet fully recovered from the danger posed by bird flu which has seriously affected rural economy on the eve of the panchayat polls.
The state has already been rapped by the Centre as well as UN-affiliated Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) for the administration's failure to track the origin of the disease and take necessary precautionary and preventive measures to contain its spread. Union health minister Ambumani Ramdoss also apprehends that the disease may ultimately affect human lives in Bengal first if the culling work is not speeded up.
The Bengal government's somewhat lackadaisical attitude vis-à-vis the bird flu menace is apparent from its decision to form a fact-finding committee almost three months after the outbreak of the disease. The decision was taken at a high-level meeting attended by animal husbandry minister Anisur Rahman and health minister Surya Kanta Mishra yesterday.
The committee will not only oversee the progress of culling operations but also closely monitor the post-culling situation in the affected areas and look into the "genetic sequence" of the disease. The state government feels bid flu, affecting different Bengal districts, has its origin in the neighbouring Bangladesh, but the Centre is yet to confirm its apprehension.
The state government has identified fifteen out of seventeen districts as bird-flu affected. According to an estimate, ten per cent of the total areas in Bengal has been hit by the disease and about 42 lakh chickens have been destroyed in culling operations.
However, a fresh directive from the union animal husbandry ministry to the state government to undertake culling work in Birbhum, Murshidabad and Burdwan districts has caught the ruling Marxists on the wrong foot with hardly a month left for the rural polls.
While the Centre feels the state administration should immediately resume culling operations in the affected areas of the three districts, the CPI(M) is wary of the possible impact of such administrative action on its electoral fortune.
According to informed sources, many panchayat members had opposed the culling operations as they posed a veritable threat to rural economy. A large section of the rural population in West Bengal is entirely dependent on poultry farming to earn their livelihood. Most of them felt the monetary compensation provided by the state government for destroying their means of livelihood was not adequate.
The minority community, in particular, earn a living in many villages by selling chickens and eggs. Naturally a fresh drive to destroy their chickens to prevent bird flu will evoke their anger on the eve of the panchayat elections.
Some of the Left Front partners like the Forward Bloc and the RSP have also taken serious exception to the CPI(M)'s failure to make a reference to the bird flu menace in the election manifesto. The Front partners feel the manifesto should have reassured the affected people about their economic rehabilitation after the rural polls since they have been hard hit by the culling operations.
Opposition parties have also accused the state government of resorting to political discrimination while distributing the compensation money among the affected villagers. The parties intend to make culling operations a major issue in their campaign for the panchayat polls.