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Mamata Banerjee's Operation Pig against encephalitis or hogwash?

IANS 03 Aug 2014, 14:13:23 PM IST
Kolkata: 'Dirty' pigs are now a harried lot in West Bengal after drawing the ire of none other than Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has ordered they be packed off following the outbreak of encephalitis that has till now claimed 119 lives. It's "hogwash", claims a senior Congress leader.

Leaving criminals and anti-socials off their radar, police and civic officials across several districts, including Kolkata, are now in hot pursuit of Operation Pig, catching scores of animals and packing them off to dumping grounds.

As if the sudden administrative action on them was not enough, the pigs might also be aggrieved by the discrimination shown by the administration. The first sign of discrimination came from Banerjee herself who singled out "urban" pigs to be problematic.

"The pigs that live in the villages are good. It's the pigs that roam around in the city, stay in absolutely unhygienic areas, live near humans - these are the problematic pigs," Banerjee had said.

While they have been herded off in stinking trucks and abandoned in garbage dumps in the city, their counterparts in Howrah are enjoying a rather pampered life with fans to cool them down and giant mosquito nets keeping the blood suckers at bay.

The brainchild of Mayor Rathin Chakraborty, the civic body has set up a 100-ft-long and 50-ft-wide enclosure at a dumping yard in Howrah to house the pigs. Illuminated by halogen lights, CCTV cameras have been installed to keep a round-the-clock vigil.

"Pigs are known carriers of the encephalitis virus and if they die inside the shelter, there is a likelihood that the virus may spread. So we have taken these measures," Howrah deputy mayor Meenati Adhikari told IANS, adding that at least four more such shelters are on the anvil for the nearly 1,000 pigs in the area.

Not surprisingly the hospitality extended to the pigs has attracted ridicule from politicians.

"Under this government, pigs are getting five-star treatment while human beings are dying of hunger and curable diseases. Jolted from its stupor by the encephalitis menace, this government doesn't know what to do; so it is indulging in hogwash," state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told IANS.

Flaying the government for "running behind pigs", CPI-M MP Mohammad Salim wondered "how fans or CCTV cameras would prevent the spread of encephalitis".

Cramped inside an enclosure devoid of sunlight, the city's pigs, some of which have perished, now have a ray of hope with mayor-in-council member Debabrata Majumder saying the Kolkata Municipal Corporation was in the process a creating a proper shelter for them.

It's not only the pigs, those after them are also having a torrid time. With neither the police nor civic men trained for the job, catching the animals has been a tough task, especially when retaliation from the owners becomes a distinct possibility.

Fear of retaliation from owners has rendered the Operation Pig a virtual non-starter to a large extent as Majumder admitted that only about 200 of the city's 3,500 hogs have been quarantined.

Legs tied with ropes or slung across bamboo poles and packed in stinking garbage trucks, the "cruel treatment" of the pigs has animal rights activists crying foul.

"Had the government taken steps to improve infrastructure and hygiene of pig farms such a scenario would not have occurred. While their quarantine is essential, the administration is doing this in a barbaric and cruel way, which is totally uncalled for," said Sujoy Dutta of NGO People for Animals.