No case of avian influenza has been confirmed hitherto in Jammu and Kashmir. However, as per Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, there has been “unnatural mortality” of birds reported in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. The ministry’s statement is vague as did not confirm or rule out avian influenza. It also brings into question if enough tests are being done to verify or exclude with certainty influenza which has already threatened the poultry industry.
The official statements made here imply that the situation was under control even as the administration was ready to tackle any challenge as may arise due to the bird flu.
There are almost 1.5 Lakh birds of different species presently stationed at Hokersar— the largest and most prominent of wetlands in Kashmir— for breeding as well as winter nesting.
Recently teams of experts visited and collected 21 samples from the wetland and forwarded same to High Security Animal Disease Lab, Bhopal and RDDL Jalandhar for further testing. Also surveillance samples were collected from Dal Lake and adjoining areas. While reports are awaited, the wildlife authorities have categorically stated that no death has been reported in Hokersar or elsewhere. Even in absence of any confirmed influenza-related death, the poultry industry has been already hit, second time in little over a year. In March-April 2020, the industry was hit by a lockdown and expected to recover the losses during the winter. However, already prices of poultry products have plunged by 40-60 % in the past week as bird flu has spread in India. The centre has already asked states and UTs to ensure that the infection does not spread among poultry, as it would have a high economic cost for the poultry farmers. On January 13 last, it also urged states and UTs to reconsider the decision as regards the ban on imports from other states, underlining it would “add negative impact on the poultry industry.” While the Jammu-Srinagar highway is closed and is unlikely to reopen any time soon, the J&K government’s decision on continuing with the import ban beyond January 14 or withdrawing it on the asking of the centre seems immaterial for now. However, what is important for the J&K government is to ensure that the spread is contained. While highway closure may limit the poultry imports from states affected by the virus, it is impossible to stop migratory birds from flying into J&K. It is thus imperative for the J&K Government to do more sample checks at the wintering sites to catch the disease early and prevent it from reaching the poultry farms.