Monday, February 04, 2008

The Bird Flu Attack: Focus on a less-talked about Bill

The bird flu attack in West Bengal has raised the question as to who was responsible for not taking prompt steps to contain the epidemic - Centre or the State Government. The State Government has admitted that the local people did not take much notice and report it to the proper authorities when it started happening. Anisur Rahaman, West Bengal Minister for Animal Resources has said in this interview that the moment the Government got to know of it on January 8, it initiated action. But he attributed the delay to procedural formalities that have to be observed. The State Government began the culling operations only on January 16. The delay of eight days appears to have taken its heavy toll.

Indeed, there is a Bill pending in Parliament, precisely to address such situations. The Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Diseases in Animals Bill, 2005, was examined by the Standing Committee on Agriculture (2006-07), which has recommended its adoption with certain amendments in its 31st Report, presented to both the Houses of Parliament on May 16, 2007. Curiously, the Bill has not yet been passed in the subsequent sessions of Parliament despite its urgency. The Bill's summary, prepared by the PRS, is here.

According to the Bill, as infections and contagious diseases are not restricted to specific state borders, and can spread across the country, a Parliament legislation applicable to the length and breadth of the country alone can meet the needs of the situation. Ineffectiveness of the legal and other measures to control animal diseases also has, in many cases, a human health angle. The Bill aims to create awareness about the diseases and popularization of vaccination. The law would help notify infectious diseases and to implement control measures in the entire country. The Bill has been drafted by virtue of Article 253 in order to fulfil the requirements of International Animal Health Code.

The Standing committee report says there are more than 100 diseases which are communicable from animal to man and some of them are very dangerous. Therefore, it is important to set up containment labaratories at regional levels. But there is only one at present: the High Security Animal Diseases Laboratory at Bhopal. It is one of 10 such labs ranking 6th in the world. The Bill fixes the responsibility to identify the diseases from which the animal is suffering on the Veterinarian. The minimum requirement, according to the report, is one veterinary surgeon for 5000 animals. But India suffers from very poor infrastructure.

Had the Bill been enacted in time, it would have been possible to test its effectiveness in containing the ongoing epidemic.
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