The Animal Husbandry department of the state government, in a verbal direction, has banned all voluntary animal care and non-government organisations working under the ‘Karuna Abhiyan’ to operate in residential areas during the Uttarayan festival this year.
The practice of using abrasive thread for kite flying during the festival poses a threat to the birds. In Ahmedabad alone, more than 10,000 birds are injured every year, affecting sparrows, pigeons, parrots, vultures, peacocks and migratory birds. To curb these injuries, more than 40 organisations have been working for the treatment of birds, especially during Uttarayan. These organisations have been operating under the Ahmedabad forest department for the last one decade.
This year, however, the government has restricted the activities of the organisations, citing the high bird flu incidence of January 2017 and a Gujarat High Court order last year. In January 2017, there was an outbreak of the avian influenza (H5N1) in Ahmedabad. According to the Gujarat Animal Husbandry Department, the outbreak was confirmed from only two sites, both in Ahmedabad.
The first outbreak was reported from Asha Foundation, an animal and bird shelter on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on January 2, followed by another on January 12 at the Sarva Dharma Rakshak Seva Trust shelter in Memnagar area.
Following the outbreak, two petitions were filed in the Gujarat High Court, by Memnagar residents, that alleged laxity by government authorities in handling the situation.
To avoid relapse of such instances, the Gujarat High Court had ordered, “Even during Uttarayan festival or at any time, if any application is given either by non-government organisations or any individual to hold camps for treating birds, the respondent authorities shall not grant any permission for holding such camps within the residential areas. However, it is made clear that such applications be considered on their own merits for holding camps at appropriate and suitable places away from the residential areas.”
The organisations have claimed that the restrictions will lead to an unnecessary delay in the treatment of birds since residential areas are the epicentres of bird injuries. The organisations have submitted representations to the state government and plan to challenge the order in the higher court of law.
Two animal shelters — Asha Foundation and Jeev Daya Charitable Trust — have been authorised to conduct the follow-up of injured birds after treatment at seven care centres in Ahmedabad. Raju Shastri, trustee of Jeev Daya Foundation, Ahmedabad, said, “Even as a human gesture, one would give preliminary treatment to an injured bird or animal at the nearest care centre, but with this ban precious time will be lost in the transit. For instance, for a big city like Ahmedabad, the government has identified seven places where injured birds can be taken and treated. There should be some alternative.”
While the forest department, animal husbandry department and voluntary organisations are still meeting to discuss the order, the state government has taken a firm stand, citing the High Court order. Dr S Murali Krishna, secretary of the Animal Husbandry Department, said that the other measures have been introduced in place of the ban.
Chief conservator of forests, north Gujarat Wildlife circle, Mahesh Singh said, “The department has activated all veterinary hospitals at the taluka and district level. Around 275 such hospitals are covered under this order for Uttarayan festival. Also, health and rescue centres are operating in the state at major cities.”
Krishna added, “Though meetings are going on between concerned authorities, the department has increased the number of mobile units from nearly 12 to 20 for Ahmedabad district. Also, the 1962 ‘Karuna Animal Ambulance’ has been introduced on a pilot basis. These measures are expected to provide appropriate treatment to birds and animals at an effective time.”
However, the NGOs have maintained that these alternate measures will not serve the purpose since there is a limited number of transit service vehicles catering to big cities. Harmesh Bhatt, the founder of Asha Foundation, Hathijan, said, “The forest and animal husbandry department does not have sufficient facilities for taking injured birds and animals to the rescue centres. It is neither an alternative nor a solution to the problem. We are left with no other choice but to appeal in the Supreme Court against the order.”