The death toll from Japanese encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh crossed 800 Saturday. But the administration still seems unwilling to take on pigs - believed to be at the root of the virtual epidemic.
The proliferation of pigs has made matters // worse as the animal is known to be the biggest host for the encephalitis virus, carried across to human beings by mosquitoes.
Uttar Pradesh officials do not even have any official statistics on pigs or piggeries. "They could be in tens of thousands," remarked a top official of the state health department.
In this state capital itself, pigs are a common sight in residential areas, including slums.
"Their number has been increasing every year. We cannot do anything to stop the menace," complained Sukhdeo, a resident of Sarvodaya Nagar, a downmarket neighbourhood built along the Kukrail rivulet at one end of the city.
The sight of pigs loitering around is quite common. Plonking themselves on heaps of rotting garbage and waging through slush and open drains, pigs find it convenient to make their home close to human habitation.
And poor sanitation combined with official apathy allows massive breeding of mosquitoes to complete the vicious circle.
Even though pigs pose a serious threat to their own families, many Dalit families involved in maintaining piggeries defend their business.
"After all, it is a major source of livelihood for members of our community," says Suresh Valmiki, the resident of a slum in Bastaoli. "If we do away with our pigs, how do we make two ends meet?"
Ram Prasad Pasi from the same slum is not oblivious to the threat that pigs pose to the health and lives of his children and other residents in the area. Yet he is strongly against the idea of elimination of pigs.
"We will not allow that under any circumstance. Why can't the government eliminate mosquitoes, which only cause harm to people and are of n
o utility to anybody?" asks Pasi angrily.
With those who maintain piggeries forming a sizeable population, people sitting at the helm of affairs clearly have no inclination to attack encephalitis at its roots, simply because it would antagonise their vote bank.
Says Health Minister Jaiveer Singh, "We cannot just think of eliminating pigs; after all, so many households are dependent on them. We live in a democratic country and everyone must have the freedom to earn his livelihood."
But he added: "We are already in the process of undertaking large scale insecticide spraying and fogging in and around piggeries. Once mosquitoes are destroyed, the bulk of the problem would be over."
A concerted campaign on pigs by former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had apparently helped check the disease in his state. But there seem to be no takers for it in Uttar Pradesh.
In Kanpur, an important industrial hub about 80 km from here, pigs have grown into a virtual army that often attack and injure children. However, the administration could only net around 35 out of the thousands that continue to roam around freely on the streets of the crowded town.
Even in and around the medical college in Gorakhpur, the epicentre of the disease in eastern Uttar Pradesh, pigs have been thriving at the expense of the hundreds who succumb to the virus that has been striking the region every monsoon season.
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