Bird flu spells disaster for Bengal shuttlecock makers

February 22nd, 2008 - 11:13 am ICT by admin  


By Soudhriti Bhabani
Uluberia (West Bengal), Feb 22 (IANS) India might have tided over its worst ever bird flu outbreak, but the virus left thousands of shuttlecock makers in a West Bengal town in dire straits as the fear of infection choked the supply chain of goose feathers. In Uluberia of Howrah district, about 60 km from Kolkata, small time shuttlecock maker Dilip Pal sat devastated, counting his losses from the shrinking supply of his trade’s primary raw material - goose feathers.

“It is difficult for small manufacturers like us to procure feathers from the market at the skyrocketing prices propelled by the scarcity,” Pal said.

While the likes of Pal wilt under the impact of the bird flu, the shortage of feathers recently forced the Badminton Association of India (BAI) to cancel all training sessions ahead of the Olympic selection process and many other tournaments like the England Championship, the Swiss Open and the Indian Open this year.

“Our business has almost come to an end. We cannot supply shuttlecocks because the goose feathers are totally out of the market now. These feathers generally come from Bangladesh through Balurghat (a north Bengal border town) and from different districts of West Bengal. But supply has stopped as most of the geese and chickens have been culled to combat the virus,” Pal told IANS.

He said that the price of a cut feather in the last one-month had increased dramatically.

The shuttlecock manufacturing business had flourished as a cottage industry over the last few decades in Uluberia. It is the only place in West Bengal where this product is manufactured. More than 5,000 people of Jaduberia, Rajapur, Bahirtopha, Banibon and Tantiberia villages in the area are directly engaged in this cottage industry.

Shuttlecocks are traditionally made from 16 goose feathers, which are taken from under the same bird’s wing and then cleaned, cut and attached to a base of a Portuguese cork.

Feather shuttlecocks rather than the plastic variety are used by professional badminton players because of their lighter weight, accuracy and the way they move through the air with a “peak and drop” effect which the plastic ones cannot match.

“We have a huge demand in the market but we cannot meet that demand as the price of the raw material has shot up. The supply was totally stopped a few days ago but some feathers have come to our hands since last week after the government lifted the ban on poultry items,” said Dipak Panja, a shuttlecock businessman of Rajapur village.

He said shuttlecocks are manufactured only in two states - West Bengal and Punjab.

“It’s true that many things have been affected because of this bird flu outbreak in West Bengal. But since the ban has been lifted now, I hope everything will gradually return to normalcy. It’s just a matter of time,” G.D. Gautama, principal secretary of the West Bengal cottage and small scale industry department, told IANS.

In West Bengal, the H5N1 virus that causes avian influenza had hit parts of 13 out of 19 districts in the state.

The 13 avian flu affected districts in West Bengal are Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, Burdwan, Bankura, Malda, Hooghly, Cooch Behar, Purulia, Howrah, South 24 Parganas and West Midnapore. The virus was first confirmed in Birbhum and South Dinajpur.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) described the bird flu outbreak in West Bengal as “serious”.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, which shares a long border with West Bengal and from where bird feathers are outsourced by shuttlecock makers, bird flu has affected 29 of the 64 districts. The outbreak in that country was announced Jan 3.

“We don’t know when the supply of feather will be normal. But if the state government takes any step to facilitate this process it would be of great help for this cottage industry,” Panja said.

(Soudhriti Bhabani can be contacted at soudhriti.b@ians.in)

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