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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 12:06 GMT
Indian pigeons lose out to e-mail
Indian government wants to do away with the pigeon postal service
Orissa police carrier pigeons: facing the sack
India's Police Pigeon Service - which for more than half a century has provided a lifeline during frequent floods and cyclones in eastern Orissa state - is to be scrapped, according to a government proposal.

The carrier pigeons were often a vital link between remote police stations when traditional communications failed, beating storms, disasters - and birds of prey.

But the government's audit department now believes that the service - employing some 800 birds - has become redundant with the advent of e-mail and electronic communication.

It's a vanishing art which should not be destroyed

Rajat Bhargava, ornithologist

The pigeon courier service dates back to 1946 - a year before India's independence from Britain - when it was handed to the police by the army. Its headquarters is based in the city of Cuttack.

Too expensive

According to the auditor general's office, it costs the state about 500,000 rupees ($10,260) a year.

Pigeon carries message in capsule attached to leg
Trained carrier pigeons fly non-stop up to 500 km (310 miles)

P-mail, as carrier pigeons are sometimes known, were extensively used in Orissa during floods in 1982 and a cyclone in 1999, as radio networks were disrupted.

The birds can fly hundreds of kilometres to deliver messages before returning to base.

Delhi-based ornithologist Rajat Bhargava does not agree with the government proposal. "The old pigeon tradition should not be destroyed. It's a vanishing art which should be protected," he told Reuters news agency.

"Also, these pigeons are excluded from the Wildlife Protection Act. So they can be kept. We're against cruelty to animals. But we're not against captive breeding of domesticated animals," he said.

Orissa carrier pigeon headquarters in Cuttack
Log-off time?

Museum piece

Carrier pigeons are by no means a recent introduction in India - they can be seen on Mughal paintings, carrying love messages into harems or secret military instructions to soldiers in the field.

"Pigeon breeding is an art that goes back to Mughal days. Emperor Shah Jahan was one on the greatest breeders of pigeons. The tradition should be preserved," Bhargava said.

Mughal painting of pigeon
Pigeon breeding dates back to Mughal times

Not everyone agrees. B N Das, superintendent of signals at the pigeon service headquarters in Cuttack, says that policemen assigned to pigeon duty in far-flung districts see the job as punishment.

"The pigeon service made practical sense when we were superintendents of police two decades ago, as there were no VHF sets at that time," Das told Associated Press.

"But now all police stations in Orissa are on the radio network, reducing the winged service to a museum piece."

The redundant pigeons will be given to the state's wildlife department, according to the Indo Asian News Service.

Mughal painting used with kind permission of Kapil Goel, Exotic India web site.

See also:

11 Feb 99 | South Asia
Keeping the police pigeons flying
10 Aug 01 | South Asia
Orissa 'condemned to flooding'
19 Jul 01 | South Asia
One million stranded by Orissa flood
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