The cops today handle several things with round-the-clock Internet support. But the Orissa Police still have the ‘‘homing pigeons’’ which date back to 1946 when India was under the British. The agency preserves the instrumental pigeons though their services were abandoned in 2004.
The Orissa Police headquarters in Cuttack and Police Training College building in Angul house homing pigeons. There are at least 110 homing pigeons at Orissa Police headquarters in Cuttack.
The state government’s audit department had suggested closure of the homing pigeons building in 2007. But Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had insisted that we keep the winged creatures for ornamental purpose, says additional DG Satyajeet Mohanty. The birds will continue to stay there, added DGP KB Singh.
Sub-inspector rank official Nihar Ranjan Biswal, and constables Ramesh Chandra Biswal and Parsuram Nanda have been assigned to train and take care of the birds.
“The training starts when the squabs are about six weeks old. The birds leave their lofts every morning at 7am through exit doors for exercise and return at 10am through the trap doors. In the evening the birds go out at 4:30pm and return at 5pm. Depending on weather conditions, they can fly as fast as 55 miles an hour,” Ramesh told this newspaper.
These birds are different from traditional pigeons as they have larger beaks and wattles, their eyes are red, and have round heads and thicker napes.
“They only drink potassium water which we keep in water fountain. While they are fed with wheat and maize gram, we also give them black salt for better digestion,” Parsuram said.
Parsuram and Ramesh have been in charge of the pigeons for the past several years. He has been facing respiratory problems for some time, says Parasuram. Despite this, he has been looking after the birds as he is emotionally attached with them.
These birds participate in the parades of January 26 and August 15 in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar till this day, say the officers.
“At least 50 birds fly from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar on January 26 and August 15 to attend the parade. They return to Cuttack on their own after the parade. The other remaining birds also attend the parade in Cuttack on both the occasions,” they said.
Messages are written on a scrap of paper, which is rolled up and inserted into a tiny plastic capsule that is then attached to a pigeon’s leg.
The birds had also taken a message from Cuttack to Athagarh during the visit of Jawarharlal Nehru.
In 1999, the pigeons were instrumental in ferrying information across the cities after the Super Cyclone tore into the region, killing thousands of people and snapping communication links with coastal areas.
“Report immediately to headquarters about the Gurudijhati incident in which two persons died in violence. Send a constable with all details,” read a message sent during the summer of 2004 from the Central Breeding and Headquarters loft in Cuttack.
Interestingly, a spy pigeon was reportedly detained by police in India last year. The police believe the bird carrying a secret message from Pakistan was seized at Manwal near the Pakistan border in Punjab.
The police discovered a message written in Urdu and a series of numbers. They then documented the bird as a “suspected spy” and alerted Indian security agencies before X-raying it to look for hidden devices.
However, nothing adverse was found after examining the bird,
“Pigeon squabs are unable to survive as a drain flowing behind the building is polluted. Insects and food particles drawn from this drain often kill chicks. We informed this to the CMC several times, but they do not pay heed to the lives of these birds,” officials said.