Arambagh Hatcheries Limited, which is among the biggest producers of live chicken birds in India, has closed down one of its biggest farms in West Bengal because of decline in rural consumption, The Telegraph reported on Tuesday. The hatchery is located in Birbhum district’s Rajnagar town.

“Prices of live chicken dropped to Rs 65 a kg from the middle of June,” said the company’s Managing Director Prasun Roy. “This is normal and it happens every year. But prices again go up with the onset of the festive season...This time it did not happen. This is because of the weak rural economy.” Rural West Bengal accounts for around 65% of chicken sales.

Roy claimed that demand for both live birds and processed chicken were down. The company official also blamed demonetisation and the “hasty implementation” of the Goods and Services Tax for the overall slowdown in the economy. “The depressed demand is an indicator of that…,” Roy added.

The official claimed the company was losing Rs 12 to Rs 15 per kg on live birds. “Lack of demand has kept the prices depressed while the cost of raw material [maize, the primary chicken feed] has gone up significantly from Rs 15 to Rs 23 a kg,” Roy said. “We cannot sustain this loss for months.”

He hoped that the maize grown during kharif season, which is expected to hit the market soon, would stabilise the price of the feed and enable the company to reopen the hatchery.

However, workers and representatives of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-backed Centre of Indian Trade Unions accused the company of closing down the hatchery using the pretext of an economic slowdown, reported Anandabazar Patrika. The hatchery’s employees held a demonstration on Monday, and pointed out they did not protest earlier even though they had not received their salaries regularly.

“This was a whimsical decision by the company administration,” the workers at the poultry farm said. “Our families will be in trouble now.”

Jiten Dolui, who has worked at the farm for the last 10 years, said the decision to close the farm was shocking, and pointed out that workers had not been paid their dues yet.

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