Bhubaneswar: A selfie by sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik on Twitter with a pigeon atop a letter box in the backdrop brought back images of carrier squabs flying to unreachable destinations with message in a plastic capsule tied to their leg during natural disasters in Odisha.
Carrier Pigeon Service — the heritage courier service of Odisha Police — was abandoned years ago following the advent of modern communication tools and newer technologies. The pigeons, however, continued to make ceremonial appearance during different functions in the state till last year.
Here are some interesting facts about the mail service which was first introduced in the remote Koraput district of Odisha in 1946 at the end of World War II with the birds as war disposal.
The mail service was later introduced in almost 24 districts with over 700 sturdy Belgian pigeons ferrying messages to assigned destinations.
These birds differed from traditional pigeons with larger beaks and wattles, red eyes, round heads and thicker napes.
The message written on a piece of paper was inserted into plastic capsule, which was tied to the feet of the pigeon.
On April 13, 1948, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru sent a message to the state officials in Cuttack from Sambalpur through a pigeon. The message read: The arrangements for the public meeting should not be such as to separate the speaker from the audience in Cuttack. It was delivered in just five hours.
In its initial years, the service was of three types — static or one-way, boomerang or two way and the mobile. The mobile service was mainly used by the 6th Odisha State Armed Police (OSAP) battalion, which carried the birds with it when on the move.
These birds were the only line of communication between the government and marooned town of Banki during the disastrous flood in 1982, when almost all communication lines had collapsed.
The birds, which can fly 25km in just 15 to 25 minutes, delivered as many as 4,079 messages in 1991. The number rose to 4,931 in 1992 and 5,074 the following year.
The birds also played an important role carrying messages during the 1999 super cyclone, which wreaked havoc with the state’s communication network.
In 2007, the state government’s audit department suggested closure of the homing pigeons building. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, however, insisted on keeping them for ceremonial purpose.
These birds participated in the parades of January 26 and August 15 in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar last year. At least 50 birds fly from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar on these days to attend the parade. They return to Cuttack on their own after the parade.