Munni Devi, 45, a resident of Kokar area of Ranchi, was a daily wage earner. Sometimes, when there was less work, she would take up odd rag-picking jobs. On June 18, after selling the garbage she had picked, she started walking back home at 4 PM.
“She started feeling dizzy and sat on the pavement. She started vomiting. People from a nearby house offered her water. She collapsed after drinking water. She was rushed to RIMS (Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences) where she was declared dead,” informs her sister Jhariyo Dhan Tirkey.
Munni Devi is just another casualty of the brutal heatwave that Jharkhand is reeling under. However, like many others, she will not make it to the list of casualties who have died in the state due to heat wave. No such list exists.
The deceased belonged to Bharno area in Gumla district. She moved to Ranchi leaving behind her husband and two children to earn a livelihood. Now there is no earning member in the house. Her brother Dinesh Tirkey has filed a case with the Sadar Police Station for want of compensation. The police say they are waiting for the post-mortem report.
Many districts of Jharkhand have been reeling under an intense heat wave. While most districts got some respite between June 19 and 21, thanks to the arrival of the monsoon, people in Palamu district were not so lucky. The temperature in the district was 44.1, 44.3 and 42.4 degrees Celcius on these dates and Palamu was the hottest district in the state. The Meteorological Department had predicted rainfall on June 23-24.
Unfortunately, Ashok Ram (25) and Vishwanath Ram (60) lost their lives on June 18—the day the temperature touched 44.7. Both were residents of the Medninagar Police Station area. Local police station says that the post-mortem report will take some time, but looks like they died due to the intense heat.
Talking about the deaths of the two, local journalist Dheeraj Vishwakarma, who has been covering stories on Palamu for a long time, says: “The main problem is that these deaths occurring due to heat are not being reported and no post-mortem is being conducted.”
People end up treating their family members at home. In case of deaths, people perform the last rites but are not bothering about post-mortem reports.
“Nearly 27 last rites were performed at a ghat in Medninagar in the past two months. A municipal corporation worker informed me that these deaths were on account of heatwave and heart attack. There are more than 100 ghats in the district. The figure being mentioned is only for the Hindu community. So, the actual number could be higher,” says Vishwakarma.
According to Vishwakarma, in the last few days, he has covered deaths of four people dying of heatwave in the urban pockets of the district.
As per a report published in Dainik Bhaskar on June 19, 14 people lost their lives Jharkhand between June 17 and 18, out of which eight belonged to the Palamu district. A lead story published on the first page of Prabhat Khabar mentions that four people, including a police personnel, had died due to heatwave in Dhandbad. Hindustan paper had reported eight deaths in the Garhwa district.
Godda district has recorded the highest temperature in the state this year. On June 18, the maximum temperature in the district was 46.5 degrees. During this time of the year, Godda usually registers a temperature of 45 degrees. There were reports of deaths in the district.
As per the medical officer at Godda Sadar Hospital, most of the patients coming to the hospital suffered from heat stroke. Many people were declared dead on arrival. Those who were in critical conditions were referred to other hospitals.
Abhijeet, a local journalist, says that between June 17 and 18, almost one-and-a-half dozen people died on account of heat stroke. He also says that around 40 to 50 people have died in the district due to heatwave. The victims are mostly senior citizens. Many such reports are coming from other districts of the state too.
Despite these media reports and doctors’ statements, the government still refuses to accept that these deaths have been due to the heat wave. On June 21, Banna Gupta, Jharkhand’s Health and Disaster Management Minister, conducted a high-level video conference with Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai.
After the meeting, while briefing the media, Gupta said: “The entire nation is reeling under the impact of the heatwave. There have been both physical and material losses in many states. However, we are lucky that Jharkhand has not been affected. Not a single case of death due to heatwave has been reported in the state.”
So, if the post-mortem reports show that the deaths have been due to the heat wave, will these families get compensation? The answer is no. These deaths are not registered with central or state disaster management agencies. This means, neither the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) nor State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) is obliged to give any compensation.
However, Gupta has asked the central government to include heatwave-related deaths in the category of disaster management. He informed that reasons have to be specified for deaths due to heat or cold waves and the central government needs to issue clear directives in this regard. There has to be clarity on which provisions should be taken into account while providing compensation to these victims and who would give this compensation.
Pratul Shahdeo, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson from Jharkhand, feels that the state government is not at all serious as far as the deaths due to heat wave are concerned.
“Ministers are sitting in their AC chambers and conducting meetings, while the poor are dying on roads,” he says. He asks even if these deaths are not included in the disaster management category, can’t the chief minister and the health minister provide compensation? “In case of a disaster, even district collectors are authorised to provide compensation. Why isn’t the government able to do anything in this regard?” he asks.
(translated by Kaveri Mishra)