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Heat strikes; victims’ families kept waiting for Rs 10,000
In orissa more than 100 people died of sunstroke in March and April, according to media reports. The official figure is 17. As relatives of those who died run from pillar to post to claim the Rs 10,000 compensation from the state government, summer in the state has peaked—Talcher in Angul district recorded 47.1°C on April 21. The maximum day temperature in the state crossed 40°C for 17 days in March and it remained 42°C from April 1 to 23.
The causes for the heat wave are hot winds from northwest India, Rajasthan especially, and not enough rainfall and Nor’westers that cool, said Sarat Chandra Sahu, director in-charge of India Meteorological Department in Bhubaneswar. “Hot winds from Rajasthan impact Orissa for about a week in April, but this year the winds arrived early April and stayed through,” he said.
| Shahabuddin’s case record has to be verified and his legal heir found before the case is recommended to the district emergency officer for compensation
—SAMBIT NAYAK Tehsildar of Balasore
These explanations mean little for Chandni, widow of Sheikh Shahabu-ddin, who died of heatstroke in Suelpur village on the outskirts of Balasore. She is awaiting compensation. The tehsildar of Balasore, Sambit Nayak, said for that he needed to verify Shahabuddin’s case record and find his legal heir before recommending the case for compensation to the district emergency officer, who would then forward the application to the collector.
In neighbouring Mayur-bhanj district, the tehsildar and a medical doctor confirmed on April 9 that Maya Hebram died of heatstroke. Compensation has not come by and the tehsildar said one must be patient for “these are official matters”. A post mortem report, considered conclusive evidence of sunstroke deaths, makes it easier to claim compensation; otherwise the team comprising tehsildar and doctor usually relies on the deceased person’s medical history and events preceding his or her death. State government officials, though, agreed the compensation amount is peanuts.
The reason for the meagre amount is heat stroke casualties are classed as unnatural deaths. “We have been trying to impress upon the Centre the need to recognize sunstroke as a natural calamity so that victims get more,” said Padmnabh Behera, under secretary in the office of the special relief commissioner in Bhubaneswar. He added the state was taking precautionary measures. It decla-red an early summer vacation, starting April 20, for schools, and special heatstroke rooms were opened in all hospitals. Despite such precautions, sunstroke has been claiming lives in Orissa for the past several years (see table).
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