Natural Disasters

Jharkhand farmers, tribal areas remain at mercy of lightning

Over 500 died in the last decade due to lightning; Schools say conductors don't work, get stolen 

By Manoj Choudhary
Published: Tuesday 16 August 2022
Jharkhand is among the six states in India highly sensitive to thunder and lightning. Photo for representation: Wikimedia Commons

Lightning has emerged as a major threat to villages in Jharkhand, with no resources or infrastructure to protect them from the natural phenomenon. Farmers and areas with tribal communities remain especially vulnerable as they work in open fields surrounded by tall trees in hilly areas. 

Fatalities by lightning account for 33 per cent of total fatalities from natural disasters in the country, according to non-profit Climate Resilient Observing System Promotion Council (CROPC) and the India Meteorological Department (IMD). 

Jharkhand is among six states in the country classified as highly sensitive to thunder and lightning by the IMD. Sudden changes in the weather conditions are common in the state that has a large portion of forest and hilly areas. 

More than 440,000 instances of lightning were registered in 2021-22 and Jharkhand recorded 322 deaths in 2020-21. Of these deaths, 96 per cent were from rural areas and 77 per cent of the victims were farmers, according to a CROPC report. 

Sunaina Kumari of Childag village in Ranchi is among the many people whose lives have been upended by lightning. Kumari’s father, Deo Kumar Baitha (51), was struck in 2019 while working in a field and died. 

“My father was working on the fields with other farmers when lightning struck. The others gained consciousness in a while, but my father was declared dead by a local hospital,” said Kumari. Baitha had left behind a wife and four children and was the only earning member of the family. 

Read more: Global warming: Arctic lightning strikes up drastically in 2021

The village has seen several such deaths. A decade ago, another man ploughing the fields was also struck by lightning and died similarly. 

Through 2021, 568 people have died in the state in the last nine years due to lightning. The state government provides Rs 4 lakh as compensation for death by thunder and lightning.

Those injured by lightning are eligible for up to Rs 2 lakh from the state government. The compensation for each house damaged varies between Rs 2,100 and Rs 95,100. Cattle owners can get Rs 3,000-30,000 for animal deaths. 

“The compensation does not bring back our loved ones,” she said. “Villagers are dependent on agriculture. Farmers are well aware that working in the field during rain is dangerous, but they don’t have an option.” 

“The district administration used to put awareness posters on how to be safe from lightning, but it doesn’t take any preventive measures to save villagers. No lightning conductor is functioning in local schools either,” she said.

The government should provide funds to install lightning conductors at sensitive public locations in all villages, said Devyani Murmu, East Singhbhum Zila Parishad member from Ghatsila.

More deaths happen in villages as lightning affects larger, open areas, said Rajni Kumari, a resident of Khunti district. “Tribal communities live in hilly areas with tall trees, making them more vulnerable,” she said. “They can’t avoid work in this weather because they don’t want to risk the crop yield being affected.” 

Read more: Megaflash! New longest distance and longest duration lightnings recorded

Unsafe schools 

A school in Bokaro district was struck July 23, 2022, severely injuring six students. Around 50 students of Rajkriyakrit middle school had complained of health complications and two had to be referred to Bokaro General Hospital as they had fallen unconscious.  

The education minister of Jharkhand, Jagarnath Mahto, had visited the school and directed the department to install lightning conductors in schools.

Around 5,000 private schools in the tribal areas have lightning conductors, according to sources. However, most either don’t work or get stolen.

There are around 45,000 government schools in Jharkhand. “My school had a lightning conductor installed, but it was stolen even before I took charge,” said Shashibhushan Mahato, headmaster of Upgraded Middle School, Bandhdih. Most schools do not have lightning conductors, confirmed Pashupati Mishra, a teacher in a Jamshedpur school. 

Conductors were installed in all schools in East Singhbhum in 2018, said Additional District Programme Officer for education Pankaj Kumar. “However, schools now say that they are useless or have been stolen,” Kumar said. 

Read more: As told to Parliament (December 1, 2021): Lightning strikes killed 2,862 Indians in 2020

Awareness campaigns will be conducted to teach students and parents precautionary methods, he added. “Schools will be equipped with conductors once we receive funds,” Kumar said. 

The weather department of Jharkhand also runs an SMS alert system for thunder and lightning. The department also tweets updated weather information through its Mausam Kendra, Ranchi account. 

A mobile application called Mausam has also been launched for weather-related specific forecasts and warnings. Another app called Meghdoot for agro met advisories and Damini for thundering and lightning warnings are also run by the weather department. The apps also tell the users what to do if they face the natural phenomenon. 

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