Uttar Pradesh: Row over claims of heatwave deaths in India state

Local commuters walk through massive heatwave during a hot day in Allahabad on June 7,2022
Image caption,Large parts of India have been experiencing intense heat waves

Officials in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are investigating dozens of deaths that some have attributed to a heatwave.

Between Thursday and Sunday, 68 deaths were reported in Ballia district, around 274km (170 miles) from state capital Lucknow.

A district health official who said earlier that heat could be a cause was transferred, sparking a political row.

The state government later set up a panel to submit a report on the deaths.

Temperatures in several parts of Uttar Pradesh have ranged between 42C and 47C in the past week. The government has advised elderly people to stay indoors.

In neighbouring Bihar state, local media reported that more than 40 people had died due to heat since 31 May, but state officials denied this.

Dr Umesh Kumar, the official in charge of Bihar’s disaster control room, told the BBC that they had only established one report of death due to extreme heat, in Jehanabad district.

The controversy in Uttar Pradesh began on Friday after Diwakar Singh, chief of Ballia district hospital, told reporters that around 25 people had died, and that heat may have been a factor.

“Most of the patients were above 60 and had pre-existing ailments. These were exacerbated by the heat and they were brought to the hospital in serious condition. They died despite being given adequate treatment and medicines,” Dr Singh said.

A day later, he was transferred from the post. Brajesh Pathak, the state’s deputy chief minister, said that Dr Singh’s statement was “careless” but added that the government was taking the situation “very seriously”.

He said two senior officials had been sent to investigate and report on the incident.

AK Singh, one of the senior officials investigating the deaths, said they could not immediately confirm if weather had played a part since other districts experiencing similar temperatures had not reported such deaths.

“Also, the fever is not as high as it should be in case of a heatwave,” he told reporters.

Officials said they were also looking into other potential sources of infection, such as water contamination. It was not immediately clear whether all the victims were from one locality.

The issue sparked a political row, with opposition leaders blaming the government for “carelessness” in not warning people about the heatwave.

“Those who have lost their lives are poor farmers because they did not receive food, medicines and treatment on time,” former state chief minister Akhilesh Yadav alleged.

Heatwaves are common in northern India, especially in May and June, but experts say they have become more intense and frequent and last longer.

In April, around a dozen people died from heatstroke while many were admitted to hospital after attending an awards ceremony in an open ground under a blazing sun in Maharashtra state.

A study published in https://sayurkole.com/ The Lancet last year found that India saw a 55% rise in deaths due to extreme heat between 2000-2004 and 2017-2021.

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