Lightning not a natural disaster, says Centre

Number of deaths due to lightning has been increasing of late; if it joins the list of natural disasters, victims will be entitled to compensation under the State Disaster Response Fund; but an official says Centre is not in favour of it as deaths can be prevented through awareness programmes

Updated - July 17, 2023 01:01 pm IST

Published - July 16, 2023 07:31 pm IST

A flash of lightning illuminating the skies in Mysuru.

A flash of lightning illuminating the skies in Mysuru. | Photo Credit: SRIRAM MA

The Union government is not in favour of declaring lightning a natural disaster as deaths caused by it can be avoided through education and awareness, according to a senior government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. India is among the only five countries in the world with an early warning system for lightning and the forecast is available from five days to up to 3 hours. 

There have been demands by States such as Bihar and West Bengal that deaths due to lightning be covered as a natural disaster. The victims will be entitled to compensation from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) once this is notified. As much as 75% of funds to SDRF are contributed by the Centre. 

According to present norms, cyclone, drought, earthquake, fire, flood, tsunami, hailstorm, landslide, avalanche, cloudburst, pest attack, frost and cold waves are considered disasters that are covered under the SDRF. 

Bihar’s Disaster Management Minister Shahnawaz Alam told The Hindu that Bihar is one of the most vulnerable States and as many as 107 have died after being struck by lightning till July 6 this year. 

“In the past few years, there has been a spurt in deaths due to lightning. It is possible that climate change is one of the reasons. In the past five years, more than 1,500 people have lost their lives in Bihar. On June 25, 2020, more than 100 people died in a single day after they were struck by lightning,” Mr. Alam said.

He said he raised the issue at the July 13 meeting of Ministers of Disaster Management of States that was chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi. 

The Minister said that timely alerts are sent out to people and pamphlets are distributed at the panchayat level to make people aware of the dangers associated with lightning.

Also read | Lightning strikes claim 907 lives in 2022, highest toll in 14 years

“There are times when people acknowledge the message and take adequate precautions, but during peak farming season, sometimes people tend to ignore the warnings. Some of them are receptive but it is the poorest who bear the brunt,” Mr. Alam said. 

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in the year 2021, as many as 2,880 people died due to lightning. The deaths comprised 40% of all accidental deaths caused by “forces of nature”. 

While 2,862 people died in 2020, the number stood at 2,876 in 2019. There has been an increase in the proportion of such deaths compared to the total accidental deaths caused by events related to nature. 

Also read | Lightning, the single largest killer among natural disasters in Karnataka

For instance, in 2003, deaths due to lightning comprised just 0.2% of the total deaths caused by forces of nature. 

According to a presentation made by Director-General, India Meteorological Department (IMD) at the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction Conference (NPDRR) in March, the frequency of lightning was maximum in northeast States and in West Bengal, Sikkim, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar but the number of deaths is higher in central Indian States of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. 

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