Heat-related insurance, more tree cover, water harvesting plans a must

Rising water demand in the region has led to inter-state bickering and litigation.
Commuters brave the heat wave during a hot summer afternoon, in Delhi, on June 18, 2024.
Commuters brave the heat wave during a hot summer afternoon, in Delhi, on June 18, 2024.Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS

When TS Eliot wrote “April is the cruellest month”, he could still see lilacs breeding in balmy England. But for Indians living under a pitiless sky, there has hardly been a reprieve from an unrelenting heatwave between April and now. Matters got worse this past week in northern and northwestern India as minimum temperatures hovered 5-6°C above normal. This does not allow surfaces to cool before the next day’s sun, exacerbating the heat index and the possibility of related ailments.

The National Centre for Disease Control claims that, between March and May, more than 7 lakh people were admitted to emergency wards across the country on heat-related ailments; 24,849 of the cases were counted as heatstrokes, resulting in 56 deaths. Herein lies a problem. Heatstroke numbers are put out by reluctant state governments only when asked, are not regularly collated, and are often disputed. Climate emergencies are declared when crops are lost and compensation has to be fixed, not when there is no clear economic cost computed on human losses. Even temperature counts are uncertain. When the nation gasped at Delhi’s Mungeshpur recording an unprecedented 52.9°C on May 29, the weather office blamed it on a faulty sensor.

Related numbers reveal the misery to an extent. The national capital’s peak power demand surpassed 8 GW for the first time ever on May 22 and has crossed the threshold eight times since, with a new record of 8.6 GW clocked on Tuesday. Rising water demand in the region has led to inter-state bickering and litigation.

Some fruits of wisdom are low-hanging. Being honest about heatstroke numbers and our cities’ tree covers would be a start. Sapling planting drives can be made an annual exercise in cities. The Delhi Metro this year promised to extend rainwater harvesting across its network; if such a scheme is made mandatory for all government properties, it will make a massive difference. In a novel effort worth emulating, about 50,000 women in three states were paid a part of their daily wages for May when they missed work because of the heat. In March, the Supreme Court followed evolving global jurisprudence when it ruled in the M K Ranjitsinh case that citizens had “the right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change”. The central and state governments should deliver on the right before being forced.

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