Rajasthan heatwave: Rising temperatures, deaths, water shortage and political turmoil

Media reports indicate that 122 people have died in Rajasthan this summer season, with 61 of those deaths occurring between May 23 to May 30.
Children bathe from a pipe on a hot summer day amid heatwave.
Children bathe from a pipe on a hot summer day amid heatwave.Photo | PTI

Rajasthan is experiencing extreme heat during Nautapa, the nine hottest days of summer when the Sun moves into the Rohini Nakshatra in May-June, as the temperature continues to climb.

With three more days left in this period, the state is battling temperatures of around 50 degrees Celsius in most districts.

As soon as dawn breaks, the sun begins to scorch many districts, creating a virtual curfew-like situation by afternoon.

Roads, streets, and highways wear a deserted look as temperatures soar between 50 and 52 degrees Celsius in several areas across the desert state.

Jaipur Meteorological Center Director Radheshyam Sharma commented, "Areas connected to Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi are experiencing more severe heatwave conditions."

In response to the dire situation, the Meteorological Department has issued a red alert for 20 districts in western Rajasthan, including Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Churu, Hanumangarh, and Sriganganagar, for May 30.

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Additionally, an orange alert was issued for eight other districts, including Udaipur. The heatwave has led to a sudden rise in heat-related casualties across the state. Media reports indicate that 122 people have died in Rajasthan this summer season, with 61 of those deaths occurring between May 23 to May 30. The deceased include a BSF jawan, a sarpanch, a farmer, and a housewife and her son.

Tragic Heatwave Deaths and Government Response

In Jaipur, a Rajasthan Roadways driver, Bhopal Singh, succumbed to the heat. His health deteriorated at the Jaipur bus depot, and he was admitted to the emergency ward of Sawai Mansingh Hospital, where he passed away during treatment. Roadways employees say that Bhopal Singh’s condition worsened due to a heatstroke, compounded by pre-existing cholera complaints. Similarly, in Tonk district, the body of farmer Harish Chand was found in his field, with his skin showing severe burns. Family members believe he died due to the heat.

Surprisingly, the government has not officially confirmed any deaths due to the heatwave. In the past 24 hours alone, there have been reported deaths in Alwar, Tonk, Jaipur, and two in Sikar. Experts suggest that the administration is downplaying the fatalities to avoid embarrassment and the need to pay compensation.

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The Rajasthan High Court, however, has taken suo motu cognizance of the crisis situation, directing both central and state governments to compensate the affected families. Justice Anoop Dhand also urged the issuance of a special advisory regarding the heatwave. The court emphasized that the state government should provide water and shade on roads and public places and restrict outdoor labor between 12 PM and 3 PM. Additionally, proper treatment arrangements should be made in hospitals and dispensaries to handle heat-related illnesses.

Soldiers stationed on the Indo-Pak border in desert districts like Jaisalmer and Barmer are also enduring severe hardships due to the rising temperatures.

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Fatal Impact on Newborns

This extreme heat is proving particularly fatal for newborns. Over the past fortnight at Jodhpur AIIMS, six newborn babies required dialysis. Dr. Arun Singh, who works at the hospital, noted, "Due to dehydration, sodium levels in babies increase, necessitating dialysis. Despite treatment, the damage to a child's brain from lack of water cannot be fully remedied. Severe dehydration can lead to kidney failure and even death."

The surge in patients due to the intense heat has exposed significant strains on the healthcare system. Photos and videos from various districts reveal the system's collapse. The most notable case emerged from Barmer, where an elderly man suffering from heatstroke was denied a bed and left to lie on the ground in the open at a hospital.

Rajasthan Faces Electricity and Water Crisis

The extreme heat in Rajasthan has led to significant shortages of electricity and water, with approximately 40 districts experiencing a severe drinking water crisis. A report from the Central Ground Water Department declares that two-thirds of Rajasthan's blocks are drought-affected. The Water Supply Department's report highlights alarming figures, showing that most cities are not receiving adequate drinking water.

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Political Backlash and Ministerial Controversies

In response to the crisis, Power Minister Hiralal Nagar and Water Supply Minister Kanhaiyalal Chaudhary have faced backlash for controversial statements. On Monday, Nagar tried to evade responsibility by blaming the previous government for ruining the power system. Meanwhile, Chaudhary remarked, "It is not as if I will blow fire or bring water in the form of Balaji (Lord Hanuman). I can only provide the water I have." As the state grapples with extreme heat and widespread drought, Chaudhary's statement downplaying his ability to resolve the crisis has drawn sharp criticism from opposition leaders. Former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot condemned the minister's comments, calling them insensitive to the plight of the affected population. In response, Chaudhary has organized a religious recital, invoking divine intervention for rain.

These statements have been widely condemned, forcing the government into a defensive position. Recognizing the severity of the situation, Chief Minister Bhajanlal Sharma took to the field to assess the situation firsthand. On Wednesday, Sharma inspected the pump house in Jaipur, issuing directives to officials and assessing the water output.

Ongoing Political Tensions

Amid these challenges, political tensions continue to rise. After the High Court took cognizance of the situation on Thursday, Congress State President Govind Singh Dotasara targeted the state government. Dotasara accused the government of hiding the number of heat-related deaths and failing to provide adequate relief.

Dotasara wrote on Instagram, "The BJP government of Rajasthan is not on alert but on auto mode. That is why the court has to take suo motu cognizance and issue orders. More than 100 people have died due to the scorching heat and heatwave, and the BJP government has completely failed to manage the protection from heatwave and adequate supply of electricity and water."

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He further added, "After the government's negligence, the High Court has taken suo motu cognizance and directed the government to issue a special advisory and give compensation to the families of the deceased. The Congress party is constantly demanding that the government make proper arrangements for protection and relief from the heatwave and compensate the families of the deceased. But the BJP government is trying to wash its hands of the matter of deaths due to the heatwave."

The rising temperatures have also exposed internal political strife within the BJP. State BJP leader Rajendra Rathore criticized Health Minister Gajendra Khinvsar, suggesting that if he had been the Medical Minister, the situation would have been under control. The Bhajan Lal government, initially hesitant to acknowledge the heatwave deaths, was further pressured by Agriculture Minister Kirori Lal Meena's statement about providing compensation to the deceased's families.

Minister Meena, in a conversation with a news agency, said, "According to the SDRF guidelines, there is no provision for compensating deaths due to heat or cold. During the Vasundhara Raje government, we made provisions for deaths due to lightning and storms. I will raise these issues with the Chief Minister so that the affected people can get some help." Meena also noted that post-mortem reports confirmed heatstroke as the cause of death for six individuals.

Possible Relief from Heatwave as Monsoon Approaches

There is hope on the horizon for Rajasthan as temperatures are expected to drop in the coming days. On Thursday, a drizzle in several districts, including Bharatpur, helped bring temperatures under control. Jaipur Meteorological Center Director Radheshyam Sharma announced that the state's temperatures would begin to fall within the next 24 hours, providing much-needed relief from the intense heat.

"Rajasthan has seen some relief in temperatures today, and the heat is expected to decline in the coming days.A new western disturbance is active in the state, and the impact of the heatwave will diminish on May 30," Sharma said. "Due to this disturbance, there is a possibility of rain accompanied by dust storms in the eastern part of Rajasthan, including some areas of the Jaipur division and Shekhawati, on May 31. During this time, wind speeds could reach 40 to 50 kilometers per hour. Most districts in Rajasthan may experience storms and rain on June 1."

Monsoon Forecast

The monsoon, which typically enters Rajasthan about 25 days after arriving in Kerala, is expected in the last week of June this year. While exact dates cannot be confirmed at the moment, Sharma expressed optimism about the upcoming monsoon season. "This year, we expect a good monsoon in the state, with forecasts predicting normal to above-normal rainfall in many areas."

As the state eagerly awaits the monsoon, the anticipated change in weather offers a welcome mental respite from the severe heatwave and the resulting water and electricity shortages. People across Rajasthan are hoping that real, tangible relief in the next few days will help to substantially reduce the misery that they are currently enduring.

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