Lightning strikes have led to deaths in several States during this monsoon season, killing 579 people (Situation report, Ministry of Home Affairs). Madhya Pradesh experienced the highest number of lightning-related deaths (162), followed by Maharashtra (121), Gujarat (72), Bihar (70), Rajasthan (49), and Chhattisgarh (40).

According to the ‘Annual Lightning Report 2020-2021’, India has experienced an increasing loss of human lives, property, and livelihoods due to the rising frequency and intensity of lightning and thunderstorms. Between 1972 and 2019, around 90,632 people were killed due to lightning strikes, followed by floods and rain (77,724), heatwaves (34,925), landslides (26,980), cold waves (26,167), cyclones (23,315).

Tragic toll

The Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India 2021 report confirms that 7,126 people were killed due to natural disasters, 40.4 per cent of deaths took place due to lightning, 9.2 per cent of deaths due to floods, and 8.7 per cent of deaths due to coldwave, 5.3 per cent of deaths due to landslides, 5.2 per cent of deaths due to heat stroke, and 1.7 per cent of deaths due to cyclones.

Per the Annual Lightning Report, 2020-21, India witnessed 18.5 million lightning strikes between April 2020 and March 2021, marking 34 per cent more strikes than the previous year.

Besides the loss of human life, lightning adversely impacts the agriculture, aviation, power, and communication sectors. Mainly, rural and forest areas are the most vulnerable due to lighting because of the presence of water bodies and tall trees. Compared to the urban area, 96 per cent of deaths occurred in rural areas due to lightning. In addition, frequent lightning strikes adversely affect small and marginal farmers.

Around 77 per cent of farmers are killed due to lightning as they work in agricultural fields during the Kharif cropping season in the monsoon period. Moreover, the Annual Lightning Report 2020-2021 confirms that 60-70 per cent of deaths occurred in tribal populations due to lightning in Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and other states.

Regarding deaths due to lightning, the population in rural areas is more vulnerable than in urban areas. More than 70 per cent of deaths from lightning occurred amongst people standing under tall trees; therefore, training and community awareness programs are essential measures to minimise deaths due to lightning.

However, there is no national-level policy to tackle lightning fatalities except for providing a lump-sum ex-gratia to the kin of the deceased person. The Odisha government provides 4 lakh per deceased person to the next of kin from SDRF. Other State governments provide lump sum Ex-gratia to the deceased person’s family. These policies are not adequate to minimise deaths due to lightning.

The Centre should include lightning as a “natural disaster” to minimise lightning-related deaths. This would help States prepare long-term mitigation through coordinated efforts with local agencies and reconstruction activities to build disaster-resilient infrastructure.

In addition, some critical measures where public intervention is an absolute necessity include mapping vulnerable populations with potential lightning hotspots, improving early warning systems, and installing lightning detection systems in the local areas.

Moreover, the government should prepare a database related to the frequency of lightning strikes, gender-wise lightning deaths, and occupation-wise fatalities at the district, state, and central levels for devising an action plan against lightning strikes. These targeted public interventions can reduce human casualties due to lightning.

Parida and Roy Chowdhury are Assistant Professors of Economics at FLAME University, Pune. Sahoo is a Lecturer of Economics at Vikram Deb College, Jeypore, Odisha. Views expressed are personal