Indian farmers demand action as lightning kills 93 people in two days

Storm in eastern state of Bihar kills at least 56, while 37 die in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and Madhya Pradesh as monsoon rains sweep country
Vidhi Doshi The Guardian 22 Jun 16;

Farmers in east India are calling for action from the government after at least 93 people died in lightning storms across the country in two days.

A storm in Bihar state killed at least 56 people and injured another 28, mostly in rural areas, and authorities said a further 37 people had died in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and Madhya Pradesh.

Lal Babu Usvaha, a farmer from Kanti Butiya village near the city of Muzaffarpur in Bihar, said: “Work is work. We can’t stop because of the weather. We have to keep working in the fields. But we feel scared when we see so many clouds, so much electricity in the sky.”

Usvaha said the government should help farmers working in the fields, who make up a large proportion of the thousands of Indians who die in lightning strikes every year. “We need help, but what will the government do? What has the government ever done for farmers? We have so many problems, but they don’t care.”

Saffan Kumar, another farmer, said: “We can’t stay at home and we can’t go out. We’re stuck. We are willing to do anything, if the government can help us. We’re prepared to do what they say.”

Lightning strikes are relatively common in India during the June to October monsoon, which hit the southern coast earlier this month, but this week’s toll is particularly high.

Rakesh Kumar Singh, the secretary of a Bihar farmers’ collective called Jan Nirman Kendra, said Tuesday’s storm began at about 3pm in the district of Samastipur. “I was driving, and the light in the sky was so bright that I couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But I was too scared to stop, so I kept driving. It was as though there was a war happening in the sky.”

In the village of Panchayat Chowk, a coconut tree was felled by lightning, killing a man. Another man has gone missing in the village. Singh said: “Before the rains came farmers were worried about drought. Now that it’s raining, they are working in the fields all day, and the rain can start at any time. The farmers know not to stand under trees or in open fields, so they run to the nearest shelter they can find.

“There are many more deaths all around Bihar, and the famers are very worried,” he said, adding that years of perceived government inaction meant many farmers had lost faith in it to help them.

“There are hundreds of thousands of farmers in Bihar … The government can’t do anything. Whatever has to be done, we will have to do ourselves.”

The government has announced that it will give 400,000 rupees (£4,000) to each of the lightning victims’ families to provide relief. Other relief funds may also be accessible to injured farmers, depending on the severity of their injuries.

More than 2,500 people were killed by lightning in India in 2014, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, the most recent figures available.

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