April 2, 2017 12:44:35 am
Bhira, a small village in Raigad district of Maharashtra, recently caught the nation’s attention for being “the hottest area” in the country, as mercury levels rose to 46.5 degrees Celsius on March 29. On the very same day, teachers of a primary school in Patnoos village, the panchayat that Bhira belongs to, were out playing cricket, oblivious to the heat. “We are used to such high temperatures… it doesn’t affect our daily lives any more,” says Pravin Rathod, school headmaster. In spite of the searing heat, life goes on as usual for most villagers in Bhira, which is surrounded by Sahyadri hills on three sides. However, they admit that the recent temperatures are a notch above what they have experienced in the last few years.
To counter the soaring temperatures, village sarpanch Vijay Mhamunkar is trying to create awareness about the possible fallout of such extreme heat. They are also undertaking tree plantation on a large scale as that, says Mhamunkar, is the only way “to keep the heat in check.” The local schools switch to an early morning shift once summers arrive. During summers, schools usually shut by 11.40 pm; this year, students are being sent home even earlier, with schools open between 7am and 10 am, following special orders from the Board Education Officer (BEO). But life in this village — particularly for tribals living in tinned-roof homes, amid massive basaltic hills that heat up as the day progresses — is anything but easy.
Of late, 45 year-old Suman Waghmare has been waking up earlier than usual, and rushing to nearby forests to fetch wood. She has already started stocking up wood for the cooking chullah, ahead of the monsoon months. “I barely get two hours in a day to go look for wood. As the day progresses, it becomes next to impossible to go outdoors,” said Waghmare, who says that she stays put in her thatched-roof home from 9 am till dusk. Though the walls of her hut have been covered with cow dung, that provides little respite from the unforgiving heat, says Waghmare.
The panchayat is trying to do its bit to create awareness among villagers by placing several placards with precautionary measures. Local residents seem to be following these measures, as barely anybody was visible out and about between 11 am and 3 pm. Despite the rising temperature, cases of heat stroke are not very common here, as no major farming activities take place during summer; most of them are carried out in the monsoon months. Villagers who are not involved in farming are away for work, either in Mumbai or Pune. “This acts in favour of the people here, as they inadvertently stay indoors during summer months,” said Sandip Borse, assistant teacher at the village primary school, who has been living in Bhira for a decade. Another resident, Santosh Gujar, said the village witnesses extreme weather conditions with each changing season. “Despite severe weather conditions, our lives are largely unaffected by such extreme temperatures,” says Gujar.
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