Col (retired) Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, the Chairperson at Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council, which prepared the lightning report, and Convener, Lightning Resilient Campaign, speaks to The Indian Express on the Mid-Monsoon 2019 Lightning Report.
What went into the preparation of the report on lightning?
The Mid-Monsoon 2019 Lightning Report has been prepared by using IMD’s lightning forecasts including Nowcast, Indian Institute of Tropical Management-Pune’s lightning network data, NRSC, ISRO inputs, other satellite data and ground-based impacts reports received from the active network of Lightning Resilient India Campaign. The network includes state governments, NGOs, media, etc. This is part of our effort to prepare a lightning risk map of India and identify lightning hotspots.
What is the role of state governments?
IMD-installed sensors across India have been giving alerts since April. State governments should take the data and start an emergency response system and relay the information to the district level. Location-based SMS services is available, but this is not done in many states, resulting in high casualties. States like Odisha, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh are doing this systematically.
Odisha had the highest number of lightning strikes in four months, but fewer casualties than many other states. How did this happen?
After receiving alerts from IMD, they send pre-fixed messages to the grassroots utilising their network. Vulnerable people have been trained how to respond after hearing the warning siren. Safe shelters were created. Lightning arresters have been installed on many buildings. Mayurbhanj, which saw 152 deaths last year, recorded only 17 this year. The state took proactive measures like changing housing patterns, providing education. They planted palm trees, which attract high-voltage electricity.
And Jharkhand, Bihar, UP saw less than a sixth of the lightning strikes but more than a third (512) of deaths…
In Bihar, disaster management is in place, but until recently it was focused on floods. In UP, the CM has initiated a scheme, but due to bureaucratic issues, the work is yet to be implemented. Jharkhand has done its groundwork, but since there is no manpower in the State Disaster Management Authority, there is no outreach.
Why did the study stress lightning protection to prevent extinction of tribal communities such as Birhor, Pahadiya?
Recent observations confirm that the Chhotanagpur plateau, which is the confluence of Jharkhand, Odisha, part of Chhattisgarh and West Bengal and is inhabited by tribals, is the most lightning-prone area. The area is electrostatically and thermodynamically charged, resulting in lightning. East Singhbhum has the highest number of lightning strikes — more than 2 lakh — compared to any other district in India. These areas are predominantly inhabited by tribals who need to be relocated to safer spaces, else their population will go extinct.
Is there a connection between lightning and climate change?
We found that areas prone to heatwaves were also prone to lightning. Pollution increases aerosols in the atmosphere, which in turn increases lightning. There have been at least two or three instances of lightning strikes without rainfall, killing persons in Jharkhand.