Heatstroke kills 33 polling staff in a state on last day of India election

While several people have died during the intense heatwave, dozens dying in one day marks an especially grim toll.

India heat election
Election officers rest beneath a parked bus on a hot summer day before proceeding to their allotted polling stations in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh [File: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP]

At least 33 Indian polling staff died on the last day of voting from heatstroke in just one state, says a top election official, after scorching temperatures gripped swaths of the country.

Navdeep Rinwa, chief electoral officer for the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where voting in the seventh and final stage of the election ended on Saturday, said 33 polling personnel died due to the heat.

The figure included security guards and sanitation staff.

“A monetary compensation of 1.5 million rupees [$18,000] will be provided to the families of the deceased,” Rinwa told reporters on Sunday.

While there have been reports of multiple deaths from the intense heatwave – with temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in many places – the dozens of staff dying in one day marks an especially grim toll.

Rinwa reported a separate incident in which a man in the queue to vote in Ballia city lost consciousness. “The voter was transported to a health facility, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival,” he said.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said temperatures in Jhansi city reached 46.9C (116F) on Saturday. Indian media reports said the heat index soared to an alarming 61C in Ballia on Saturday.

The Hindustan Times newspaper reported a total of 58 people died due to heat exposure across the country on Saturday, with deaths also reported from neighbouring Bihar, Odisha in the east and and the central Madhya Pradesh states.

Bihar saw at least 10 election-related deaths on Saturday, the newspaper said, adding that the toll could rise, according to an official. In Odisha, at least nine people died due to heat on Saturday, taking the death toll in two days to 54.

Experts say when a person is dehydrated, extreme heat exposure thickens their blood and causes organ failures.

India is no stranger to searing summer temperatures. But years of scientific research have found climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.

Meanwhile, exit polls on Saturday evening predicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi will win a rare third consecutive term in office and is likely to be re-elected with a strong majority, grabbing most seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s Parliament.

Nearly a billion Indians were registered to vote in the massive seven-phase elections that were organised over six weeks and concluded on Saturday evening.

Votes will be counted on Tuesday and the final results are likely to be announced by the end of the day.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies