India forecasts searing heat ahead of world's biggest election
Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: India is bracing for soaring temperatures in the coming weeks, potentially straining power grids and posing a threat to life at a time when the number of election rallies will surge.

The mercury exceeded 42°C in the northwestern state of Rajasthan Thursday, and stayed as much as 5°C above average in some parts of the country, according to the India Meteorological Department. The maximum temperature may rise by 2°C-4°C in central and eastern regions in the coming days, it said. Heat waves are likely during the April-June season.

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Hotter-than-normal summer

The weather department has predicted a hotter-than-normal summer, with temperatures picking up just as India prepares for a six-week long election from the middle of April. Political parties have already started organising mega outdoor meetings, but protection from the scorching sun is not always guaranteed. At least 13 people died in April last year due to heat stroke at an event in Maharashtra, according to media reports.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a third term in the office, met officials Thursday to review the situation, according to a government statement late Thursday. Modi emphasised on equipping hospitals to deal with any emergency, as well making efforts to detect and control forest fires, it said.

Majority of population work outdoors

Heat, when combined with humidity, can be a dangerous mix. It kills dozens of people every year in India, where a majority of 1.4 billion population work outdoors. That includes construction workers and hawkers, who often work without much protection.

Scores of people died in eastern India last year, either directly due to heat waves or their existing conditions getting exacerbated by the blazing summer.

"We have already issued advisories to hospitals to keep some beds reserved for heat wave-related patients," Ranjeet Kumar, chief health surveillance officer in the eastern state of Bihar said by phone. "We're making sure that hospitals have cooling facilities and have all the critical medicines in store."

Electricity demand soars

India's peak electricity demand is estimated to surge to a record of 250 gigawatts, as demand for cooling appliances will increase. The power ministry has asked plants to continue importing coal to make up for any shortfall in local supplies. Coal-based plants account for about three-fourths of India's power generation.

Heat waves were recorded in some areas of the country last week, the weather bureau said. They are likely at some places in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand for some days until at least April 24. Some regions of the country will also get rains and hailstorms, it said.