At least 17 people died as towns and cities in India's northern states were hit by cold weather, officials said on Friday.

"Sixteen people have died in Uttar Pradesh since early Wednesday due to cold [weather] conditions in the state. Most victims were homeless or pavement dwellers," state police spokesman G N Khanna said.

Police in Jammu, the winter capital of India-administered Kashmir, found the body of a worker who also died due to the cold.

Temperatures have plummeted in Uttar Pradesh and main cities such as Kanpur and Agra recorded temperatures as low as 1 to 4 degrees Celsius.

Beggars and homeless people had to spend the cold nights with little protection beyond plastic sheets and bags, reports said. State authorities were distributing blankets and firewood to the poor, police said.

Weather officials said there would be no respite from the cold weather and expect temperatures to fall further over the weekend.

Cold weather prevailed in northern states like Punjab and Haryana. The season's lowest temperature on the plains was reported from Amritsar, which recorded minus 0,2 degrees Celsius.

In the Himalayan region, several parts of Indian Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh temperatures dropped below zero.

Winters in India are brief, beginning in mid-December and ending by February.