Jharkhand recorded 322 human deaths and 882 animal deaths due to lightning strikes in 2020-21 - the highest in the last three financial years - according to data released in the state Assembly in a response to a question by a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA Sudivya Kumar.

This is the first time that the state has released such specific data. Earlier, the Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council (CROPC), a non-profit organisation that works closely with India Meteorological Department (IMD), released an all-India report in December 20202, which stated that in Jharkhand in 2018-19 and 2019-2020, 118 and 172 people died respectively.

To MLA Kumar's query on the number of lightning deaths and whether lightning rods have been installed in all districts, Disaster Management Minister Banna Gupta responded in writing, "332 and 882 animals died in 2020-21...There is no provision for installing lightning rods through State Disaster Response Fund as per Central government's criteria."

According to CROPC, lightning fatalities account for are 33 percent of total fatalities from natural disasters in the country. Between April 1, 2019- March 31 2020, India accounted for 1,771 lightning deaths - Uttar Pradesh accounted for 293 deaths, Madhya Pradesh reported 248 deaths, Bihar reported 221 deaths, Odisha reported 200 deaths and Jharkhand reported 172 deaths. These five states altogether accounted for more than 60 percent of lightning deaths.

CROPC chairperson, Colonel (retd) Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, told The Indian Express that every year, lightning strikes occurred around a fixed period and almost similar geographical locations in similar patterns. "Norwesters, which are violent thunderstorms with lightning claim life in eastern India and pre-monsoon lightning claim deaths in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, UP among other states," he said.

On Jharkhand, he added: "Every year, people are dying in Jharkhand and they have not learnt from Odisha, which had zero casualty in 2019 during cyclone Fani - mainly due to all 891 cyclone shelters being fitted with Lightning Arresters... Also, the response of Jharkhand government that there is no provision for installing lightning rods is wrong because NDMA has sent guidelines to do so. Although Lightning is not a notified disaster by the state, but the state government like Jharkhand can notify any disaster local to a state."

Sources in the State Disaster Management, however, said that the provision is only for disaster response, not mitigation. "Prevention of deaths due to the lightning strikes is disaster mitigation. As for response there is no fund...Now, the Centre is planning for mitigation and a detailed guideline is yet to be issued."