Kharghar heatstroke: Toll rises to 13, Shinde govt faces Oppn heat over deaths at award event

The Congress demanded a case of culpable homicide against the Maharashtra govt and called for it to quit after heatstroke deaths at an award event it organised; the NCP too sought a probe

Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde
Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde


The Eknath Shinde-led BJP government in Maharashtra faced criticism on Monday over the sunstroke-linked deaths of people at a mega award function in Navi Mumbai, held in an open area under scorching sun. The Opposition demanded a probe into the organisation of the programme, as the toll rose to 13, while 8 patients still remained hospitalised.

While the Indian National Congress sought registration of a case of culpable homicide and said the government should quit, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) sought a probe into the tragedy.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered in a 306-acre ground in the Kharghar area in Raigad district on Sunday for the presentation of the Maharashtra Bhushan award to spiritual leader and social reformer Appasaheb Dharmadhikari. The nearest weather station to this spot had recorded a maximum temperature of 38 degrees Celsius.

Eleven people attending the event died due to sunstroke on Sunday, while two patients undergoing treatment succumbed later, taking the toll to 13, officials said on Monday.

The deceased included nine women and four men, while eight people were still undergoing treatment after suffering from sunstroke at the award function, they said.

Union home minister Amit Shah, Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde, his deputy Devendra Fadnavis and Union minister Kapil Patil were among those present on the occasion.

Shinde termed the deaths as "very unfortunate" and said the kin of the deceased will be given a compensation of Rs 5 lakh.

The leader of the opposition in the state assembly, Ajit Pawar, sought an inquiry into how the award event was organised during noon, when the temperature was known to be very high.

Pawar visited the MGM Hospital at Kamothe in Navi Mumbai late Sunday night and enquired about the health of people undergoing treatment after suffering from sunstroke.

Talking to reporters, he termed the incident as "most unfortunate" and said the priority was to ensure that the patients get well soon.

The NCP leader claimed it was a function the Maharashtra government was responsible for.

It is a well-known fact that during April–May, day temperatures are very high. During these days, temperatures hover around 40 degrees Celsius, Pawar said. "Hence, it needs to be probed as to who had fixed the noon timing for the award function," the former deputy CM said.

Pawar said the function could have been held in the evening and Union Home Minister Shah could have taken a chopper to reach the venue.
Shah had conferred the state's highest civilian award on Dharmadhikari at the event.

Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said a case of culpable homicide must be registered against the Shinde government for the sunstroke deaths.

"Appasaheb is working for humanity and when someone of his stature is being given an award, it is obvious lakhs of his followers would attend the function. The government knew this but [an] air-conditioned mandap was made only for Union Home Minister Amit Shah, [the] chief minister, [the] deputy CM and other dignitaries," Patole said in Pune.

"This is a state programme. Why was there no covering for the lakhs who attended? This is inhumane and that is why people are seeking that a case of culpable homicide be registered against the Maharashtra government," he added.

The Maharashtra Congress chief said the state government must take responsibility for the deaths and should resign.

NCP Lok Sabha MP Supriya Sule demanded the formation of a panel to probe the incident.

"I express condolences to the bereaved families. Since the temperature is increasing, everybody should be a little sensitive while organising a public event. I heard CM Eknath Shinde announcing an ex gratia, but I would like to say that the worth of human life cannot be Rs 5 lakh," Sule told reporters.

Asked about the Opposition demand for registration of an offence of culpable homicide for the deaths, she alleged the state government is also insensitive towards farmers, women's safety, and damage caused by unseasonal rains.

"This is a tragic incident and it was a black day for the state. The state government should form a [probe] committee. It was the state government that had invited people who follow Appasaheb Dharamadhikari (the recipient of the Maharashtra Bhushan award) for the function, so the state should explain," Sule demanded.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut blamed the Maharashtra government for the tragedy and claimed politics prevailed over the convenience of people.

Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, Raut said, “The Maharashtra Bhushan award function could have been held in the evening, but Union minister Amit Shah had no free time. Thus, the programme was held during the day time and people got exposed to the scorching heat and sunlight."

"Politics behind the award prevailed over people's convenience,” the Rajya Sabha member said.

“The programme got stretched too long and people fell sick. A few of them even died because of it. The people who attended the event had come for Appasaheb Dharmadhikari and not for any other politician present on the stage,” Raut said.

The Shiv Sena (UBT) spokesperson said there have been similar incidents in the past and the state should have learnt some lessons from them before organising such events.

Many of followers of Shree Parivar (Dharmadhikari's organisation) had reached the venue on Friday and stayed there till the function concluded at around 1.30 pm on Sunday.

Union Home Minister Shah on Monday expressed grief over the tragedy.

"The death of people who attended yesterday's Maharashtra Bhushan award function has deeply saddened me. I express my condolences to the families of the deceased. I pray for the recovery of those who are currently being treated,” Shah tweeted.

At the sprawling venue, some people complained of dizziness and other health complications. Some also fainted at the ground. They were initially treated at makeshift medical facilities and only later rushed to hospitals.

Dharmadhikari has a massive following in the state due to his tree plantation drives, blood donation and medical camps as well as de-addiction work in tribal areas.

The Maharashtra Bhushan is the state's top civilian award given to people for their contribution towards the welfare of society. 

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