Hazaribagh, Sept. 11: Twelve students and four lady cooks of a state-run school in Giridih managed to cheat death as lightning struck this afternoon, providentially escaping with various degrees of burns, barely days after bolt attack killed three college-goers in West Singhbhum.
The lightning occurred around 2pm, 15 minutes after children of Utkramit Madhya Vidyalaya, Mundradih village in Bengabad block, had their midday meal. Had the bolt struck when the children were lunching in the open, they would not have survived.
The 16 were rushed to Bengabad primary health centre, where they were pronounced out of danger. But the state is not as lucky as the 16.
Giridih deputy superintendent of education Jhabbu Pandit, who said he would inquire into whether the conductor installed in the school a year ago was functioning or not, put his finger inadvertently on the pulse of the problem.
Jharkhand, a state where 200-300 deaths occur each year due to lightning, is not prepared to cope with the scope of the natural calamity.
In 2011, the state mooted a plan to install early warning signalling stations in all districts with an integrated control room in Ranchi. The Rs 9-crore project was to be executed jointly with BAU and BIT-Mesra. Funds crunch put the plan on hold.
Conductors and lightning arresters are hardly installed in educational institutions even in cities, even though Jharkhand’s topography makes lightning a frequent occurrence.
In the absence of a large-scale measure to avert the crisis, the state has in place a bureaucratic rigmarole. “In case of lightning casualty or injury, the local block development officer has to send the report to the district deputy commissioner. The deputy commissioner makes a demand for compensation, which is verified by the state committee, before granting the amount and releasing the same,” said Indrajit Kumar, under secretary of state disaster management department.
Moreover, lightning does not come under the Centre’s list of natural disasters, though it finds place in the state government’s list.
The cash-strapped state can’t use central funds under the head of National Disaster Response Fund and instead compensates victims out of its own pockets.
In 2012-13, the state registered nearly 300 deaths caused by lightning and doled out Rs 5 crore as compensation to next-of-kin for deaths and grants to the injured and disabled.
Small wonder then, that in Giridih, the residents — including parents and government officials — are terming today’s incident a miracle.
In-charge of Bengabad primary health centre B.B. Singh said students suffered “minor burn injuries”.
“All were sent back home,” he said. Acting block development officer Sanjeev Kumar Lal assured panic-stricken parents.
But teacher Mohammad Harun of the two-roomed middle school, which runs from Classes I to VIII, hit the nail on the head calling it a providential escape as the bolt had struck a tree close to the school.
“When the lightning struck, all the children were safely inside the two classrooms. This saved their lives. Principal Arjun Pundit and teachers, including myself, managed to stop a vehicle and take the injured to the primary health centre, 5.5km from the school, despite heavy rain. I am happy all are safe,” he said.
He didn’t need to say what would have happened had the children been out.
Student Sakina Khatoon of Class III said she felt “electric shock and burning sensation”. Besides Sakina, the injured students were Jahida Khatoon, Khadiza Khatoon, Ayub Ansari, Ayesha Khatoon, Rehana Khatoon, Saiyeda Khatoon, Sabijan Khatoon, Salma Khatoon, Masoon Perween, Mubarak Ansari and Meena Khatoon.
The cooks were Najma Bibi, Hasina Bibi, Sakulwa Bibi and Basiran Bibi.