Blazing India: Bihar’s poor slog and suffer the most


Droughts, heatwaves and weak monsoons come and go every year. Some survive it and some don’t. But those who always bear the brunt of rising temperatures are the poor. Thousands of daily wage labourers in Bihar step out every day to be able to earn a meagre amount but the scorching sun is not letting them do that either. Unable to beat the heat, they work late hours and earn less.

The rising temperatures killed 78 people within 48 hours in Bihar’s Aurangabad, Gaya and Nawada districts, which are also facing a water crisis.

After hundreds of deaths, district magistrates of five Bihar districts, including the worst-hit Gaya, invoked Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to ban public activities during daytime.

While rains did lash Bihar last week, it could only provide temporary relief. Temperatures again rose to 41 to 42 degrees Celsius with high humidity. The India Meteorological Department’s Patna office again issued a heat wave alert.

“I was earning Rs 500-600 a day to dig up soil on contract basis, carry sand, bricks or stone chips. But the intense heat has forced us to reduce our working hours and got our earnings down to Rs 300-400 a day,” said Rajdeo Yadav, a daily wage labourer in Patna.

The hostile climate is forcing the poor to not take the risk of working during in the afternoon. “We have to take regular intervals to rest and escape the Sun. We don’t work between 12.30 pm and 3.30 pm,” added Yadav.

Farmers too are finding it tough to irrigate land. Manish Singh, a marginal farmer in drought-hit Jehanabad district, said rising mercury and no pre-monsoon showers have together left no moisture in the land to start the process of cultivation for Kharif season.

“We have not even begun preparing our land for paddy as the soil is rock-like owing to lack of moisture,” he said adding that the fear of another drought is haunting them all.

In the state capital Patna too, where temperatures are above 45°C, roadside vendors are severely hit.

“No customer shows up in the afternoon. There’s no sale, no business. We are totally dependent on the evening after the Sun sets,” said Nagender Kumar, a garment vendor who sits near Patna railway station.

The IMD recorded 45.8°C on June 15, the hottest day in the past 53 years.

Manoj Kumar, executive director of the state health society, said Bihar government issued an advisory asking people to avoid going out in the day and keep themselves hydrated.

It is an alarming sign that temperatures are rising and rainfall is decreasing every year, said Ranjeev, an environmental activist. “The heat is slowly putting more and more stress on farmers. They are dependent on water, but the prolonged heatwave has dried water bodies,” he said.