• Casualties may rise as the condition of some people are critical
  • Thousands attended the event, which was held at an open ground with no shade
  • Temperatures reportedly hit 38 degrees Celsius Sunday

Eleven people have reportedly died from dehydration and heat stroke, while 50 others have been hospitalized due to heat-related health conditions during an award event in India.

They were attending the Maharashtra Bhushan award ceremony to honor social activist Appasaheb Dharmadhikari in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra on Sunday.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde's office confirmed 11 deaths, while local officials pegged the unconfirmed number of deaths at 13. Most of the victims were elderly women, The Times of India reported. The conditions of some of the hospitalized people were critical as they suffered cardiac problems and blood sugar level fluctuations, which could increase the number of casualties, the outlet reported. Around 600 attendees reportedly suffered heat stroke Sunday.

"This is a case of sunstroke," Shinde said, adding 24 people still remain in the hospital, NDTV reported.

The local government has announced a compensation of ₹5 lakh (approximately $6,100) to the families of the deceased.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted the government will bear the hospital expenses of people who suffered heat-related conditions.

The event, which was attended by thousands of Dharmadhikari supporters, was held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at an open ground with no shade.

Many activists, journalists and opposition politicians have accused the organizers of mismanagement. Activist Rajeev Mishra said "the deaths were caused due to the government's mismanagement."

"The people were sitting in the sun for hours waiting for an award function attended by VVIPs. Prayers for the victims and families," journalist Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted.

Organized by the state's Cultural Affairs Ministry, the event was reportedly arranged for a crowd of 20,000. Temperatures reportedly hit 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) Sunday in the area. Thousands of people "were sitting under direct sunlight without protection," a Kharghar resident told the Times of India on condition of anonymity.

About 30 people who were rushed to nearby hospitals suffered from "dehydration, chest pain, rise in blood sugar level among other health problems," a doctor posted for medical care at the event added.

Suraj Chavan, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, called out the government for organizing the ceremony in hot weather. "The government should be booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder," Chavan tweeted, reported The Indian Express.

Many of the people who stood under the sun reportedly complained of illness at the peak of daytime, the Hindustan Times reported.

India is experiencing an intense heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius in many places.

The India Meteorological Department previously warned of an "enhanced probability" of heat waves between March and May even after India recorded its hottest month in over a decade in February.

While heat-related illnesses are a problem in some states, the main issue is the threat of crop damage, Deutsche Welle reported. "The summer of 2023 is a disaster in the making that will feature an unprecedented heat wave due to a weak western disturbance and the prevailing La Nina condition," said Abinash Mohanty, sector head of climate change and sustainability at New Delhi-based consulting group IPE-Global.

Mohanty said the meteorological and climatological conditions are triggering harsher heat waves that are expected to severely affect food chains.

The World Bank previously listed India among South Asian countries that suffer from falling agricultural yields. If temperatures continue to rise, living standards in India and other heatwave-affected nations in the region will further decline, it warned.

In February, farmers in India expressed concerns about the heat wave possibly leading to early maturity of wheat crops, which could then shrivel the grains.

india heat wave
A worker takes a bath from the water of a bore pump on a hot summer day in Gurgaon, India, May 29, 2015. Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee