Just because a social reformer Appa Saheb Dharmadhikari was getting Maharashtra Bhushan Award his followers were asked to march towards Kharghar. Hot summer, lack of water and tired bodies gathered two days in advance have gone fragile. It was a display of power vs powerless. But what perhaps was not taken into account was the blazing sun, which made the water hot, leading to dehydration and heatstroke among many in the gathering and causing 13 deaths. The death of people due to sunstroke was really painful. Neither Dharmadhikari was bothered about the people nor the government authorities. Media was busy with a live telecast of such a huge gathering. No media or authorities noticed the inconvenience to the people until some of them died.
Besides Shah, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, cabinet minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, MLAs and MLCs attended the event; the podium had air coolers, water, shed and almost all the luxurious facilities but the commoners were made to sit under hot sun and without any facilities. Dharmadhikari, 76, 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 conducted under the aegis of his organisation ‘Shree Sadasya’.
People are gullible, they were told their leader was getting felicitated and one must come to Mumbai, most of them travelled for a day, some reached here by train, bus, walking. Considering the heat aspect, the administration installed 2,100 water taps at the venue and also pressed into service 74 tankers. Besides this, more than 200 water tankers were stationed at various places such as parking and connecting roads. But it was not of big help. Water in these taps and tankers became hot as there was no shed over the taps, pipes and tankers. The tankers, too, were not parked under the trees. As the water was hot, many could not hydrate themselves and due to dehydration felt dizzy, instead, distributing packaged drinking water would have been a better option but in this country no one bothers about the crowd.
Irony is that Appasaheb Dharmadhikari, is social worker and instrumental in conducting various tree plantations, blood donation camps, free medical camps, job fairs, cleanliness drives, superstition eradication, de-addiction centers, etc. in Maharashtra. But he forgot to ensure the wellbeing of his people. He should have instructed the government, or assigned some volunteers to take care of the invited crowd. In 2014, he was conferred Doctor of Letters by [D Y Patil University], Nerul. In 2017, he was awarded Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, and Maharashtra Bhushan award for the year 2023.
The Opposition has targeted the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government over the tragedy with Shiv Sena-Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray leader Sanjay Raut alleging that ‘politics behind the award prevailed over people’s convenience’. Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly Ajit Pawar, who belongs to Nationalist Congress Party, has sought an inquiry into how the event was organised during noon time when the temperature is very high. The Congress had demanded that accountability be fixed in what it said was a case of ‘culpable homicide’.
While 11 people died on Sunday, two more deaths were recorded on Monday. Preliminary autopsy reports suggest all of them died of heatstroke. Around 650 people feel sick because of the heat conditions. The programme started around 10.30 am and concluded after 1 pm. The sun was on their head and the heat was unbearable. The temperature was 38 degree Celsius.
More than 300 doctors were there to help, with a facility of over 4,000 beds. But, due to lack of knowledge, the people did not report their condition to the medical teams available at the venue and collapsed. It was also alleged that after the event concluded, volunteers from the police and the local administration were seen in far less numbers at the venue. When people suffered severely then they were provided with cold water, Oral Rehydration Salt, food and wet towels. Many women collapsed due to excessive heat and the policemen on duty drove them on motorbikes through the crowd to medical assistance centres for first aid and saved their lives. There were no ambulances. Instead of asking for justice to his people Dharmadhikari chose to side with the ruling government, but he did not ask for compensation for those families who lost their loved ones. I am sure even Dharmadhikari will not pay them any losses.