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Eleven people have died in India after a crowd of up to two million people were kept waiting for four hours in 100 degree heat without shelter at a state-sponsored awards ceremony in a Mumbai suburb.
Some 600 people fell ill due to dehydration and exposure, of whom 50 were hospitalized, and 11 died, Eknath Shinde, chief minister of Maharashtra state whose capital is Mumbai, wrote on Twitter.
Three people remain on critical support, reports have suggested.
Climate change has brought intolerable heatwaves to India in recent years.
The gigantic crowd gathered Sunday, in very humid conditions and beating sun, in the suburb of Navi Mumbai to attend the ceremony, according to Indian website NDTV.com. Cabinet ministers were present for the event which was honoring a veteran social activist, Appasaheb Dharmadhikari.
The Indian Express said the function was attended by roughly two million people, but the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—which governs Maharashtra—said about a million people attended the prize-giving, the Indian Express newspaper reported on Monday.
Shinde’s office described the deaths as “sad and disturbing” and promised compensation for the victims’ relatives in a tweet which said the outcome was “a very unexpected and painful incident” adding, “We share in the grief of their families.”
However political opponents of the BJP were quick to say the tragedy was due to government negligence and that criminal charges should be brought.
Rival politician and former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said Monday, after meeting patients in hospital: “We have met the people who are undergoing treatment. I interacted with four to five patients. Two of them were in critical condition. The event was not planned properly. Who will investigate this incident?”
The Indian Express, which described the tragedy as “possibly the largest heatwave-related death toll from a single event” said that the distance travelled by some attendees might have been a factor in them falling ill, while another doctor was quoted as saying: “I have seen in the photos, there was no shade… It also needs to be checked if drinking water was available for the huge crowd. It is essential to drink water regularly while attending such gatherings in the open.”
Al Jazeera reported that heatwaves are becoming increasingly common in India and have killed more than 6,500 people in the country since 2010. The eastern state of West Bengal is currently in the grip of a heatwave that has prompted a shutdown of all schools, colleges and universities.
No heat wave warnings were issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Sunday, reports said. A hot summer is being forecast globally due to a predicted recurrence of the El Nino weather system later this year.