India heatwave victims' compensation woes

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Media captionWidow of heatwave victim says she's being denied compensation

In Nandigama, a small town in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, many families have been frequenting a government hospital and a local office to seek death certificates.

Among them is 23-year-old Dhan Lakshmi, who lives in the town with her three children and an old mother-in-law.

She is seeking a certificate for her husband, Gopu Chandraiyah, who died last month.

Dhan Lakshmi says Mr Chandraiyah worked as a daily wage earner who went door-to-door repairing broken umbrellas.

As the massive heat wave gripped Nandigama and large parts of India in recent weeks and temperatures crossed 48C (118F), the authorities advised people to stay indoors.

But, Mr Chandraiyah had to set out for work in the scorching sun because the family was too poor for him to miss work even for a day.

"One afternoon, he returned home and fell unconscious from the heat. He was running very high fever and began vomiting," Dhan Lakshmi said.

"Some villagers helped me take him to the local hospital in Nandigama. The doctors treated him there. He was administered saline and medicines. But his condition deteriorated and he died in the hospital."

'No-one is helping me'

Dhan Lakshmi said she approached the local authorities for compensation, but was told that the family would not get any since an autopsy was not done after Mr Chandraiyah's death which could conclusively prove that he died from heat.

Image caption Gopu Chandraiyah collapsed one day last month after working outdoors in 48C heat

"They say an autopsy is mandatory now. But no-one told us then and we cremated the body. The government had announced that all those who have died due to a heat stroke will be given 100,000 rupees ($1,560; £1,010) as compensation. But I am running from one office to another. No-one is ready to help me," she said.

In Andhra Pradesh, authorities earlier said the heatwave had killed more than 3,000 people - that figure has now been revised down to 1,761.

Similarly, the toll in the neighbouring state of Telangana that recorded temperatures up to 48.5C (119F), is now 575 - earlier, it was estimated to be more than 1,000. The state pays 50,000 rupees as compensation for a heatwave death.

Andhra Pradesh Disaster Management and Relief department official Jagdish Chander Sharma told the BBC that the earlier figures were compiled on the basis of reports being sent from villages to the district headquarters.

"But these figures were without proper verification. We did not know whether they were natural deaths or due to the heat wave. Later, after the verification process, the numbers have come down."

Image caption Families say the process to certify a heat-wave death has become so complicated that even genuine cases are difficult to prove

M Suresh Babu, a doctor at the Nandigama Government Hospital, says for a heatwave death to be recognised, it has to be certified by a three-member committee that includes a local government official, a police official and the government doctor. Moreover, anyone over 70 years of age is not counted.

Authorities say many deaths are reported as heatwave deaths by families because they want to claim compensation.

But families of the dead say the official process to certify a heatwave related death has become so complicated that even genuine cases are often difficult to prove.

And the authorities are hiding behind rules to deny them compensation, they say.

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