According to a study conducted by the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), lightning takes the first position amongst the natural calamities that kills people in India on a yearly basis. Out of the 12 states identified in India that have the most lightning-related casualties, Odisha stands at the higher side with an average of 350 deaths every year.
While lightning conductors and arrestors have played a significant role in reducing the damaging effects of lightning across the world, these devices are of little use to the rural regions in the state which lack even essential infrastructural amenities.
However, the district administration of Jagatsinghpur has come up with a unique idea, and these involve palm trees which can provide protection from lightning during thunderstorms!
As a large number of lightning-related deaths have continually been reported from the region, the concerned authorities have taken up a tree plantation drive, with the specific purpose of planting palm trees, across vacant roadside patches in the district as an experiment.
About 50 trees stand along the 1 km-stretch from Dak Bungalow Chowk to Rashmi Cinema junction at the district headquarters township. “It has been found in the past that palm trees are effective as an electrical conducting path for lightning,” said Sarat Chandra Sahu, the director of the local meteorological department to The Telegraph.
With the rise in the casualty from lightning strikes, the natural phenomenon was declared a state-specific disaster on April 1, 2015.
As most victims were primarily based in rural areas and it is entirely possible that most of them were farmers engaged in agricultural activities in the field, an ex-gratia was either paid from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund or District Gratuitous Relief Fund to the deceased’s family before 2015. At present, a compensation of ₹4 lakh is provided by the state to each of the families of the lightning death victims.
Hopeful that the tree cover will act as a lightning arrester, another official added that the administration plans to intensify the palm tree plantation drive in other barren patches soon.