More Than 1,600 Teachers Died of Covid19 During U.P. Panchayat Polls
More than 1,600 teachers and administrative staff have succumbed to Covid19 after being forced to report for “poll duty” during the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh, The Hindu reported this morning.
The elections, which were conducted in four phases between April 15 and 29, have led to a steadily increasing toll on human lives. The initial toll of 581 on April 28 is now 1,621, according to a union for the primary teachers in the state.
“I wrote to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on March 27 requesting mandatory vaccination of all those teachers in the state who are meant to take up election duties. But the government turned a blind eye to the appeal,” Virendra Mishra, chief of Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh in Uttar Pradesh, told FactChecker, adding that no action had been taken.
Subsequently, in early April, other teachers’ associations requested the state’s election commission to postpone the panchayat elections amid rising cases across the country, in view of the fact that teachers in the state were not entitled to either free treatment or medical insurance. After their pleas went unheard, they approached the Supreme Court on April 27 for directions to at least postpone the ballot count. However, the state government assured them and the court that Covid19-protocols will be followed and RT-PCR and oximeter tests will be made mandatory across polling centers — none of which was implemented, FactChecker’s investigation revealed.
News reports abound with statements from families of the deceased teachers, who have alleged that government school-staff was forced to report to poll duty — teachers who sought leave were threatened with FIRs and salary cuts and those who failed to report are facing suspensions. However, the government has continued to deny both allegations of coercion as well as of teachers dying as a result of reporting to poll duty.
“She was having anxieties that she would not be able to sit for a long time on poll duty… We were told that an FIR would be registered if she refused to come on duty,” said the husband of 27-year-old teacher, who was eight months pregnant and succumbed to Covid19 after attending poll duty. “The officials killed her. They all should be booked for criminal negligence,” he added.
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Prior to the elections, teachers also had to report for election training, where too several teachers were infected due to social distancing protocols being blatantly flouted and died before they could perform their poll duties. “If she had not gone that day for her training at the polling station, she would not get infected with the virus,” the daughter of Sapna Singh, a 56-year-old who succumbed to Covid19 a day before her poll duty, told the media. Sapna had tried to reason with the authorities to relieve her after she began experiencing symptoms, but she was told she would be “forced to take voluntary retirement” if she recused herself.
Sapna wasn’t alone. Reports suggest several teachers were denied respite even after they had begun experiencing Covid19-symptoms post the training session. “Many had symptoms so they went to block officials to get their duties canceled but they were threatened with FIRs and voluntary retirement,” Nirbhay Singh, a member of the district teachers’ association in Ballia, U.P., told The Print.
With the number of deaths escalating, the Allahabad High Court has ordered the government to pay compensation packages of at least Rs. 1 crore to the families of the deceased, declaring the earlier compensation of Rs. 30 lakhs inadequate. The court’s rationale behind increasing the compensation was that the poll duties weren’t voluntary, but were “made obligatory [to them] even while they showed their reluctance,” leaving them with no other option but to fulfill it with their lives.
However, families of teachers who died after getting infected at the training centres are worried they won’t receive compensation since these teachers could never report to their poll duties. Some didn’t even live long enough to receive their salaries. “My brother passed away without getting his first salary,” Suresh Kumar, whose 28-year-old brother Suresh died within four days of attending the election training, told The Hindustan Times. In the absence of any specific directive or assurance from authorities allaying these concerns, the fates of families like Sapna’s and Ramesh’s continue to hang in the balance — along with teachers whose families are also infected now.
“The U.P. government and the disaster management authorities, on one hand, preach about the virus’ lethal nature and on the other hand send government employees continuously to super spreader events like elections making them more vulnerable to the contagion,” Shoeb Alam, an advocate who represented the teachers association before courts, told FactChecker.