1,000+ teachers on UP panchayat poll duty died of COVID-19
Over 1,000 teachers have allegedly died of COVID-19 while on duty in the recent Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls, according to a teachers' body in the state. The Opposition and teachers' bodies blame the Yogi Adityanath-led government's apathy and mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis for the deaths. The Adityanath government has announced a compensation of Rs. 30 lakh for 135 of the deceased polling officers.
Panchayat polls were held between April 15-29
The UP panchayat elections were conducted in four phases on April 15, 19, 26, and 29 across 75 districts. Around 10.50 crore voters cast their votes at 80,762 polling booths. Four polling officers and two security personnel were deployed at each booth. Around three lakh teachers were assigned to election duties, Pawan Shankar Dixit—treasurer, Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh, Uttar Pradesh (RSMUP), an RSS affiliate—told FactChecker.
RSMUP asked CM to vaccinate all teachers; nothing happened
Speaking to FactChecker, RSMUP chief Virendra Mishra said that on March 27 he had asked Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to mandatorily vaccinate all teachers on poll duty. However, no action was taken, he said. Polling officers that included teachers and shiksha mitras received training from April 9-15. During these trainings, the officers were reportedly gathered in large crowds against preventive guidelines.
Teacher's body requested to postpone elections; nothing happened
Uttar Pradesh Shikshak Mahasangh (UPSM) and Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shiksha Sangh (UPPSS) chief Dinesh Chandra Sharma said that on April 12 he had requested the State Election Commission to postpone the elections as the teachers were not provided medical assistance. However, this call was ignored.
Supreme Court was moved to stay ballot count; nothing happened
The teachers' associations had also moved the Supreme Court on April 24, demanding a stay on the ballot count on May 2. On April 29 and April 30, the state government issued two circulars saying there will be CCTV recordings and monitoring of events and mandatory RT-PCR/oximeter tests at counting centers. These guidelines were flouted, M Shoeb Alam, teachers associations' counsel told the court.
UP government pledged to follow protocol; nothing happened
On April 27, the Allahabad High Court issued a show-cause notice to the State Election Commission seeking an explanation on its failure to enforce COVID-19 protocols. RSMUP regional media chief Brijesh Shrivastava told FactChecker that the state government then pledged to follow protocol, but did not keep their word. The next hearing was scheduled for May 3, a day after the count.
Requests to stall elections after 135 deaths ignored
Till April 25, 135 polling officers had died, RSMUP's Dixit told FactChecker. Following this, Mishra urged the CM to stall the elections, to no avail. By April 28, 581 teachers and allied teaching staff on poll duty had died of COVID-19, according to the UPSM. Sharma had then urged the CM to postpone the ballot count along with increased compensation for those deceased/infected.
SC mandated RT-PCR one day before ballot count
Further, on May 1, the SC mandated RT-PCR tests for everyone before the counting. However, the directive came less than 24 hours before the count. Test results are not being released within 24 hours due to a backlog as infections rise across India.
By May 6, over 1,000 allegedly died
On April 29, the UPPSS released a list of 706 teachers and shiksha mitras on poll duty who died of COVID-19. Congress General-Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted this list on May 1. By May 1, 100 more had died. On May 6, Surendra Yadav of UPPSS told the Deccan Herald that over 1,000 teachers had died, adding that the toll is expected to rise.
UP announced financial compensation after HC nudge
After the Allahabad HC took cognizance of the deaths of 135 teachers and shiksha mitras due to COVID-19, the state government on May 6 announced a compensation of Rs. 30 lakh to their families. Shrivastava said there was a pre-existing compensation of Rs. 15 lakh for families of government employees who die during poll duty. However, the number of those deceased has since risen.
'Those infected right after training may not get compensation'
Shrivastava further added, "In this list of 135 teachers, there were also some who got infected right after the election training. They could not even undertake the duty and died later. Their families may not get any compensation."