700 govt school staff died on poll duty: UP teachers’ body writes to CM, EC
At least 700 state government school employees on panchayat poll duty succumbed to Covid in Uttar Pradesh this month, the state teachers’ union said on Friday, underlining the risk of flouting Covid norms during a devastating surge in infections.
In letters to chief minister Yogi Adityanath and the state election commission (SEC), the Uttar Pradeshiya Prathmik Shikshak Sangh has listed the names of all deceased and said they were infected during training and poll duty. While the SEC did not comment on the association’s demand to defer counting, the state election commissioner Manoj Kumar on Friday asked district magistrates to ensure setting up of medical health desks at the counting centres with availability of medicines and deployment of doctors.
The four-phase panchayat polls for around 850,000 local body seats were held between April 15 and 29. The state government has denied the allegations and said it has no proof that the teachers died during poll duty.
The issue reached the Supreme Court on Friday when the apex court issued notices to the state government and SEC on a plea related to enforcement of Covid norms during counting of votes on Sunday. “What measures will the state election commission take for counting?” the court asked, and said it will hear the matter on Saturday.
Earlier this week, the Allahabad high court also criticized the administration and SEC over violation of Covid protocol during the polls, and asked the poll body to answer why action shouldn’t be taken against election officials.
In the letters, the Uttar Pradeshiya Prathmik Shikshak Sangh demanded that the counting of votes on Sunday be deferred. Association president Dinesh Chandra Sharma said that in the last three weeks, he sent several letters to the chief minister and SEC to defer elections as several lives were lost.
The union chief said a maximum of 33 teachers died in Azamgarh district, 31 in Gorakhpur, 25 in Prayagraj and 20 each in Lucknow and Lakhimpur Kheri districts. “Many of these lives could have been saved had the SEC taken note of our April 12 letter in which I pointed out that Covid protocol was not being followed during training,” he said.
The government denied the allegations.
State minister of state (independent charge) for basic education, Satish Chandra Dwivedi, said it was wrong to say that the teachers on poll duty died of Covid.
“There’s no specific audit done by basic education department about the number of teachers’ death…How do we know that teachers were not infected when they came for election duty? And how do we know that teachers did not get infected after returning from election duty ?” he said.
“Government teachers alone were not doing election duty. There were people from other departments too. We don’t have any data of how teachers got infected and I don’t know how teachers’ association leader has prepared that list of 700 teachers and staff who succumbed to Covid,” the minister added.
He further said if Sharma wrote to Adityanath and SEC, it was up to them to take a call on the demands.
The Opposition criticized the government on the issue. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav demanded compensation of ₹50 lakh each for those who lost their lives .
On April 22, primary and secondary government teachers jointly carried out an online campaign to air their grievances, alleging that many of their fellow teachers contracted Covid during training and poll duty.
Among the teachers who died on poll duty was 28-year-old Ramesh Kumar Yadav. A primary school teacher, Yadav died of Covid on April 23 in Sultanpur.
He was among the 69,000 assistant teachers who were appointed in phases. While 31,277 of them were appointed in October last year, another 36,950 were appointed in December.
Some of them contracted the infection during poll training in April. Yadav’s condition worsened after election duty on April 19, said his eldest brother Suresh Kumar. “My brother passed away without getting his first salary,” said Kumar.