Mohd Yasir Jamal Kidwai
The death toll of teachers who were on UP Panchayat election duty reached 2,046, according to the teacher unions yielding great animosity towards the UP government. Yogi’s government dismissed the high toll due to mismanagement of COVID during the panchayat poll and declared only three staffers died during election duty.
“I would have fought the government for the rest of my life had I known that the election duty would take my father’s life,” says Rajesh Kumar, son of deceased Ramesh Kumar. Government denial has disheartened the kins of the victims.
Speaking to Maktoob, Reshma, a primary school teacher who had COVID symptoms following the death of her husband due to Covid said “I told my circumstances to my team head and even after several requests to other officials as well, I was warned that in case of FIR on one would come to my rescue.
The panchayat polls unfolded in a four-phased manner, with 15,19,26, and 29 April as polling days. The election employed around 2.43 lacs officials and staff and around 80,000 polling centres, according to data given by the state election commission. The colossal number of people involved depicts the mass engagement of people amidst the horrors of the second wave of coronavirus in India.
The covid tally in UP before the starting of the election was around 15 thousand but as the election procedures and campaigns began, the tally went up to 35 thousand on 27 April, a day after the third phase of voting. Therefore, the COVID cases double folded in a span of mere 15 days, contaminating the prone rural areas of the state.
The training for the election procedures was scheduled for 10 April in Government College Auditorium, Barabanki. One of the trainees named Shobha, said ” There were at least 1000 people in the auditorium without social distancing. There were all the key officials including C.D.O Barabanki, District Magistrate of Barabanki, etc but no one enforced proper Covid guidelines”.
The primary Teachers Association has claimed the death of 1621 of its staff while the Secondary Education Department has given a figure of 425 staff. The total adds up to 2046 against the government’s claim.
Indian state and federal governments are under fire for under reporting the real number of COVID causality which could be a roadblock for scientists who needs to make assessments to prepare for future outbreaks.
“There were no COVID precautions taken by the administration, we were not provided even with basic utilities such as hand sanitisers and gloves,” a primary school teacher from Barabanki district, on assurance of anonymity, told Maktoob. “The senior authorities did not respond to any of our requests and warned of consequences if we tried to record videos of arrangements.”
UP government rubbished the claims made by staff unions. According to a press note released by the Basic Education Minister Satish Chandra Dwivedi, “Officials of some teacher organisations are stating the number of deaths of Basic Education Council teachers is 1,621 during the duty of Panchayat elections held in the state, which is completely wrong and baseless. On the basis of this misleading information, the leaders of the opposition parties are also doing petty politics”.
“Based on the authorised information received by the State Election Commission from the District Magistrates of the state, only three (03) teachers have died during election duty. We express our condolences to their families. The government will pay the ex-gratia amount of Rs 30 lakh and government jobs and other dues to their dependents on priority.”
The Teachers association UPPTA sent repeated letters to the Chief Minister of UP but the government turned a deaf ear. The association even tried to boycott the counting of votes but the Apex court did not entertain the request.
The teacher’s association has demanded financial assistance of one crore rupees to families of education workers who died after the election duty, the appointment of the kins of deceased to the educational department depending upon their academic qualifications and a family pension under the old pension system.
Mohd Yasir Jamal Kidwai is a student of Aligarh Muslim University and an intern with Maktoob.