‘1,621 teachers died of COVID19 following UP panchayat elections’ poll duty’

In a letter to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shikshak Sangh, a state level teachers’ association, has claimed at least 1,621 teachers/workers succumbed to the coronavirus following poll duties. It has demanded compensation of Rs 10 million each.

Shivani Gupta
| Updated: Last updated on May 18th, 2021,

Family of Jayant Verma, one of the 1,621 government school teachers who died of coronavirus following poll duty. Photo: Mohit Shukla

Meri poori duniya hi ujad gayi, hum anath ho gaye. [My entire world has collapsed. We have become orphans],” wailed 37-year-old Pooja Sharma, a mother of two young kids, as she spoke to Gaon Connection over the phone.

Pooja is the widow of 42-year-old Arun Kumar Sharma, who died of COVID19 last month on April 25. He worked as a government school teacher at Haseran village of Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh.

Like Arun Sharma, between April 1 and May 16 this year, at least 1,621 government teachers/workers have allegedly succumbed to the coronavirus following poll duties during the recently held Uttar Pradesh panchayat elections. Gaon Connection was unable to independently verify the assertion. It reached out to Satish Chandra Dwivedi, Minister of State (independent charge) for basic education, who was unavailable to comment.

Pooja Sharma with deceased husband Arun and their kids. Photo: By arrangement

Also Read: “Enforcing the COVID19 protocols in panchayat elections has been a nightmare”

In a letter sent to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath yesterday, the Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shikshak Sangh, a state level teachers’ association, has listed the details of teachers and workers who have died due to COVID in the last one and a half months.

Meanwhile, on April 25, the state government had blamed the Allahabad High Court for forcing it to hold the panchayat elections. In a press statement, the state government said: “Contrary to the misinformation campaign against the Yogi government, the decision to conduct the elections of the Gram Panchayats stemmed from the directions of the Allahabad High Court to the Government of the State of Uttar Pradesh.”

Also Read: UP Panchayat Elections: Allahabad High Court ‘forced’ us to conduct panchayat elections, says the state govt 

According to Dinesh Chandra Sharma, president of the teachers’ association, deaths started after the mahamari [coronavirus] hit and elections started. “Sixteen hundred members of my association have died. When I speak to their families, they keep crying. Their families have become orphans,” he told Gaon Connection.

In a choked voice, Pooja Sharma narrated the ordeal. “In the wee hours of April 19, my husband returned from his poll duty and had high fever. When his health deteriorated, we took him to a private hospital in Kanpur on April 23 [nearly 90 kilometres from Kannauj]. By then, his oxygen level had already dropped to 75,” narrated Pooja.

Also Read: UP panchayat elections: Surging crowds at counting centres; COVID protocols missing

Arun Sharma was still running a high fever and the next day, on April 24, he tested positive for the coronavirus. “He was forced to be discharged from the private hospital and had to be admitted to a COVID19 care hospital. However, on April 25, he died in a car as we could not find him any bed in the corona hospital,” his wife complained.

42-year-old Arun Kumar Sharma, a government school teacher, died of COVID19 last month on April 25 Photo: By arrangement

Lashing out at the government, Pooja said: “It is because of the government that my husband had to go for poll duty and died. How will I raise my two kids? So far, I have received no compensation for my husband’s death.” Her children are 13 and 10.

Dinesh Chandra Sharma said that either the truth does not reach the government or it is reluctant to accept the truth [of deaths of teachers due to COVID during poll duty]. “More than eighty per cent of the deceased have RTPCR reports. Over twenty per cent were showing COVID symptoms. Many teachers have succumbed to heart attack. These deaths cannot be ignored,” he added.

Panchayat polls

Amid the raging second wave of COVID19, panchayat elections were held in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh. The four-phased panchayat polls were held from April 15 to 29, and results were declared on May 2.

These panchayat elections have been in the eye of the storm as they have faced criticism from almost all quarters, including the Allahabad High Court which had pulled up the UP State Election Commission for not ensuring COVID-19 protocols were followed during the polling.

Workers during vote counting on May 2 at a centre in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh. Photo: By arrangement

Also Read:  Allahabad High Court issues show-cause notice to UP State Election Commission on panchayat elections

On April 27, the Allahabad High Court issued a show cause notice to the State Election Commission demanding an explanation as there were several allegations that neither the police nor the election commission did anything to prevent the spread of the contagion. 

Earlier, on April 29, in another letter sent to the Chief Minister and the state election commission, the association had informed that at least 706 teachers/workers died in the state after allegedly contracting the coronavirus infection during training and panchayat poll duty in April.

Several state-level associations had even threatened to boycott the vote-counting scheduled for May 2 because of the deaths of the teachers and workers.

The latest list prepared by the Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shikshak Sangh now puts the death toll at 1,621 and has been demanding compensation from the government.

Also Read: UP panchayat elections: ‘706 teachers dead due to COVID; 2 million members of workers’ association to boycott vote-counting’

Vote counting at a centre in rural Uttar Pradesh. Photo: By arrangement

Compensation of Rs 10 million

The association has demanded a compensation of Rs 1 crore each [Rs 10 million] to the families of the deceased. Apart from this, other demands include declaring the deceased to be ‘corona warriors’, government jobs for the next of kin, pension to the families of the deceased, covering the medical expenses of the teachers who recovered, to set free those teachers on duties in COVID control rooms.

“So far, there is no response from the state government regarding our demands. If the government still does not respond, we will move to the High Court or the Supreme Court,” said the association president Dinesh Chandra Sharma.

On May 12, the Allahabad High Court asked the state government and the State Election Commission to pay a compensation of at least Rs 1 crore (10 million rupees) each to the deceased’s families.

Also Read: UP panchayat elections: Reconsider compensation to poll officers who died of COVID19, should be at least Rs 1 crore — Allahabad HC tells govt, SEC

Earlier on May 7, the state government had informed the court that it had decided to give compensation of Rs 30 lakh (3 million rupees) to the families of polling officers who passed away due to COVID19.

“As per the government rules, if a person leaves for election duty from home and comes back from duty and dies of COVID, then only the deceased is supposed to get the compensation,” said the association president. “But if somebody contracts the virus, shows symptoms and dies after ten to fifteen days, then no compensation. Do officials expect the person to die immediately?” he asked.