On May 6, the Uttar Pradesh government announced a compensation of Rs 30 lakh for the families of teachers and shiksha mitras who died during the recent panchayat polls.
This happened after the Allahabad High Court took cognisance of the death of 135 such polling officers.
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also tweeted on May 1 that over 700 teachers who were on poll duty during Uttar Pradesh panchayat elections died of Covid-19.
She also attached to it a set of documents by Uttar Pradesh Prathamik Shiksha Sangh that listed the names of the dead, their designations, the schools they worked at and the area they were from.
FactChecker spoke to three teachers’ associations – Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shiksha Sangh, Uttar Pradesh Shikshak Mahasangh and Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh – to understand the sequence of events that culminated into the deaths and the data better.
Appeal to CM
The UP panchayat elections were conducted at a massive scale in four phases on April 15, 19, 26 and 29 in the state’s 75 districts. Around 13 lakh candidates were in the fray for around 8 lakh posts, including 3,050 zila panchayat wards, over 75,000 kshetra panchayat wards and over 7 lakh gram panchayat wards.
Around 10.5 crore voters cast their votes at 80,762 polling booths, where four polling officers and 2 security personnel or home guards were deployed at each. Around 50% of the staff was to be kept in reserve. “Around 3 lakh teachers were assigned to election duties in the state,” said Pawan Shankar Dixit, treasurer, Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh affiliate.
“I wrote to Chief Minister Adityanath on March 27 requesting mandatory vaccination of all those teachers in the state who are meant to take up election duties,” said Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh chief Virendra Mishra. “But the government turned a blind eye to the appeal.”
No action was taken, he added.
The polling officers that included teachers and shiksha mitras, were trained from April 9 to April 15. Here too a dense crowd had gathered despite the pandemic. This picture of the election training in Jalaun that the Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh shared with FactChecker is a testimony to that.
“We had on April 12, requested the State Election Commission to postpone the panchayat elections since the teachers for primary, secondary and higher education sections are not provided with any kind of free treatment nor are they provided with any assistance from the state in terms of medical insurances. But the request was ignored,” said Uttar Pradesh Shikshak Mahasangh and Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shiksha Sangh chief Dinesh Chandra Sharma.
Matter in court
The teachers’ associations took the matter to the Supreme Court on April 24 and demanded that the ballot count, which was scheduled for May 2, be stayed.
“The state government came up with two back-to-back circulars on April 29 and April 30 saying there will be CCTV recordings and monitoring of events, mandatory RT-PCR or oximeter tests at the counting centres,” said M Shoeb Alam, teachers associations’ counsel in the Supreme Court. “But all the guidelines were ultimately flouted since no social distancing was observed.”
Till April 25, 135 polling officers in the state had died, added Dixit. Following this, Mishra appealed to the CM to immediately stall the elections, but nothing happened.
On April 27, the High Court issued a show-cause notice to the State Election Commission seeking an explanation on its failure to enforce Covid-19 protocols. “This did not benefit any teacher,” Brijesh Shrivastava, regional media chief, Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh, told FactChecker. “The state government pledged to the HC to conduct the elections with necessary social distancing but did not keep their word. The next hearing on this case was scheduled for May 3 which was after the counting would have already been over.”
By April 28, Uttar Pradesh Shikshak Mahasangh had collected from across the state and compiled a list of 581 teachers and allied teaching staffs who were deployed on poll duty and died of Covid-19.
“The ballot count, which is scheduled to be held on May 2, should be postponed until the situation is conducive since a sense of fear has gripped the minds of teachers who were assigned election duty due to the rising death toll,” wrote Uttar Pradesh Shikshak Mahasangh chief Dinesh Chandra Sharma in a letter to the CM on April 29.
“We had also requested a compensation of Rs 50 lakh for teachers’ families in cases of mortalities and Rs 20 lakh for treatment if any teacher gets infected,” Sharma added.
On April 29, Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shiksha Sangh came up with another consolidated list of 706 teachers and shiksha mitras who died on election duty. This list was then tweeted by Vadra on May 1.
“Till May 1, the names of around 100 more teachers had been added to the mortality list,” added Shrivastava.
Another thing happened on May 1. “On May 1, at 12.30 pm, we got a direction from the Supreme Court that RT-PCR tests are to be made mandatory for everybody before the counting,” said the lawyer. “Nowhere in India right now are the test results being released within 24 hours.”
“In this situation, it is preposterous to believe that the reports of all persons present at the counting centre were received before the commencement of the counting process which was less than 24 hours after the Supreme Court made it mandatory for all present at the counting centres,” added Alam. “It can safely be assumed that the tests were not conducted. The dense crowd which had thronged for election training and counting of ballots saw a clear violation of Covid-19 protocols on May 2.”
The associations are not sure how helpful is the state’s decision to give compensation to the families of the deceased. “The state government’s recent decision to give compensation of Rs 30 lakh to families of the 135 deceased polling officers is nothing new,” said Shrivastava. “There was already a pre-existing provision of a compensation of Rs 15 lakh for families of government employees who die during poll duty. It has been increased to Rs 30 lakh now.”
He also explained that when the initial petition had been raised in the HC, only 135 names had been gathered. Later, when the issue gathered limelight, enlisting of names regained momentum. “In this list of 135 teachers, there were also some who got infected right after the election training,” added Shrivastava. “They could not even undertake the duty and died later. Their families may not get any compensation.”
The Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh is still consolidating the list and said it will be updated in a few days with all the final number of deaths. FactChecker will update this article with the list once it is released.
“The UP 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,” Alam ended.
This article first appeared on FactChecker.in, a publication of the data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit IndiaSpend.