The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday issued a notice to the state election commission on the reported death of 135 polling officers due to coronavirus during panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh, reported Live Law. The poll body has been asked to explain why it failed to check non-compliance of Covid guidelines during the elections.

Hearing a suo motu petition on the coronavirus situation in the state, Justices Siddhartha Varma and Ajit Kumar took cognisance of a news report published in Hindi daily Amar Ujala, which said 135 teachers, “shiksha mitras” or para-teachers, and investigators who were on election duty had allegedly succumbed to coronavirus, The Indian Express reported. The court directed the Election Commission to take measures to ensure that Covid protocols are followed in the last phase of the elections, and said that actions will be taken against officials if it failed to do so.

“It appears that neither the police nor Election Commission did anything to save the people on election duty from getting infected by this deadly virus,” the court said. It also observed that the state government had “gone complacent” due to fewer cases of the virus by the end of last year.

During the hearing on Tuesday, an advocate also raised the matter of scarcity of oxygen, suggesting that private hospitals were insisting patients to bring their own oxygen cylinder if they wanted to get admitted, Live Law reported. Taking note of the submission, the court said it should be ensured that no one dies “for want of oxygen”.

“If even after seven decades of our attaining freedom with so many heavy industries set up, we are not able to provide oxygen to our citizens, it’s a matter of shame,” the court said.

Counsels representing the state government submitted details of liquid medical oxygen allocated to Uttar Pradesh and assured the court that it will be able to tackle the situation. The court, however, directed that all industrial oxygen should immediately be diverted for coronavirus patients. Notably, the Centre last week had already prohibited supply of oxygen for industrial purposes.

The court reiterated its request to the Adityanath-led state government to impose a two-week lockdown in the state to curb the rise in coronavirus cases, Times Now reported.

“I again request, if things are not in control then impose a two-week lockdown,” Justice Varma said. “Please suggest it to your policy makers. It is blowing out of proportion, that is the first thing it seems.”

On April 19, the Allahabad High Court had ordered imposition of lockdown in the five cities of Lucknow, Varanasi, Prayagraj, Kanpur and Gorakhpur. However, the verdict was put on stay by the Supreme Court after the state government challenged it.

Noting that the pandemic situation in Uttar Pradesh had become “very chaotic”, the court issued orders for judicial officers to be appointed as nodal officers in nine worst-hit districts, The Indian Express reported. The court asked the district judges of Lucknow, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar, Agra, Gorakhpur, Ghaziabad, Gautam Budh Nagar and Jhansi to nominate a judicial officer who will report every weekend about the prevailing situation.

“Those in power must shun the attitude of my way or no way and should welcome suggestions from all the quarters,” the court noted.