Over 1,600 teachers and workers of the Basic Education Department have died in Uttar Pradesh since the first week of April due to COVID-19, a teachers’ body said on Tuesday, claiming that 90 per cent of them were on panchayat polls duty.
“As many as 1,621 teachers and workers of the Basic Education Department have died since the first week of April following the outbreak of the second wave of COVID-19 to May 16. Of these 1,621 deaths, more than 90 per cent of the teachers were on panchayat election duty,” said Dr Dinesh Chandra Sharma, president of the Uttar Pradesh Praathmik Shikshak Sangh. He also claimed while 8-10 people died due to heart attack, the majority of deaths were due to COVID-19.
Expressing sorrow over the death of teachers, Satish Chandra Dwivedi, the UP minister of state (independent charge) for basic education, however, said that all these deaths cannot be attributed to elections and according to government data, only three teachers died due to COVID.
In a statement issued here, Sharma said, “By the third phase of the panchayat polls, the count of deceased teachers/workers of the Basic Education Department was 706. By the fourth and final phase and the counting day, in a span of a fortnight, the number escalated to above 1,600.”
In a meeting with the chief secretary on May 1, they were assured that teachers and workers who were ill would be exempted from voting and counting duty for the panchayat elections. However, action was initiated to either suspend or cut salaries of those people who were ill and did not attend voting and counting duty, the statement said.
The teachers of the Basic Education Department were also allowed to work from home, but despite this, teachers in Lucknow, Unnao, Rae Bareli, Bandam, Basti, Hardoi and other districts were posted at the COVID Control Room, it claimed, adding that these teachers also succumbed to COVID-19.
The statement said that not a single official of the Basic Education Department, the UP government, nor any public representative expressed grief over their deaths, despite the fact that these teachers had given Rs 76 crore to the Chief Minister”s Relief Fund in the first coronavirus wave.
The teachers” body demanded that Rs 1 crore be paid to the kin of deceased teachers and workers as financial assistance.
Reacting to the statement of the teachers” body, Satish Chandra Dwivedi told PTI that the Election Commission of India has clear guidelines regarding the death of poll personnel during duty.
“A death which takes place between the departure of the polling party, after taking the polling kit, and deposition of the items is considered a death during election duty. The same guidelines are followed by poll bodies of the states as well. The figures of death of polling staff are collected by the State Election Commission through district magistrates,” he said.
The minister said that based on the guidelines and information gathered, there are three teachers who died during election duty.
“Rest of the deaths may have taken place, we are not denying it, but they may be of doctors, policemen, farmers, traders. Thousands of people have succumbed to COVID-19. Among them, there are teachers as well. They were a part of our family, and we are saddened by their demise,” he said.
“I have instructed officials that dues of teachers who died due to COVID-19 be immediately cleared by the department, and applications be sought from their dependents and should be forwarded to the government,” Dwivedi said.
Questioning the claims of the teachers” body, he said, “All these deaths cannot be attributed to elections, because we do not have any set parameters. Can any infected person tell at what point of time he got infected? Assume that there is an infected person, and he is asymptomatic. He goes to election duty and dies. How will you consider his death as one during election duty?”
The UP minister asked that in case a person, after returning from poll duty, comes in contact with a COVID-19 patient in his home, village or among relatives on the same day and then dies, will it be considered as a death during election duty.
Regarding the death of 1,621 teachers and workers of the Basic Education Department, Dwivedi said, “We do not have any such authentic data, they have gathered the details through their organisation. Is there any department-wise audit of COVID-19 deaths? There is no such system of audit. The deaths take place in normal course of time, and also during the pandemic, we can only express our sorrow.”
On May 1, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had slammed the Uttar Pradesh government for conducting panchayat elections amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic, and said that what is happening in the state is nothing less than a “crime against humanity” and the State Election Commission (SEC) is “playing along”.
She had claimed that 700 teachers, including one who was pregnant and forced to attend poll duty, have died in the state.