Each day brings reports of more deaths of teachers in Uttar Pradesh. These were teachers of government schools who had been assigned to carry out poll duty for the Panchayat elections in the state. According to reports, more than one thousand teachers who were assigned poll duty have died of Covid 19 by May 5. The numbers are expected to further increase in the days to come.
Three teachers’ association in the state – the Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shiksha Sangh, the Uttar Pradesh Shikshak Mahasangh and the Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh have listed the hundreds of teachers who died in the course of poll duty. Some of them contracted Covid-19 days after the training and were too sick in ICUs to take up poll duty, while others carried out their assigned duties and got infected a few days after.
Around 3 lakh teachers were assigned to election duties in the state across more than 80,000 polling booths that saw around 10.50 crore voters cast their votes. The panchayat elections were notified on 27th March and conducted on a massive scale in four phases on 15th, 19th, 26th and 29th April in the state’s 75 districts.
Beginning with the training from April 9 to April 15 in very congested conditions, the teachers and shiksha mitras had to carry out their election duties amidst huge crowds. There was no scope for social distancing or thermal scanning at the training nor at the polling booths. A young government school teacher, whose parents were both heads of government schools and who died from Covid 19 in the course of their assignments, describes the conditions of election work as very high risk. In the village to which she was assigned, she and other teachers had to hold the hands of voters who had fever and were too weak to record their thumb impression.
The Uttar Pradesh government literally forced the teachers to take up this assignment under pandemic conditions. They were issued letters directing them to report for duty irrespective of their co-morbidities and no arrangements were made for their safety nor were they assured of hospitalisation or treatment at home if they were to contract the infection. So, they were literally pushed into the infection totally unarmed and uninsured.
As early as 27th March, the teachers’ unions had asked the state government to ensure vaccinations of all the teachers of the state before taking up election duties. On 12th April, when reports stated coming in of teachers getting infected and some of them fatally. They demanded that the State Election Commission postpone the panchayat elections. They pointed out that the teachers were not being provided with any kind of financial support when they fell ill and needed hospitalisation. 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. In response, the state government promised CCTV recordings and monitoring of events, mandatory RT-PCR or oxymeter tests at the counting centres. But none of this was carried out. The state government made many promises to the High Court on the precautions and assurance of support for health care of the teachers, but none of this was enforced.
Tens of thousands of people have spoken out against the UP government. The government has announced a compensation of Rs 50 lakh for teachers’ families in cases of mortalities and Rs 20 lakh for treatment if any teacher gets infected, But the government is only counting 135 dead against the actual 700 and more. Also, there is no assurance of compensation if the teachers did not report to their poll duty because they fell ill right after the training.
The UP government is completely responsible for the preventable deaths of these hundreds of teachers. It is one more instance showing the criminal and unjust character of the existing political system, in which the authority is not held accountable for failing to protect people’s lives. There is no accountability, no punishment, even when government actions lead to preventable deaths of public school teachers!