Democratic Elections Amidst a Pandemic and Deaths of Teachers on Poll Duty – COVID Warriors or Sacrificial Lambs?

At least 700 state government school employees on panchayat poll duty succumbed to Covid in Uttar Pradesh this month, the state teachers’ union said on Friday, underlining the risk of flouting Covid norms during a devastating surge in infections

On Saturday (1st May 2021), the COVID cases in India clocked at 4.04 Lakh a day; a world record. The deaths due to the virus stood at the 3500 mark; only behind Brazil’s 5000 a day. The second wave of the virus has caught the country off guard, even a year after the first wave with lessons from the USA, Brazil, France and China already available. Fair to say that the government and its policymakers neglected the issue and acted with such negligence that now the ordinary citizen of India has to run from pillar to post in order to get a breath of oxygen or a bed in a hospital. But if this issue, that sent the economy of the world in general and India in particular, into a tizzy was neglected, what has the focus been for the past year? The answer is as irrational as it is ironical, Elections.

In the largest democracy of the world, elections were allowed to take place in the middle of the worst pandemic that the modern world has ever seen. Rallies were organized in such a ginormous magnitude that it almost seemed like the virus had packed its bags from India. While the virus returned with a hurricane of death and sufferings, it has been the polling staff mostly comprised of teachers, that has had to bear the worst brunt. At least 700 state government school employees on panchayat poll duty succumbed to Covid in Uttar Pradesh this month, the state teachers’ union said on Friday, underlining the risk of flouting Covid norms during a devastating surge in infections.

In letters to chief minister Yogi Adityanath and the state election commission (SEC), the Uttar Pradeshiya Prathmik Shikshak Sangh has listed the names of all deceased and said they were infected during training and poll duty. While the SEC did not comment on the association’s demand to defer counting, the state election commissioner Manoj Kumar on Friday asked district magistrates to ensure setting up of medical health desks at the counting centres with availability of medicines and deployment of doctors.

The four-phase panchayat polls for around 850,000 local body seats were held between April 15 and 29. The state government has denied the allegations and said it has no proof that the teachers died during poll duty.

The issue reached the Supreme Court on Friday when the apex court issued notices to the state government and SEC on a plea related to enforcement of Covid norms during counting of votes on Sunday. “What measures will the state election commission take for counting?” the court asked. In todays, the apex court again allowed for the elections to carry on, with COVID norms in place.

Earlier this week, the Allahabad high court also criticized the administration and SEC over violation of Covid protocol during the polls, and asked the poll body to answer why action shouldn’t be taken against election officials. In the letters, the Uttar Pradeshiya Prathmik Shikshak Sangh demanded that the counting of votes on Sunday be deferred. Association president Dinesh Chandra Sharma said that in the last three weeks, he sent several letters to the chief minister and SEC to defer elections as several lives were lost.

The union chief said a maximum of 33 teachers died in Azamgarh district, 31 in Gorakhpur, 25 in Prayagraj and 20 each in Lucknow and Lakhimpur Kheri districts. “Many of these lives could have been saved had the SEC taken note of our April 12 letter in which I pointed out that Covid protocol was not being followed during training,” he said. {Uttar Pradesh Panchayat Poll Duty}

The Government Denied The Allegations – UP Panchayat Poll Duty

State minister of state (independent charge) for basic education, Satish Chandra Dwivedi, said it was wrong to say that the teachers on poll duty died of Covid. “There’s no specific audit done by basic education department about the number of teachers’ death…How do we know that teachers were not infected when they came for election duty? And how do we know that teachers did not get infected after returning from election duty?” he said.

“Government teachers alone were not doing election duty. There were people from other departments too. We don’t have any data of how teachers got infected and I don’t know how teachers’ association leader has prepared that list of 700 teachers and staff who succumbed to Covid,” the minister added.

The Digpu News Bottomline

India is the largest democracy in the world, in terms of population and the Constitution of India provides for India to be a welfare state. This means that the state has to work for the welfare of the citizens at all costs. The penal code of the country does not allow for one innocent to be punished even if it means for several guilty to go unpunished, in line with the welfare state principle. At the same time, it is not numbers that make a democracy large or small but the amount of freedom and welfare enjoyed by its residents.

With near about 700 innocent teachers lost to the apathy of a stubborn state hell-bent on conducting elections amidst a pandemic, one wonders whether the constitutional fathers of the country would even call it a democracy in the shadow of this decision. Leave alone the title of largest democracy being crowned on its head.

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