Nearly 550 UP govt employees lost their lives to COVID-19 while on panchayat polls duty, but most families won’t be compensated-India News , Technomiz
The state’s rules for ex gratia compensation for government employees only cover those who died on the day of counting, which ignores the manner in which COVID-19 infects and kills
In the wake of the Uttar Pradesh panchayat election, oaths could not be administered until 20 days after the announcement of results. The reason: Fear of deaths in large numbers due to COVID-19 . This correspondent had previously reported the deaths of 2,046 teachers working in the panchayat elections. It has now emerged that 546 government employees also lost their lives during this period.
The State Employees Joint Council claims that there were a total of 518 deaths in 18 divisions of Uttar Pradesh during the panchayat elections: Agra (33), Varanasi (25), Gorakhpur (32), Jhansi (17), Ayodhya (17), Prayagraj (40), Azamgarh (27), Saharanpur (eight), Vindhyachal (13), Aligarh (16), Meerut (49), Devipatan (23), Lucknow (76), Chitrakoot (13), Muradabad (26), Baralu (33), Kanpur (43) and Basti (27).
The deceased were part of such departments as irrigation, village development, horticulture, PWD, agriculture, revenue and animal husbandry. Most of them were employed in the post of junior engineer, assistant engineer, driver, clerk, village development officer and instructor. While the State Employees Joint Council claims that the full number of dead pertaining to the departments of revenue collection, panchayat health, MNREGA Asha workers, agriculture, power, roadways, Jal Nigam etc are not available at present.
On the other hand, Ashish Yadav, the general secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Engineers Association (UPEA), has claimed that 28 engineers at the level of officer have died. If data from both union leaders is added up, it brings the total number of government employee deaths in Uttar Pradesh to 546.
The correspondent contacted the family of deceased engineer officer Amrit Nishad, who died during the panchayat elections. His 29-year-old brother Anuj Nishad recalled, “On 8 May, it was my brother’s second marriage anniversary. In fact, on 7 April, he was called to manage the election training centre in Belharkala, Sant Kabir Nagar. He was fine when he went there in the morning, but he returned at 3 pm or so with a fever.”
Pointing out that taking medicine brought him relief, Anuj added that his brother went back to work on 12 April. “When he came home, he started coughing severely. The family was worried, but no one thought it could be COVID-19 , because there were no cases in our district at the time.” This time, however, taking medication did not bring him any relief.
On 13 April, responding to a call from an officer by the name of Mangal Singh, he was forced to go in to work again. “After coming back, my brother’s health deteriorated even more; he was unable to walk. Then we went to Basti District Hospital that very night. After being examined, his oxygen levels dropped to 83 and pulse was at 123.” Amrit was put on a saline drip.
“After that, my brother started feeling cold and began coughing. We told the hospital staff about his election duties the next day, but were told to wait overnight as nothing could be done until the arrival of another doctor the next morning,” added Anuj, “As my brother’s health began to improve, we decided to return home after midnight.”
He continued, “The next day, his health deteriorated and just as we were about to leave for the doctor’, Mangal Singh from his office called. When my brother said he was not well, the officer responded curtly stating, ‘I want my work done’. And so I took Amrit to his workplace at Sant Kabirnagar District Office, some 40 kilometres away.”
He went in and returned after a short while, only to fall unconscious. Amrit was then rushed to the district hospital, where authorities refused to begin treatment until a COVID test report was furnished. Anuj said, “After a lot of difficulty, we got an antigen test done; the result was negative. Upon requesting his supervisor to grant my brother leave, he began to ask for an RT-PCR test report. Now where would I get that?”
After a great deal of back and forth, leave was granted but due to the ‘lack of satisfactory treatment’, Amrit was brought back to his home for treatment. “A physician who examined my brother noted the lack of oxygen in his body and urged us to admit him to a private hospital. I did so and he was hospitalised for 10 days,” he said. Gradually, Amrit began to recover, but then faced another problem: There was a shortage of oxygen in the district.
“We were then forced to admit by brother to the ICU ward of a government hospital in Kaili. But it was too late by then. On 25 April, he experienced severe breathlessness. No member of medical staff was ready to come and attend to him and he breathed his last. Now I am responsible for my 11-month-old nephew,” Anuj sighed. He recalled hearing something about compensation, but did not know how much his sister-in-law would receive.
The UPEA’s Ashish Yadav said, “The death of on-duty teachers the duty due to covid during the panchayat election is well known, but during the panchayat election, government employees also died in the state. Voices need to be raised for them too. Twenty-eight engineers died. A large number of junior engineers have also died. All of them were the sole breadwinners for their respective families.”
But why did this happen, he continued, “I believe that the spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent death of a large number of public servants is a failure of the system. In fact, it is the bureaucrats who have violated the order of the court to keep the election ‘COVID-free’. When the district administration is given responsibility for work, it is the only culprit when there are shortcomings in the work.”
Engineer Hari Kishore Tiwari, president of the Union of Government Employees, told this correspondent, “The State Employees Joint Council has sent the first list of 518 people who have died of COVID-19 to the chief minister. But the number of deceased employees (from COVID-19 ) is over a more than 1,000. Therefore, compensation worth Rs one crore should be provided immediately to the families of the victims without any discrimination.”
He added, “We have informed the state government and the State Election Commission about the situation through various correspondences in view of the COVID-19 situation during the announcement of the panchayat elections. We first requested the postponement of elections, then training, voting and counting. Due to the quick transmission period during the counting of votes, we took the matter up to the Supreme Court, but the government managed to get the votes counted through various promises and assurances. However, the promise and trust made in the court by the government was not followed. The result of this is that the election duty personnel lost their lives. From 5 May till now, deaths from similar causes continue.”
Tiwari has placed seven demands before the state government:
1. All the deceased should be declared “Corona Warriors” and given martyr status.
2. The families of the deceased should receive Rs one crore in compensation as per the high court’s directive.
3. Compassionate appointment should be given to the deceased’s dependents on the basis of education. Even for this, a majority of posts have to be declared under the rules.
4. The money spent on COVID-19 treatment should be borne by the department concerned.
5. Institutions like Red Cross Society that are engaged in this work should be authorised to make separate arrangements in the districts for the treatment and vaccination of state personnel and their family members.
6. Those who have COVID-19 should not be put on duty relating to COVID-19 prevention.
7. Personnel working on COVID-19 prevention duty and their families should first be vaccinated.
This correspondent got in touch with the Uttar Pradesh additional chief secretary for personnel and appointment, Mukul Singhal, in connection with the issue of deaths and compensation. He said, “There will be an inquiry into the number provided by the employees union. The rest of the government-made rules are already in place, as is the system, and steps will be taken accordingly.”
But, regarding compensation, Tiwari says that the rules had been instituted prior to COVID-19 . According to these, only the families of those who die within the dates of the counting process will be compensated. In this situation, a large number of families will not receive compensation, since COVID-19 can take days to incubate and ultimately claim a victim.
When this point was raised, Singhal responded, “It is not our duty. For this, you should contact the Department of Health.”
This article is part of an ongoing series. You can read the rest of the series here
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