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Friday, June 25, 2021

Less than a month after UP panchayat poll camp, teacher couple dead

The couple also have three daughters, two of them married and teachers at government schools. The third daughter has completed her MBBS from Mahamaya Rajkiya Allopathic Medical College in Ambedkar Nagar district.

Written by Asad Rehman | Lucknow |
Updated: May 14, 2021 7:30:16 am
UP panchayat elections, UP panchayat polls, UP panchayat polls teachers death, teachers death UP, UP teachers death covid, Indian expressMeena Kumari, 55, and husband Lallan Ram, 59, died within a fortnight of each other. (Express Photo)

“My parents were my world, I never imagined they would both leave us so soon and so suddenly,” says Aniket, 26.

Meena Kumari, 55, and husband Lallan Ram, 59, died within a fortnight of each other. Both principals of government schools, they had attended a training camp for panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh. Aniket says his parents were assigned election duty despite being in high-risk Covid group due to age and comorbidities, and developed fever within days of returning. However, since they couldn’t actually participate in the election process due to illness, the family is not sure if the government will compensate them for their loss.

Meena Kumari headed Composite Vidyalaya Nibi, and Lallan Ram, Poorva Madhyam Vidyalaya, both located at Shohratgarh in Siddharth Nagar district. The training camp was held at the district headquarters on April 11, with the two assigned election duty for April 26 at Doomariyaganj.

“My father, a heart patient, started showing symptoms within four days of returning from the camp. Initially, he was stable, but on April 20, when his symptoms got severe, we got a Rapid Antigen Test done. Since it was negative, no hospital agreed to admit him. On April 22, we got an RT-PCR test, but the report was delayed. We went from one Gorakhpur hospital to another (Gorakhpur is around 80 km from Siddharth Nagar) and finally, through a source, got him admitted to a private hospital there,” says Aniket, a graduate, who lived with his parents.

The couple also have three daughters, two of them married and teachers at government schools. The third daughter has completed her MBBS from Mahamaya Rajkiya Allopathic Medical College in Ambedkar Nagar district.

Aniket says that at the hospital, his father’s condition kept getting worse. “We tried everything but could not save him. I keep asking myself if I could have done something different.”

The eldest daughter, Preeti, says when their mother, who had a kidney ailment, fell ill, they found a Covid hospital in Siddharth Nagar, but it did not have proper arrangements. “Whenever we spoke to her, she said there was no one to take care of patients.” On May 4, Meena Kumari was among the five casualties at the hospital.

Breaking down, Preeti says, “She died because of lack of facilities. She would have survived, she had a lot of willpower and wanted to live.”

Aniket says that given their parents’ condition, the family had taken a lot of care to ensure they would not be exposed to the coronavirus. “But then they were assigned election duty… My parents said that at the camp, no social distancing norms were followed, there was no thermal scanning and few wore masks.”

Preeti, who as teacher at a primary government school in Gorakhpur was also posted for election duty, says, “What was the need for panchayat polls at this time?… At Tikonia village where I was posted, there were people who had fever and were too weak to even put their thumb impression on the ballot paper, so we held their hands for it.”

Preeti says she too got Covid symptoms later, but these remained mild. “I could not get tested. My sister advised me what medicines to take.”

Basic Shiksha Adhikari, Siddharth Nagar, Rajendra Singh said he had forwarded the family’s application for compensation to the authorities. “The decision will be taken as per the government order. It says the compensation amount will be Rs 30 lakh if an official dies on duty or while travelling back,” says Singh.

On Tuesday, the Allahabad High Court asked the government to consider giving Rs 1 crore to families of those who died of Covid, after duty in the panchayat elections, slamming the “deliberate act on the part of the State and State Election Commission to force them to perform duties in the absence of RT-PCR support”.

State Election Commissioner (SEC) Tarun Agrawal told the court that in 28 districts for which details were available till then, 77 polling officers had died. Several teachers’ associations have pegged the deaths to be in hundreds. A joint association of government employees, teachers and officers has called the order for compensation to only those who died during election duty or while travelling back as flawed.

Siddharth Nagar District Magistrate Deepak Meena, who was also the District Election Officer, said they had recorded 13 deaths of government officials between April 10 and May 2, during the poll exercise. “I have sent a report to the government and a decision regarding compensation will be taken by the SEC. There are several claims of Covid during duty… it is impossible to ascertain how one gets the virus. Let’s see how the government and SEC decide who is eligible for compensation,” the DM said.

About the family’s claims regarding Meena Kumari’s death, the official said proper care was being provided at government hospitals. “I am personally monitoring the situation.”

On whether two members of a family should have been assigned poll duty, the DM said, “We exempted women with pregnancies and those with young children. We did the best we could.”

Aniket says the callousness of the government didn’t end with requisitioning his parents for the elections. On April 25, he says, someone called on his father’s mobile asking him to report for polls the next day. “I told the person my father is in the ICU, but he must have thought I am lying. He said an FIR will be lodged, and that we will be answerable to police. I hung up.”

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