On 13 July 2021, the Uttar Pradesh government released a list of election workers who died from COVID-19 and whose families were eligible for compensation. According to the government, the people on the list had contracted COVID-19 while on duty for local body elections in April and May, and had died within 30 days of their assigned election tasks. Uttama Maurya, a 19-year-old resident of Bhadohi district, told me that she was distressed to find that her father Chhabinath Maurya was not on the list. Chhabinath had died due to COVID-19 on 20 May—35 days after he was on election duty. Uttama had collected all her father’s medical documents and reports but could not claim compensation because of the government’s 30 day cut-off.
The UP government has offered a compensation of Rs 30 lakh ex-gratia—a payment the government makes voluntarily apart from a regular remuneration. The government’s list includes 2,020 beneficiaries. The Caravan spoke to many families whose deceased relatives should have been eligible and had applied for compensation but were not on the list. The state government’s arbitrary 30-day rule and the requirement that families show documentation of COVID-19 positive tests has prevented many families from getting the compensation due to them.
In mid-May, Ajay Singh Bisht, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh blamed the election commission for its strict criteria for COVID-19 deaths. According to the commission, a person is considered to have died while on duty only if the death occurs at the place of work, on the way to work or on the way home. Bisht appealed for a more liberalised approach to allow for more families to be compensated. While the state has extended the consideration for death while on duty to 30 days, it has still fallen short.
In June this year, The Caravan reported on how the UP government had risked the lives of teachers who acted as poll officers to carry out simultaneous three-tier local body elections in the middle of the second wave of COVID-19. About 3,000 primary and secondary teachers and school staff may have died due to exposure to the virus, according to estimate on estimate by of the state legislative council. These teachers had worked at polling booths and in counting centres. The Caravan had documented the details of the deaths of nine teachers, including Chhabinath and Daksh, at the time.
Moreover, Uttama told me that the state government has not been consistent in sticking to the 30-day cut off. Atul Bhardwaj was an assistant teacher in Etah district, and died 32 days after he went for poll duty. OP Sharma, Bhardwaj’s father, uploaded his son’s counting-duty schedule as part of the claims process. The government seemed to have considered the last day of counting to which Bhardwaj was assigned as the start of the 30-day period. However, Bhardwaj did not work on that counting day since he was already ill. His last actual day of work was two days earlier. “We were afraid that the two-day gap [between his polling booth shift and counting duty] would be a problem but fortunately the government approved him as eligible,” Sharma said.