Nalgonda: G Sandhya Rani, 35, a school teacher at Mandal Parishad Primary School, Chamdampet, was asked to attend the poll duty on April 17.

"If I will not attend the election duty, a memo will be served to me," Sandhya told her husband K Mohan Rao.

Nagarjuna Sagar by-poll was necessitated after the sitting TRS MLA from the constituency Nomula Narsimhaiah passed away at a private hospital in Hyderabad on December 1, 2020.

On April 16 Sandhya, a resident of the Suryanagar colony in Nalgonda, joined the election duty at Haliya. Officials distributed EVMs to election officers and they were asked to stay in Haliya at night and reach booth number 120 stationed at Girls Government High School Vijayapuri the next morning.

After she returned from election duty on April 20, she developed a high fever. "In the meantime, we heard that people tested positive for COVID in Nagarjuna Sagar," said Mohan.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao also tested positive after his Haliya rally. TRS candidate Nomula Bhagath and his family followed suit. More than 60 people tested positive.

"She tested positive on Rapid Antigen Test. We got some medicine from the government hospital. Later, we went to nearby Surya Hospital thinking they will give us better medicine. After examination, Dr. Venkat Reddy gave medicine and asked for two weeks' quarantine, She was asked to do exercise for an hour. She was also told that fever will recede in two days," said Mohan.

However, Sandhya's fever did not recede even after five days. "On the fifth day, we again took her to the doctor and he recommended a CT scan. Sandhya's CT scan score came 18/25. The doctor at Surya Hospital asked the family to take her to Hyderabad as she is in critical condition," he said.

Later the family booked an oxygen ambulance and took her to Max Hospital in Hyderabad. "For 13 days, she was admitted to the hospital. On May 8, she took her last breath," said Mohan.

She left behind her eight-year-old daughter who is still looking for her mother.

Election Duty

Mohan said that during election duty, she was at the front desk checking everyone's EPIC number and voter ID. "She was putting indelible ink marks and doing other duties too," said Mohan.

He said though she was wearing a mask and gloves, her hands and face were sweating. For some time in the middle, she removed her gear to breathe some fresh air. "So many people came for voting and nobody knows who was infected and who was not," said Mohan.

After voting by non- COVID people concluded at 6 pm, the person infected with virus came to the polling station in PPE kits for exercising their franchise.

Hospital Bill

Sandhya's family said they had to shell out Rs 1.2 lakh per day for treatment at a private hospital. "I teach at a computer coaching center. My coaching institute has been shut for the last one year due to COVID. We have no income. We had around Rs 1.5 lakh saving which we gave to the hospital as an advance. I borrowed Rs 15 lakh from family and friends for her treatment. We thought we will return the money once she recovers. But she has left us," cried Mohan.

Apart from regular medical bills, he had to buy Remdesivir injection for Rs 40000 per vial. "I bought six Remdesivir vials from the black market," said Mohan.

The state government is paying Rs. 1 lakh that too only to those who have been treated in referral hospitals. "We are not qualified because I took her to a private hospital," said Mohan.

Distress in the family

"Around 16 years ago, she came to my coaching center. There we fell in love and our families also agreed to our marriage. I was earning well. Her family found a perfect match for her in me. And, we got married," said Mohan.

She got a job in the school four years after her marriage. "Our daughter was born eight years back. Our life was perfect. COVID and election changed our lives," said Mohan.

Similar cases

M Ranjit Singh Mali, 56, who was a teacher at Upper primary School, Rayani Palem, also attended the election duty on April 17 at Nagarjuna Sagar.

After he returned on April 19 he died due to heart stroke. "He was suffering from Asthma. When he returned from election duty, he got a fever. On April 19 he suffered a heart stroke and died," said Hemanth Mali, son of Ranjit Singh.

Telangana State United Teachers Federation (TSUTF) alleged that 500 teachers got infected with the virus during election duty for Nagarjuna Sagar and municipal polls in Khammam, Warangal, Atchampet, Siddipet, Nakrekal, Jadcherla, and Kothur.

The Federation said that 15 teachers lost their lives after contracting the virus during election duty, a majority of those were under the age of 40.

Telangana Rashtra Samithi won the Nagarjuna Sagar by-poll. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and TRS candidate Nomula Bhagath recovered from COVID, but many lives were lost due to the election.

On April 26, Madras High Court said; "Election Commission officers should be booked on murder charges probably."

Telangana High Court on Monday also took note of rising cases of infections among teachers post-election duties. The Bench asked the government to treat all infected teachers on par with COVID warriors and render monetary help to those who have succumbed.

Sumit Kumar Jha

Sumit Kumar Jha is currently a multimedia journalist with Newsmeter. An alumnus of Hyderabad Central University and Amity University, he has interned with The New Indian Express and CGNet Swara. Sumit has also worked with video production houses in Mumbai as an assistant director in shows like 21 Sarfrosh for Discovery Jeet. He is specialised in Video Production. He was also the contributor at PARI network. Hailing from rural Bihar has spent his childhood shifting from places and people. Growing up he felt the need to document the lives and dreams of rural India. A lover of visual storytelling goes around the cities to search for Stories. He primarily reports on civic, human interest and data stories.

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