Strike by 4 Lakh Teachers Brings Bihar Schools to a Standstill
This is not a sudden development, and comes after many court cases and teacher-government clashes.
In Bihar, where schools were already witnessing an acute shortage of teachers, around 4.5 lakh teachers have been on a strike since a fortnight. This development succeeds many years of court cases and clashes between teachers and government.
All School Operations Disrupted
Bihar has a total of around 76,000 schools, and the teachers' strike is affecting schools, disrupting classes in 45,000 of these, as per the Indian Express.
But besides classes, other aspects, including government programmes and evaluation of exams are also being affected by the strike.
A letter issued on 4 March by Kumar Ramanaj, Director, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, to the District Programme Office Bearers (Mid-Day Meal Scheme) of all the districts, said that according to an evaluation conducted on 27 February, the mid-day meal scheme was being run in only 19 per cent of the schools in the last four days, during which the strikes had gained momentum.
This means that the remaining, nearly 80 per cent of schools do not even have the requisite teachers to oversee mid-day meal preparations.
In addition, the secondary school examination has been conducted recently, but because of the ongoing strike, the teachers will not check their copies. If the strike continues, the result may be released much later than usual.
Contractual Teachers Receive Half the Salary of Permanent Teachers
The seeds of this protest were sown over a decade ago. In 2003 and 2005, teachers had been recruited by Bihar schools. In 2006, the Nitish Kumar government created a category for contractual teachers. By 2010, about 2.5 lakh teachers had been appointed into this category.
In April 2010, when the Right to Education Act came into force in the country, rules were also framed for the appointment of teachers. Earlier, candidates who passed the secondary school intermediate examination were eligible to be appointed. But, the RTE Act made the Teachers' Eligibility Test (TET) mandatory for the appointment of teachers.
The Bihar government adopted the TET in 2011, and when in 2013-2014, there was a shortfall in the total number of teachers, the TET-passing candidates were appointed, but they were also put in the category of contractual teachers. When the contractual teachers demanded a raise in their salaries and went on strike in 2015, the government fixed a new pay scale, according to which the contractual teachers would get Rs 24,000 to Rs 26,000. But the salary of permanent teachers was still twice as much as that of the contractual teachers.
The Case Reaches the Courts
The contractual teachers were teaching in schools on this salary, when, in 2017, the Supreme Court directed the Punjab government to pay the basic pay-scale, which is given to the regular employees holding the same position.
On the basis of this decision, the contractual teachers of Bihar filed a case in the Patna High Court in 2017, demanding a salary equal to that of permanent teachers. The court ruled in October 2017 in favour of the contractual teachers.
The Bihar government challenged the decision in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court on 10 May 2019, reversed the Patna High Court’s decision, and pointed out the huge strides that had been made by the education department.
“In our view, great strides have been made by the State in the last decade. It has galvanised itself into action and not only achieved the objectives of having schools in every neighbourhood but has also succeeded in increasing the literacy rate.”Supreme Court ruling
“It (the state) has also succeeded in having more girl children in the stream of education and consequently the TFR (Reduction in Total Fertility Rate), as indicated above, has also improved to a great extent. If these are the benefits or rewards which the society stands to gain and achieve, the State ought to be given appropriate free play,” SC said in its ruling.
The SC, however, also pointed out that some of the issues raised were valid and concerning. "The submission that at the initial stage the 'Niyojit (contractual) Teachers' are given such emoluments which are lesser than peons and clerks in the same school is a matter which requires attention," it said, according to a report in Times of India. However, this directive was not followed, and the matter was buried without any action being taken.
On 22 February, the contractual teachers again filed a case in the Patna High Court, asking for implementation of the Supreme Court directive. The Patna High Court asked the state government to immediately implement the Supreme Court's recommendation, but despite this, no policy changes were initiated.
1. Twenty-Five Lakh Teaching Posts Lie Vacant
Today, in Bihar, around 1.25 lakh posts of permanent teachers are still vacant.
The contractual teachers are also demanding that teachers who are retiring should be replaced by the contractual teachers.
Bihar State Primary Teachers' Association secretary Manoj Kumar said, "Contractual teachers should be appointed in vacant posts of permanent teachers, and they should be given all the facilities that permanent teachers receive from the government."
What Will Happen Next?
Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi told the Legislative Council on Tuesday, 3 March, that the government will raise the salaries of contractual teachers soon. "The government is sensitive to the contractual teachers," he said, but added that they would not get the pay permanent teachers were receiving.
Earlier in the Bihar Legislative Council on 26 February, Nitish Kumar had said, "the students have their examinations and you will go on strike? Is this the job of teachers? We cannot pay you the same pay scale as permanent teachers, as there are more things for us to do in Bihar."
“We want the contractual teachers to be appointed in permanent positions, so that they get retirement benefits like permanent teachers.”Manoj Kumar, Bihar State Primary Teachers’ Association Secretary
Vaishnavi Mishra, who has been teaching at a Gopalganj school since 2014, said, "The strike will not end unless the government issues clear instructions and implements the Supreme Court order in letter and spirit."
On 13 March, the teachers will hold a protest at Gardni Bagh in Patna, by shaving their heads en masse.
(With inputs from Umesh Kumar Ray, from Patna.)
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