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Gujarat: Contract teachers con

EducationWorld June 13 | Education News EducationWorld

Vidya sahayaks (teaching assistants) earn less than donkeys, ran a headline in the Ahmedabad  edition of  the Times of India on May 24.

Three days earlier, on May 21 a Supreme Court bench comprising JJ B.S. Chauhan and Dipak Misra had expressed concern about the quality of primary teachers being recruited by the state government while hearing an appeal of the Gujarat government against a high court order banning the appointment of teachers, police personnel and forest guards on low-wage contracts. The apex court bench passed strictures against the state government enquiring whether the teachers were sahayaks (assistants) or shatrus (enemies).

Following the apex court’s caustic comments which received wide publicity in Gujarat, a sheepish state education department issued a statement that the appointment of teaching assistants in the state has been done through a transparent process and as per the guidelines of the National Council of Teacher Education. It also said that during the past 12 years, 85,000 vidya sahayaks have been absorbed in the state’s teachers cadre and are being paid Sixth Pay Commission prescribed salaries.

After hearing the writ petition filed by social activist Rajendra Shukla, president of the Yogkshem Foundation for Human Dignity which has been waging a long legal battle against the state government’s practice of hiring over 300,000 teachers, policemen and other personnel as low paid contract labour, the Supreme Court ordered a status quo on the appointment and posting of about 13,000 teaching assistants contracted in 2011. But the court reserved its judgement on the constitutional validity of the Gujarat government’s policy of recruiting vidya sahayaks on five- year contracts at fixed wages before absorbing them into regular government service.

Introduced in 1998 by the Keshubhai Patel-led BJP government of the time, the vidya sahayaks scheme gathered steam under the Narendra Modi government and has spread into other sectors of the state’s economy. Now Gujarat also has lok rakshaks (contract constabulary) and van sahayaks (forest department assistants). Moreover this practice of hiring contract workers has spread to almost all state government departments with administrative assistants, peons and municipal workers employed as contract labour and paid low fixed wages for five years on the promise of being absorbed into regular service thereafter. For almost a decade until 2010, vidya sahayaks were paid a measly Rs.2,500 per month for five years before the remuneration of contract teachers was raised to Rs.5,300 per month prior to the state assembly election of 2012. Against this, the Sixth Pay Commission norms mandate a minimum remuneration of Rs.18,300 per month for government primary school teachers.

The Yogkshem Foundation which has been fighting this pernicious government practice since 2008 was vindicated when in January last year, the Gujarat high court ruled that this practice was a “violation of fundamental rights” and “violation of the principle of equal pay for equal work”. The state government went in appeal to the Supreme Court which passed an interim order not disturbing the appointment of 13,000 vidya sahayaks recruited in 2011 and reserving its judgement on the petition.

According to Dr. Manish Doshi, Gujarat Congress spokesperson, and a student union activist, the Modi administration has resorted to this pernicious practice to project high employment in the state. “The state has turned from a model employer into an exploiter of its own population. It can’t pay Sixth Pay Commission salaries because it has wasted precious budgetary resources on high profile events like education fairs and other spectacles. It should be noted that the state’s public debt which was Rs.50,000 crore when Modi took over as chief minister, has since ballooned to Rs.150,000 crore,” says Doshi.

One can’t blame vidya sahayaks for speculating where these huge borrowals have gone.

R.K. Misra (Gandhinagar)

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