– Dipta Joshi
The Maharashtra government is willing to pay 71-days’ worth salaries of the state’s 12,500 teachers withheld since the past seven years. The state issued a government resolution (GR) dated December 7 reiterating its decision to make the payment amounting to INR 191.82 crore. The demand to be repaid has been one of the top demands of the state’s university and college teachers’ unions since 2013 when the state government insisted on holding back salaries of agitating teachers for non-cooperation of exam work.
In 2013, protesting against issues such as discrepancies in the National Eligibility test (NET) exam and the Sixth Pay Commission, agitating university and college teachers had remained absent from work for 71 days (February 4-May 10) during the semester examinations. Citing the abstention affected examination related work, the government initiated strict action against striking teachers under section 32 (5) of the Maharashtra Universities Act 1994.
Issuing a GR (dated March 2013), the government cited the Supreme Court’s ‘no work, no pay’ guideline leading to the protesting teachers losing their salaries for the loss of work hours. However, teachers participating in the protests had later completed all pending examination, assessment and academic work ensuring that results were declared on time that year.
A second GR (dated March 2016) further decided to set up a committee to look into the matter. The committee had its first meeting on September 25, 2018. Attended by the minister of higher and technical education, it was agreed upon at the meeting, ‘Since all examination related work was completed by teachers once their agitation ended, the Supreme court guideline of ‘no work, no pay’ was no longer applicable and the release and repay the withheld salary was to be paid at the earliest.’
The decision to repay teacher’s dues was also upheld by both the high court and supreme court – the Maharashtra Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisation (MFUCTO) and the Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU) had filed writ petitions against the withholding of the salary amount in 2013 as well as 2015. In January 2019, taking into consideration the special committee’s decision to pay up the pending salaries, the Mumbai high court asked for expeditious release of the amount setting March 2019 as the deadline for the repayment. It also added the caveat that in case of delays, the government would have to pay an additional interest amount of 8 percent per annum until the date of disbursement. When the state government sought to challenge the high court order in the Supreme court, the court dismissed the case (March 2,2020).
Earlier, condemning the government’s inaction as well as contempt of court orders, the MFUCTO had planned protests all through December 2020 and January 2021 will have now been put on hold. “There was no reason for the government to hold back salaries when the work was completed within time. It also committed contempt of the courts by not paying once the courts asked it to. While we acknowledge the government’s GR reiterating the state’s commitment to reimburse teachers 71-day salaries is a positive step and are going to hold the agitation for now, it will really depend upon the government honouring the high court’s order of paying 8 percent interest payment for delays,” says Dr. Tapati Mukhopadhyay, President, MFUCTO.
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