Dinanath Prajapati, a contractual teacher, popularly called Niyojit Shikshak at Gaya in Bihar, died of a sudden brain haemorrhage on March 6, 2020. Prajapati was going through acute financial distress, due to irregular payment dispensation by the state. At the time of death, he had not received his due payment and had to live through Holi without cash. With three daughters to be married in the years to come, relying on an inadequately paid job seems to have pushed him into a perpetual state of anxiety. Lack of appropriate medical assistance and severe anxiety became the cause for the early demise of Mr Prajapati.
However, he is not the only one; more than fifty teachers died in different parts of the state owing to a more and less similar cause, during an indefinite state-wide strike called by the Bihar Rajya Shikshak Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti (BRSSSS), an umbrella organisation of 26 unions of teachers and the Bihar Secondary School Teachers’ Association (BSSTA), on February 17, 2020. The strike eventually was called off on May 4, 2020, considering the health challenge in the wake of the Corona pandemic, on a promissory note by the government to discuss the demands of the striking teachers once the epidemic is over.
As per the data filed before the Supreme Court of India while hearing the petitions in the case of State of Bihar and Ors. vs The Bihar Secondary Teachers Struggle Committee, Munger & Ors, Bihar, the third most populous state with the worst literacy rate, has a total of around 3.5 lakh teachers employed on contractual basis in different schools, ranging from Primary to Secondary and Higher Secondary schools across the state. These teachers have been demanding equal pay for equal work at par with the regular teachers.
In general opinion among teachers, the present basic pay scale of ₹5,200-20,200 offered by the state is inadequate, causing hindrance in imparting quality education. Financial compulsions have forced many of them to take up part-time activities to support their families.
In its judgement of 2017, on petitions filed by the teachers union seeking equal pay for equal work, the High Court of Patna noted that the poor scale to the Niyojit Shikshak has adversely affected the academic atmosphere in the state. The ill-paid teachers without having any promotional prospects cannot be expected to deliver the best. Better salary and prospects in the career are a catalyst for the best performance; the teachers in such schools drawing less than the class four employees are not good to the institution and the society.
Also, the High Court pointed to the violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which carries provisions of equality before the law, and directed the state to end the injustice in payment by granting them equal pay for equal work at par with regular teachers from the initial date of joining and actual benefits from December 8, 2009.
However, that doesn’t end the story there; the state government agitated by the High Court’s verdict, went on to contest it in the apex court. The apex court in its ten-point judgement on May 11, 2019, refused to apply the doctrine of equal pay for equal work to Niyojit Teachers’ salary.
The court in its judgement made it clear that the principle of equal pay for equal work is not an abstract idea, and it can only be applied on a complete consideration of various dimensions of a given job. In the particular case, the court denied pay parity on the basis of difference in the mode of recruitment but suggested the government to heed to the recommendation of a secretary-rank expert committee, instituted by the court itself, of a 20% hike in salary of contractual teachers.
In 2019, Bihar had a total of around 4.5 lakh teachers working under the state out of which 3,19,703 Niyojit Shikshak were in elementary schools, 38,715 were in Secondary/Higher Secondary schools, and rest were regular teachers. The recruitment of contract teachers in the state took place in the year 2006 in magnanimous numbers; with the time-to-time enforcement of Article 21A of the Indian Constitution, the state was duty-bound to bring its children into schools and provide them with quality education.
In achieving this objective, the first hindrance was the poor pupil-teacher ratio, to which recruitment of teachers in large numbers on a low wage appeared the only solution, considering the unaffordability of the state in paying regular pay-scale salary to new teachers, due to unavailability of funds.
The state government decided to put aside its old norms in recruiting teachers and came up with a new rule, named Bihar Panchayat Elementary Teachers (Employment and Service Conditions) Rules, 2006, which came into effect on July 1, 2006. Announcing further that no more appointments of regular teachers will be made by the state, this pushed the cadre of regular teachers into a dying cadre. The move paid quite well, as the apex court took notice of it in its judgement and refused to equate wages of a dying cadre with the majority of teachers whose nature of appointment varied.
As per the new rule, 1,04,114 Panchayat Shiksha Mitra, who were appointed on contractual basis for a period of 11 months on fixed remuneration of ₹1,500/- per month from the year 2002–03 in the rural areas, were now promoted to Panchayat/Block teacher and were paid a fixed salary of ₹5,000/- per month in case they were trained and ₹4,000/- per month in case they were untrained.
In addition to the promotion of Panchayat Shiksha Mitra, the state also recruited around 2.45 lakh teachers on the same wage. For the first time, trained and untrained teachers were recruited in massive numbers in a decentralized manner, in accordance with the new rule framed in 2006, through local bodies such as Gram Panchayats, Block Samitis and Municipal Corporations.
The NDA government led by Nitish Kumar received heaps of praise for generating mass employment at grassroot level and improving pupil-teacher ratio in schools of the state. Though the good days of glory didn’t last long and the centre passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, with immediate effect from April 1, 2010.
As per the new act, the National Council of Teachers Education (NCTE) was entrusted with the responsibility to set up norms and standards for teacher’s education right from preschool teacher education to post-graduate level teacher education. The NCTE made the provision necessary for teachers who have been through teachers training to remain in service and for new recruitments.
Abiding by the new provisions charted out by the NCTE, the government of Bihar set up teachers training programmes through Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Guidelines were issued and untrained teachers were given three chances to pass their training exams, failing which they were put to the risk of termination from the service. Thereafter, all those who passed the exams, which almost all of them did, became trained teachers and started demanding pay at par with other trained teachers working in the state.
Taking pay disparity into cognizance, the state framed all together with a new pay scale of ₹5,200–20,200 in the year 2015 for all teachers recruited by the local bodies. The new pay-scale fixed the disparity among Niyojit Shikshak and came as a huge relief with raised salary and other additional perks, contributing to significant improvements in the lives of teachers. Nevertheless, the new salary didn’t prove adequate for teachers to focus completely on teaching-learning activities. Many of them remained forced to engage in part-time activities to sustain their families. As a consequence, the state saw a boom in private coaching culture.
Niyojit Teachers helped the state in realising universalization of elementary education. After their appointment in 2006, the state saw a rapid upsurge in enrollment of students into schools. In 2006–07, about 1,04,319 disabled children were enrolled in elementary classes across the state of Bihar, of which 89,831 were in primary and 14,488 were in upper primary classes.
Apart from teaching-learning activities, these teachers are also involved in the implementation of other state-run initiatives such as the Mid-Day Meal Programme and other timely surveys that the state conducts.
The contribution of Niyojit Teachers has helped the state in making education universal by taking it to the most backward communities of the state, and it is, therefore, unfortunate to see teachers going through financial hardship.
However, what lay ahead is the state assembly elections scheduled in the month of November this year, where teachers are expected to play a key role both as electorates going by their large number and officials on duty. It is obvious that parties on both sides of the political spectrum would like to keep them happy. In such a scenario, it remains an interesting story to follow which concerns the fate of millions of students from the state.