Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh's basic education teachers are livid over the failure of the state government to resolve issues around a health insurance failure for teachers who were involved in panchayat election duty. They have threatened to hit the road in protest if their demands were not fulfilled till the last week of May.
Issuing an "ultimatum" to the government, the Uttar Pradesh Shikshak Mahasangh (UPSM), a federation of basic and secondary school teachers' unions, has written a letter to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath urging him to provide health insurance to teachers, Shiksha Mitras and school instructors, immediately.
"Despite the adverse circumstances and government decisions, teachers, shiksha mitras and school instructors reached out at the grassroot level and conducted panchayat elections given that COVID-19 cases were perpetually on the rise. They were faced with many incidents, accidents and diseases. While performing their poll duties in the ongoing pandemic, the highest number of sacrifices have been of teachers, who are still putting their life at risk; news of their deaths are coming in from every corner of the state. Despite doing all this, even basic facilities have not been given to the teachers," their letter reads.
Accusing the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government of "step-motherly treatment", Bhagwati Singh, state general secretary of the UPSM, said that the main objective of the Basic Education Council was to educate children of the general public by running schools.
"Teachers and school staff are primarily responsible for implementing the objectives of the Basic Education Council. Officers and school staff are appointed to help to run schools. The problem arises here. Our teachers are not considered to be state employees and are given the most basic facilities despite doing all kinds of government work. At the same time, the officers, clerks and peons appointed in department offices are called state employees and are provided with maximum facilities by the state government, including cashless medical facilities, various allowances, vehicles, accommodation. If these officers, clerck and peons are also considered employees then why not us?" asked Singh.
As many as 800 teachers, 'shiksha mitras' and instructors have allegedly died in the past 20 days due to COVID-19 after performing panchayat election duty in the state.
The union had asked the UP CM to immediately postpone panchayat elections and provide free treatment to the infected employees. It had also demanded that the government declare these employees as front-line workers and provide them health insurance but the government had not paid heed.
Days after the Allahabad High Court took cognisance of teachers' deaths in the state due to COVID-19, the UP government has announced a compensation of Rs 30,00,000 for their bereaved families.
The union is resolute in its demand for health insurance and facilities to the teachers and shiksha mitras and that they are considered to be state employees. The teachers' unions said they will have to take firm steps if the government does not take a decision in their favour over the next week. UPSM state spokesperson Virendra Mishra said that the authorities have adopted an "insensitive attitude" towards the teachers and have turned down their demands. "If this demand is not met soon, then the union will be forced to organise a massive protest and hit the road even during the pandemic," Mishra told Newsclick.
"There are two types of employees in our (education) department: teachers, shiksha mitras, assistant teachers and Basic Shiksha Adhikaris (BSA), Block Education Officers (BEO) and clerks deputed at block and district level. We are neither considered as state employees nor do we get basic facilities including health insurance while they have all the privileges and excesses courtesy government policies. Why is there two-pronged approach in the same department?" asked Mishra.
The UPSM has written to the CM thrice, the first time on January 19, then on March 19 and its last letter was sent on March 22 before panchayat election duty. "This was the last letter we sent to the chief minister and we will wait till this month. Following that we will begin a massive movement no matter what and if we are faced with any dire consequences, the state government will be responsible," the union spokesperson said.
The union said that despite the Supreme Court's order that teachers should not engage in other government work apart from teaching, they are forced to do all kinds of work, including surveys in villages regarding government policies, monitoring handicapped people and if they are benefiting from the policies. Aside from election and post-election duties, school teachers have now been drafted into a door-to-door COVID awareness-cum-survey programme, exposing them to COVID-19, yet they have been deprived of basic facilities, they said.