Thousands of para-teachers from government schools across West Bengal have been protesting in Kolkata since December 18, demanding pay bands to be introduced for their salaries. At present, the para-teachers receive a consolidated sum as pay and get none of the benefits given to regular teachers. If pay bands are introduced for para-teachers, they will be entitled to benefits such as a regular increment, dearness and medical allowances, and leave for child-care.
On Tuesday, January 5, a large demonstration was organised at the Moulali area in Central Kolkata. More than 10,000 para-teachers participated in the demonstration and blocked the road, asking the state government to immediately agree to their demands.
Slightly more than a year ago, the para-teachers had raised the same issues, which led to a hunger strike that went on for 28 days. The protest was finally withdrawn after the state Education Department gave them written assurance saying that their demand for a defined pay structure with regular increments, dearness allowance, medical allowance, and childcare leaves will be met. Para Teachers’ Aikya Manch, the organisation spearheading the movement, had then said that they will resume the protest if their demands were not met within three months.
The strike was withdrawn on December 13, 2019. More than a year has passed since then. However, the Mamata Banerjee-led state government has not spoken a single word on the issue during 2020.
Speaking to NewsClick, Madhumita Banerjee, the co-convenor of the Para Teachers’ Aikya Mancha said, “We waited patiently for over a year. But the government has made it clear that it does not care about our plight. So, despite the ongoing pandemic, we were forced to start protesting.”
The para-teachers were not given permission by the state government to organise a sit-in demonstration, and they had to ask the High Court for permission. The court granted them permission to organise the demonstration opposite of Bikash Bhavan, state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee’s Salt Lake office, under the condition that not more than 700 teachers will be present at the venue.
Banerjee had told NewsClick that under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the state government provides 40% of the salaries of the para teachers, and the remaining 60% is provided to the state government by the central government. She alleged that the para teachers in West Bengal have been only receiving the 40%—supposed to be provided by the state government—while the state government utilises the 60% provided by the Centre for other expenditures.
Banerjee said, “There are currently 64,000 para teachers in the state. We do not have a pay scale. We receive a consolidated salary.” She added, “The state government should ensure that we receive the same grade pay as assistant teachers, which will mean that we will also receive regular increments, dearness allowances, and medical allowances. The regular teachers also get child care leaves, which we do not. The government must ensure that we should get all the benefits, as we do the same amount of work as the regular teachers.”
The para-teachers are not the only ones protesting. Another sit-in demonstration has been ongoing opposite Bikash Bhavan, organised by Manab Sampad Unnayan Sahayak Karmi Union, an umbrella body of para-teachers, vocational teachers, non-teaching staff, special education teachers, and trainers affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). The agitation, that started on December 28, 2020, is registering protest against the apathy shown by the state government. The members of the organisation are also demanding regularisation and introduction of a pay structure similar to the one demanded by para-teachers. On Thursday, January 7, the union will organise a large demonstration at Esplanade, Kolkata, in which thousands of people are expected to participate from across the state.