Patna: Ignoring a warning by the Bihar Government, nearly 4.5 lakh contractual school teachers across the state began an indefinite strike on Monday for their eight-point demands including ‘equal pay for equal work’ and reverting to the old pension scheme.
Two days ago, the state government warned the thousands of contractual school teachers against going on their proposed indefinite strike from February 17, issuing directives that harsh action would be taken against them.
Meanwhile, the Class 10 exam of Bihar School Examination Board (BSEB) began amid the strike by teachers’, the main resource in government-run schools. The Board now faces a challenge in conducting the examination smoothly.
The state education department is adamant against a dialogue with the agitated teachers and the state government has warned them against the strike, announcing “alternate measures” and pay cuts. BSEB chairman Anand Kishor said the board has roped in teachers from government-aided schools and other staff at district level as invigilators for the examination.
According to officials, the board requires at least 65,000 teachers as invigilators in an examination to be taken by more than 15 lakh students. The state has 36,000 regular permanent school teachers.
The call for a strike was given by the Bihar Rajya Shikshak Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, a joint platform of 26 school teacher associations.
“All contractual school teachers, also known as Niyojit Shikshaks, joined the strike,” said Prem Kumar Chandra, a leader of the Samiti. “We are not afraid of government directives to take harsh action against us. Our resolve to fight united for the old demands is clear,” he added.
Bihar Education Minister Krishnandan Prasad Verma has again appealed to teachers asking them to call off their strike due to the Class 10 examinations. Verma said the strike by teachers during exams would cause inconvenience to students as well. “If teachers go on strike, as announced by them, the department will make alternate arrangements in their absence from duty. We will conduct exams,” he said.
The minister also said that striking teachers would be marked absent and their salary would be deducted on the principle of ‘no work no pay’.
Last week, the education department directed all mukhiyas (village body head), Block Development Officers (BDOs), district Panchayati Raj officers and Deputy Development Commissioners (DDCs) to initiate disciplinary action against teachers if they go on strike, hamper Class 10 exams, or if they boycotted the checking of answer sheets of Class 12th examinations that concluded recently. A top officer has also instructed the officials concerned to take tough action, including dismissal from service while asking them to identify all such teachers who lead various teachers associations or organisations and take action against them.
Worried by the strike, the state education department has set up a monitoring cell to keep a close watch on the strike. “The monitoring cell will collect information related to ‘indiscipline’ of teachers during exams and will recommend action against them,” said Sushil Kumar, an officer in the department.
The Samiti has made it clear that teachers would not end the strike and would not undertake invigilation duty in Class 10 examinations.
The Bihar State Primary Teachers’ Association President and convener of Samiti, Brajnandan Sharma, said they are sure that all the teachers will join the strike to “fight for our rights. We will lock the gates of the schools and there will be no classes. The teachers will also boycott invigilation duty to put pressure on the government to fulfill our long-pending demand for equal pay for equal work,” Sharma added
Bhola Paswan, co-convenor of Samiti, told NewsClick that teachers were not just unhappy but also angry with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for “deliberately ignoring” their demands of a salary at par with permanent teachers working in various state government schools.
“We have been raising our demands – equal pay for equal work – for several years but the government has been using different measures to suppress our voices,” said Premchand, another Samiti leader.
After the Supreme Court’s decision in favour of the state government in May 2019, thousands of contractual school teachers in Bihar were upset.
Setting aside the Patna High Court (HC) judgement, the Supreme Court refused to regularise jobs of contractual teachers in Bihar. Many contractual school teachers had threatened to protest against the verdict after the summer vacation.
The state government had challenged the HC’s order which had ruled that contractual teachers in government schools were entitled to a salary at par with those that were permanent.
Last month, school teachers boycotted Nitish Kumar’s much-hyped human chain to raise awareness on environment conservation in protest against the government's failure to fulfill their demands. They had also boycotted the official Teachers’ Day in September 2019 by protesting across the state.