One thousand two hundred shiksha mitras from West Bengal have not received their honorarium for close to six years with the State Government seemingly indifferent to their issues. Even after trying to meet Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Education Minister Partha Chatterjee multiple times in the recent past, the shiksha mitras were not granted an audience.
One of the shikha mitras told NewsClick on the condition of anonymity that the state education department has not answered why their their honorariums were stopped. “We had met the education secretary and officers of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) but all of them failed to answer our questions. We had even met the Education Minister a long time ago and he had promised that he is trying to resume our honorariums. However, he has failed to keep his promise,” they said.
Shiksha mitras were employed under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2004, to teach in Rabindra Mukta Vidyalaya (RMV) centres. The schools were established by the state’s School education Department in 1997 as a State Open School. They were made to make it possible for men and women of different age groups from all sections of society to pursue formal education. Renamed Rabindra Mukta Vidyalaya in 1998, it became a Statutory Organization with effect from 1st August, 2001 courtesy the Rabindra Mukta Vidyalaya Act, 2001, which was passed by the West Bengal State Assembly. The Act was first amended in 2002 and then in February 2006. The amended Act came into effect from January 1, 2007. According to the 2006 Amendment, RMV was renamed the West Bengal Council of Rabindra Open Schooling (WBCROS).
Since 2004, shiksha mitras have been receiving a monthly allowance of Rs 3,000. In the year 2013, two years after coming to power, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government reduced this allowance to Rs 2,500 and also changed their designation to ‘Education Volunteers’. The shiksha mitras received this monthly allowance of Rs 2,500 for slightly more than a year, before it was suddenly stopped in April of 2014. However, despite not receiving any allowance or honorarium, they have not stepped away from their responsibilities. They have continued to teach in WBCROS centres across the state despite not receiving a single rupee for the last six years.
Another shiksha mitra from the state told NewsClick that they had not stopped working even though the Government refused to pay their salaries. “We haven’t just been teaching; we have worked during elections and contributed during the Census process. But despite it all, the state government continues to ignore our plight,” she said. “We are not the only people employed under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. There are teachers with Performance Related Pay (PRP), and para-teachers. Their salaries have been increased. Even the Shishu Shiksha Kendra and Madhyamik Shiksha Kendra teachers have seen a hike in salaries. And us? Not only have our salaries not been increased, we have also not received a single penny in six years,” she added.
In 2004, there were 1,800 shiksha mitras in the state. However, over the last decade, the number of WBCROS centres of has decreased, and so has the number of shiksha mitras. One of them told NewsClick: “Those who managed to find better paying jobs left. Now, there are 1,200 of us left. Most of us are too old to look for other jobs. What do we do? This government has snatched away our livelihoods.”
He added, “Not only has the government taken away our livelihoods, they have also taken away our right to protest.” In August, 2019, the shiksha mitras had sought permission from the Government to start a hunger strike near Bikash Bhavan, the office of the education minister in Salt Lake, Kolkata. However, they were not granted permission.