Patna: Unhappy with the Bihar government’s decision to not pay their salaries for the months of February and March, close to 4.5 lakh striking contractual school teachers in the state have decided to are expected to observe a fast on March 31 in protest. The teachers, known as ‘Niyojit Shikshak’, will fast alongside members of their families at a time when the lockdown due to coronavirus pandemic is already affecting their livelihoods.
On Saturday evening (March 28), the state government announced that those schoolteachers who had joined the indefinite protest from February 17 and February 25 would only be paid for January. The move has angered the striking school teachers who had decided to continue with the protest from inside their homes in order to maintain social distancing during the lockdown.
Ashwani Pandey, one of the teachers on strike, said that the state government is indifferent towards them and ignored their demands for three months’ salary in view of the lockdown. The teachers, who are spreading awareness about COVID-19 among people, have been spared humane treatment.
“We will fast to expose the negligence of state government against striking school teachers during a period of crisis,” said Pandey.
The announcement about their salaries by R.K. Mahajan, Additional Chief Secretary of the Education Department, on March 28, came as a shock to the teachers.
In a letter to District Education Officers (DEOs) and District Programme Officers (DPOs), Mahajan said that under the extraordinary situation – a lockdown, the coronavirus and the end of the financial year, payment should be ensured for January. “As most of the teachers had gone on strike in February, the salary for the month be paid only to those who were not on strike and had done invigilation and evaluation work for 2020 matriculation and intermediate examinations,” Mahajan said in the letter.
“It is an insensitive government which has behaved as such during a lockdown. The government should have paid teachers till March but I has decided not to pay salaries of teachers since they are on strike. Is going on strike a crime or unconstitutional?” asked Brajnandan Sharma, convener of Bihar Rajya Shikshak Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti.
The teachers are struggling to make ends meet with most of them not having received salaries for January and February. They had been protesting for ‘equal pay for equal work’ and reverting to the old pension scheme among other demands.
Reports mention that several teachers have been forced to knock on moneylenders’ doors or borrow money at high interest rates to purchase essential items like rice, flour, pulses, potato and medicines.
Others have got help from close relatives to manage the situation till April 14.
Till date, Bihar has reported 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 including one death. Dr. Pradeep Das, the Director of Patna-based Rajendra Memorial Research Institute (RMRI), where COVID-19 tests are being done in the state, confirmed the same.
In February, Bihar’s Education Minister Krishnandan Prasad Verma had warned striking teachers that they would be marked absent and their salary would be deducted on the ‘no work no pay’ principle.
Striking contractual school teachers, mostly from primary and middle schools, had not celebrated Holi earlier this month to mark their protest. They have been on an indefinite strike since February 17, the day the Bihar School Examination Board’s (BSEB) examinations for class 10 began. Yet, there has been no move to open a dialogue with them. The strike has also affected teaching in schools.
The call for a had been given by the Bihar Rajya Shikshak Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, a joint platform of 26 school-teachers’ associations.