Physical training instructors (PTIs) across Haryana, who were terminated last month from their services in the state education department, following directions from Supreme Court, have bolstered their agitation.
The training instructors, majority of whom being quadragenarian, stare at an uncertain future and economic distress as they have lost their job amid the coronavirus-triggered lockdown – a juncture when other employment prospects look sparse, let alone a formal one.
Protesting against such an unexpected blow, the teachers have been staging relay hunger strikes and burning effigies across the state for 10 days now, demanding that the Manohar Lal Khattar-led state government not abandon them and their families.
Earlier in April this year, the Supreme Court quashed appointment of as many as 1,983 PTIs in Haryana’s schools in a judgment that was delivered after a seven years long battle and 10 years after the recruitments were made.
The Haryana Staff Selection Commission had, in July 2006, invited applications for various posts among which were the posts of PTIs. The process itself lasted for four long years, and the list of selected candidates was challenged in the High Court in 2010 itself on the grounds that “criteria has been changed by the respondent authority [committee] to get the desired results and in order to bring the candidates within the zone of selection”.
Noting “arbitrariness” at a particular stage during the selection process, the Supreme Court on April 8 this year upheld the 2012 verdict passed by a single-judge bench and subsequently by a division bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court, directing the state government and its staff selection commission to conduct the recruitment process afresh.
The selection process is further directed to be completed “within a period of five months from the date the Commission starts working after the present lockdown is over.”
Consequently, the Haryana government on May 15 released a fresh advertisement to initiate the selection process. Further, through orders dated May 27 and May 28, the training instructors, recruited in 2010, were sacked.
In its judgment, the SC has sought to justify its direction by saying that, “when the continuance of a person on a post is by virtue of an interim order, the continuance is always subject to outcome of the litigation”. The apex court had in November 2013 passed an interim order for “maintaining status quo”.
In response, the distressed, and now sacked, training instructors have a different tale to narrate. According to them, they are being made to pay heavily for the “procedural fault” committed by the selection commission.
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“What was our fault, if at all the selection process was not conducted properly? We have been working as trainers for 10 years. When our service has not been questioned, why are we to pay for others’ mistakes?” asked Papendra Pal, one among the sacked PTIs.
Another, Hoshiyar Singh, who has been protesting in Haryana’s Rewari, echoed Pal’s anguish. “Of those who have been sacked, there are ex army service men and other government officials who have left their jobs. How is it justified for them to lose their jobs – after 10 years – in these difficult times?” he questioned.
Claiming that the training instructors have been “denied natural justice”, Singh informed NewsClick that an appeal has been made to the Supreme Court to review its April judgment, which is pending. Earlier in June, a similar petition seeking relief was declined by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
“We ask the Haryana government not to abandon us and at least allow us to continue to remain in service till the selection process is completed,” Singh told NewsClick. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the training instructors have been engaged in state relief work, being on duty at quarantine centres and distributing ration packets.
Singh also alleged the whole episode is marred with the “political rivalries” between the Congress and the BJP since the 2010 recruitments were made during the then Congress government led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
In light of the agitation, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala has urged the state government to reinstate the sacked PTIs by issuing an ordinance. “I am more than certain that this legislation will have unequivocal support of the entire Haryana Assembly. I urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that these 1,983 PTI teachers and their families are not abandoned to the vagaries of unemployment for an irregularity, if any, on the part of the recruiting authority,” he said in a letter addressed to the Haryana Chief Minister.
However, any such relief for the sacked teachers is not in sight yet, pushing them to the streets to protest despite the persisting risk of viral infection. “It is always the employees and workers who bear the brunt of the politics played by these parties. We are left with no choice but to protest,” Singh said.
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