Friday, December 8, 2023

Teachers sleeping on the streets: Does anyone care?


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By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh

This is not the first time that the elementary school teachers under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme are on the streets to demand for the release of their monthly salaries which are pending for several months together. One is left fuming with anger and frustration at the government’s apathy towards their plight. Of course, there are issues in the implementation of SSA scheme in the State under the past governments and now things have only aggravated. Is this an accumulated problem or an isolated one (s)? Be that as it may and as a matter of principle of continuity in governance, the Government of the day must shoulder the responsibility. Moreover, in order to sustain the system of democratic governance the coalition partner, in this case the United Democratic Party (UDP), which holds the Education portfolio must answer to the public as to why teachers of every pattern have to resort to agitations to get their basic rights and to solve the simplest issue like releasing or enhancing of incomes?
The state of education in Meghalaya is peculiar in nature, especially in relation to the composition of teaching staffs. In one given school there are teachers of different patterns, namely, government sanctioned, deficit, Ad-hoc, those employed under SSA/RMSA schemes and exclusively private school teachers. This existing multi- layered pattern in education in the State is also creating disparity and inequality among the teachers.
Two years before the 86th Amendment to the Constitution in 2002 and the subsequent introduction of the Right to Education Act in 2009, the Union Government had launched the flagship program in elementary education known as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2000-01. The 86th Constitutional Amendment (2002) inserted Article 21A in the Indian Constitution which states: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of 6 to 14 years in such manner as the State, may by law determine.” Also, changes were made in the SSA flagship program after the passing of the Right to Education Act.
The SSA scheme is implemented in partnership with the State Governments to cover the entire country and address the needs of education in the country. The scheme is no doubt noble and is being designed to work in tandem with grassroots governance. As per Government’s document the following are the salient features of the Scheme:
This scheme was launched for the implementation of universal elementary education in a defined time frame.
This scheme provides quality basic education all over the country.
It facilitates promoting social justice by providing basic education to children.
It effectively involves the School Management Committees, Panchayati Raj institutions, Village Education Committees, Parents’ Teachers’ Associations, Mother- Teacher Associations and Tribal Autonomous Councils in the management of the elementary schools.
It creates a partnership between the State, Central and the local government for imparting education.
It provides an opportunity for the States to develop their own vision of elementary education.
Ever since the launching of SSA scheme in the State, the already established schools under private individuals and mission run schools were also covered under the scheme and this is the genesis of the problem which needs to be addressed earnestly. Last April, the President of the Meghalaya SSA Teachers Association had pointed out this shortcoming in the implementation of the scheme in Meghalaya. According to him, “as per norms the SSA teachers should be recruited in government schools on a regular basis and not in any other schools such as private or mission schools. But what happened here in Meghalaya is that SSA scheme is given to the private schools, mission schools and then there are schools set up under the SSA schemes as well”. The leader was matured enough in his articulation that the SSA teachers did not come out on the streets to blame anybody but to find the solution.
This time, the SSA teachers are back on the streets with a strong resolve and determination to go for a long haul until their demands are met. To recap, the SSA teachers under the banner of the Meghalaya SSA Teachers Association are demanding for the release of their salaries; implementation of salary structure and enhancement of salaries of all primary and upper primary SSA teachers among others.
While the plight of the SSA teachers must take precedence, it is also important to highlight a few issues which had also caused the systemic failure in the implementation of vital schemes like the SSA in the State. The recurring agitations of workers like the teachers is the tell-tale of inefficacy and deficit in governance in the State. Every time the Government would absolve itself on grounds of financial constraints. But we should no longer buy this argument. However, Government’s own report, like the CAG, clearly indicates that the non-submission of the utilization certificates to the Centre is one reason which results in non-sanction of funds towards various schemes which include SSA.
Another important aspect that has to be seriously looked into is the participation of grass roots or rather traditional governance. One of the characteristics of the SSA scheme is the involvement of Tribal Autonomous Councils vis a vis the Dorbar Shnongs and other democratically elected civic bodies. This is another major hurdle in the State of Meghalaya as we are yet to have in place a robust village administration law that will enable our traditional and grass roots governments to participate in the process. Allow me to be blunt that no scheme which is meant for the people will effectively work without a decentralized, well-funded and accountable civic/grassroots governance. Sadly, the Village Administration Bill is still in limbo and our children have to endure the effects of our arrogance.
Lastly, I also want to put forward this question. Henceforth will the teachers have to come out and sleep on the streets every 3 or 5 months to get their dues? We must end this soon. The State has to generate Rs 29 crore per month to meet the State’s share for the salary of SSA teachers and it can be easily met by revoking all appointments of consultants in various departments, all contractual appointments accorded to retired employees, de-notify useless Commissions, political appointments like Chiefs/political advisors to Government etc. and to restrict travels of both Ministers and Government officials within and outside the Country so as to cut down unnecessary and wasteful expenses.
In solidarity with the SSA teachers.

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