Senior ministers from both ruling parties scuttled the higher and technical education department’s bid to appease striking college teachers by giving them funds from the state contingency fund, saying the government needed to provide relief to drought-affected people.
In the cabinet meeting held on Wednesday, higher and technical education minister Rajesh Tope sought approval to withdraw Rs1,000 crore to pay salary arrears to the teachers.
The finance department headed by deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar was also willing to approve Tope’s demand. But when Tope and Pawar’s party colleague Jaidutta Kshirsagar demanded more funds for water conservation in drought-hit central Maharashtra, it came to light that the finance department had rejected the proposal.
When water conservation minister Nitin Raut told the cabinet about the rejection, Kshirsagar, relief minister Patangrao Kadam and industry minister Narayan Rane slammed the finance department for its apathy and criticised the appeasement of ‘irresponsible’ teachers, who have not responded to appeals from the government. Soon, many others joined in to attack those concerned. “The contingency fund is used in natural calamities like drought, flood and earthquake,” said a senior minister requesting anonymity. “Teachers who are holding students, teachers and the government to ransom don't deserve a single rupee from this fund,” he said.
The issue ended when chief minister Prithviraj Chavan asked Raut to send him a demand of Rs188 crore for constructing cement nullah bunds in 1,825 villages in 15 districts. Incidentally, this is Chavan’s flagship programme under which 1,362 bunds have already been built in two months.
Sensing trouble, Pawar switched sides, and asked Tope to tell teachers to end the three-month-long strike before getting salary arrears. The state has already given Rs500 crore to the striking teachers and had promised to offer another Rs1,000 crore before the end of this month.