Stir by PU teachers amid LS polls worry parties - Hindustan Times
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Stir by PU teachers amid LS polls worry parties

By, Patna
May 24, 2024 10:03 PM IST

Patna University Teachers’ Association (PUTA) and the employees union have threatened to launch an indefinite strike from Friday over the department of education’s latest order to pay salary and pension directly into the accounts of the employees, which the teachers’ body describes as violation of the Act governing the university.

In a move that could worry the ruling alliance in Bihar amid the ongoing parliamentary elections, the Patna University Teachers’ Association (PUTA) and the employees union have threatened to launch an indefinite strike from Friday over the department of education’s latest order to pay salary and pension directly into the accounts of the employees, which the teachers’ body describes as violation of the Act governing the university.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at a public meeting in Jehanabad. (HT photo)
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at a public meeting in Jehanabad. (HT photo)

Employees in other universities are also planning agitation, terming the department’s action an attempt to erode the autonomy of the institutions.

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PU employees’ union has already announced to go on mass casual leave (CL) on May 25, followed by agitation in front of the vice chancellor’s office on June 6-8 and complete closure of all institutions from June 10 if their grievances were still not addressed.

The decision on agitation was taken after the PU registrar sought details of teachers and employees from all the colleges, as sought by the education department.

“When the Patna High Court has set a deadline for clearing the backlog of and salary pension, the education department is suddenly trying to introduce a new system just to hoodwink the court. The government is maintaining silence, which shows its support to such decisions. The government should review how many decisions it took in the last 15 years and how many times it had to backtrack. Even the move to start direct payment through treasury initiatives 14 years ago was a failure,” said Federation of University Teachers’ Association of Bihar (FUTAB) leaders KB Sinha and Sanjay Kumar, an MLC, in a joint statement.

On May 17, the Patna High Court had ordered the education department to clear the backlog salary and pension to teachers and employees of universities within 10 days, after putting its freeze order in abeyance. So far, however, thousands of pensioners and employees are still awaiting payment.

Though the education department and state universities have been feuding for months over various issues, often prompting interventions by the Governor in his capacity as the Chancellor of state universities, the latest flare-up amid the ongoing parliamentary elections drew swift response from political parties.

“After the elections, all the outstanding issues will be resolved amicably. No officer can do whatever one wants at the cost of teachers and education. No officer should consider himself above the government. BJP has fought the cause of teachers from the roads to the Vidhan Sabha,” deputy chief minister and BJP leader Vijay Kumar Sinha said, in an apparent reference to additional chief secretary (education) K K Pathak, the controversial IAS officer who has ruffled many feathers with his decrees relating to functioning of universities and schools in the state.

To be sure, problems in school and higher education in Bihar abound — be it the issue concerning school timings or recruitment of teachers from outside state, non-payment of salary to guest teachers for nearly a year, the confrontation between the Raj Bhawan and the education department over disruption in salary and pension payment for over four months.

For instance, schools in Bihar opened after summer vacation on May 16 in the morning shift from 6 am to 12 noon, but the teachers were asked to remain in schools till 1.30 pm to take remedial classes for students and for other works. The teachers have been asked to report to schools by 5.45 am, failing which action would be taken against them. This has also caused a lot of resentment among teachers, who cite inconvenience in the rural areas, especially women.

Last week, Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar also intervened, directing the chief secretary to extend the summer vacation in schools till June first week in view of continuing heat wave in the state, as there were reports of adverse impact on the students, teachers as well as parents due to opening of schools.

Sensing the hostile mood of lakhs of teachers, BJP has been doing firefighting to limit the potential of damage, but it remains to be seen how and who the turmoil in the education sector would impact.

JD-U has also taken note. Spokesman Abhishek Jha said, “If the timing of the schools is an issue, the government will take it up sensitively and take timely action.”

RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, however, said the government was deliberately trying to harass the teachers by taking impractical decisions. “The government is clueless how its department is working and doing nothing to stem the rot,” he said.

Congress spokesman Rajesh Rathor said chief minister Nitish Kunar started looking at teachers as his adversaries since the 2020 election debacle and all the autocratic orders of the education department reflected the government mindset. “The teachers are being tormented every day with one whimsical order after another and the government is quiet,” he said.

Professor NK Choudhary, a political observer, said the way education department was functioning and the kind of resentment it had triggered across schools and colleges would not go down well with the government, especially in elections. “Even common sense says that tough or controversial decisions are put on hold during election time, but here even salary and pension is held up for months. This is strange to say the least and why the government is quiet over it is beyond comprehension. If there is politics in it, it is sad. In Bihar, higher education has already suffered enough. It will certainly have its impact during election,” he said.

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