Odisha: Over one lakh primary teachers sleep on pavements, threaten state-wide stir if gov't fails to meet demands 

The teachers were seen sleeping on the pavements around the Mahatma Gandhi Marg in Bhubaneswar from Nov 27-30; government asked for time from December 16-20 to decide on the matter 
Glimpse from the protest | (Pic: Tulu Dei)
Glimpse from the protest | (Pic: Tulu Dei)

Primary school teachers from across Odisha recently staged a 4-day-long mass protest in Bhubaneswar, braving the winter in the open, urging the government to fulfil their demands. The teachers claim that they have been staging protests to scrap contractual appointments among other demands, but the government has given them the cold shoulder.

Teachers on the streets
More than 1,20,000 teachers were seen sleeping on the pavements around the Mahatma Gandhi Marg of the city during the chilly nights from November 27 to 30. Even though lacking basic facilities such as toilets, the teachers decided not to budge until the state government fulfilled their demands. The plight of the teachers captured many headlines and the ruling government faced flak from the Opposition over the issue resulting in the winter session of the State Assembly witnessing a ruckus and being halted.

Three teachers' associations, comprising the All Odisha Primary Teachers' Association, Odisha Primary Teachers' Association and the Primary School Teachers' Association (PSTA) have come together to form the United Primary Teachers' Federation (UPTF) and have put forth three principal demands. "They are our rights," stated Tulu Dei, Senior Assistant Teacher from Utkalamani Government Primary School at Jatni in the Khordha district.

The problems and demands:

No more contractual basis, plus incentives
Abolishment of contractual employment is the first demand of these teachers. "It was in 2001 that the concept of contractual employment started in the state. And the primary education department was the first one to implement it," informed Bramhananda Moharana, President of  PSTA. "That time the government was facing a financial crunch and we were provided with an honorarium of Rs 1,500 for the contractual services. But situations have changed now," added Dei.

Moharana informed that on October 16 this year all forms of contractual employment were scrapped by the state government, but they continued for the primary education department. "Now the financial crisis is also gone and other teachers are receiving good pay, but us. The government has repeatedly neglected the primary education sector," Dei said.

The teachers who had joined in 2001 continued their duties as contractual employees till 2007 when they protested and were made full-time employees. The contract period was then fixed at 6 years. Then the teachers who joined six years later in 2013 were all made permanent and offered good pay with incentives, while those who had joined in 2001 received minimal pay and no incentives.

This has irked them, and they have been demanding their due incentives for the six years of contractual service. "The government has repeatedly neglected the primary education sector, but this has to stop," said another teacher from a primary school in the Khordha district on the condition of anonymity.

Better pay
The protesters cite that primary teachers employed by the central government receive salaries according to the 7th pay commission, with grade pay of Rs 4,200. "Other state governments also pay their primary teachers well, with grade pay of around Rs 3,600, with the minimum being Rs 2,800. But in Odisha, it is only Rs 2,200," said Moharana. 

"Moreover, the secondary school teachers in Odisha get a good salary. Earlier the difference between our salaries was a few thousand rupees. Now they are earning about Rs 40,000 whereas we are still stuck with the same grade pay," Dei stated. Thus, the teachers have been demanding better pay, preferably on par with the central government teachers. "We also ask to be eligible for the benefits they receive, like the MACP (Modified Assured Career Progression) scheme," she added.

Scrapping the new pension scheme
The teachers allege that with the new pension scheme implemented in 2005, the primary teachers' pension has been reduced to a mere eight-nine hundred rupees. "With the old scheme, we at least had a secure income after retirement, but with a mere eight hundred, a person cannot survive himself, let alone maintain a family," Moharana pointed out. The teachers, therefore demand that the old pension scheme be reinstated and the new one scrapped. "States like Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh have already done so," informed Moharana.

Ramifications of the protest
Several primary schools across Odisha were shut down with the teachers' protest. "We have no wish to neglect our duties or create a hindrance in children's education. But the government has hurt us with its attitude and we are being forced to do this," said Tulu Dei.  She added that they has submitted repeated representations to the government a month before resorting to the mass protest, but did not receive any suitable reply.

November 27 was a Sunday, so on the second day of their protests, the representatives of the teachers met the Secretary of the School and Mass Education Department. On the third day, they met the Chief Secretary. But both meetings were inconclusive. Then on the fourth day, the teachers met the Chief Secretary once more, after which a committee was constituted, including the Chief Secretary, Principal Secretaries of the General Administration (GA) and Finance Departments and the Presidents of the three teachers' associations (Moharana, Sushant Behera and Rajesh Mohanty), to look into the issue.

Since the demands involve many departments, the government has asked for time from December 16-20 to decide on the matter, the teachers said. "We will wait till then. But if no favourable decision is taken after the specified date, we will launch a state-wide protest," stated Tulu Dei.

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