‘Shiksha Mitra’ of Uttar Pradesh : From Political Advantages to Future Worries
The Shiksha Mitra protests that have been rocking the educational and socio-political environment of Uttar Pradesh have drawn to a close but the concerns of over 1.7 lakh “para-teachers” employed by the state government are far from resolved. The Yogi Adityanath government has managed to put a lid on the unrest (July – August) caused by the prospect of the Shiksha Mitras’ removal from appointment but has not yet been able to provide a proper resolution or heal the wounds caused by this standoff. The issue which should been treated as matter concerning education alone has taken on political overtones since the ascent of the BJP led government in the state.
Recruitment of Shiksha Mitras
By the year 1999, the government of Uttar Pradesh sensed a major roadblock in its attempts to increase literacy and make education universally accessible. The number of qualified teachers working across the state in government schools was grossly inadequate. The government then decided to appoint 2 Shiksha Mitras to each school. These Shiksha Mitras candidates were required to have a minimum qualification of 12th pass. These appointments were made by the Gram Panchayats and Municipal Councillors. The retainer fee of these Shiksha Mitras was initially fixed at INR 2,250 a month but by 2010, it was raised to INR 3,500 a month. In 2011, the Mayawati government cabinet cleared proposals allowing for the regularization of services of 1.24 lakh Shiksha Mitras employed in primary schools in the state. The proposal also made way for providing them the mandatory 2 year training as prescribed by the regulations of the national teachers’ education board.
Allahabad High Court Ruling
By 2015, however, numerous petitions were filed against the Uttar Pradesh state government against the recruitment of under qualified Shiksha Mitras and against their promotion to the role of Assistant Teachers. Critics claimed that the quality of primary education in the state was falling and this would have alarming consequences.
On September 12, 2015, the Allahabad High Court delivered a verdict declaring the state government’s move to regularize these para teachers unconstitutional. By this time the reigns of the state government had been taken over by the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party. The appointment of nearly 1.78 lakh Shiksha Mitras to the post of Assistant Teachers was cancelled by the court.
The court came out strongly against the appointment of unqualified contractual para-teachers against other Basic Teacher’s Certificate (BTC) and Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) qualified candidates who were vying for the positions.
Supreme Court Judgment
An appeal was made at the Supreme Court of India, the country’s apex court. On 25 July, the SC upheld the High Court’s verdict. Subsequently, the Yogi Adinath-led government decided to reverse the decision to adjust all Shiksha Mitras working in the state’s primary department as regular teachers and decided to initiate new appointments to the vacant posts. The Shiksha Mitras were, however, to be provided an honorarium of INR 10,000 per month.
The SC further ruled that the Shiksha Mitras will not be removed but will be required to appear for and qualify in the TET within the first two attempts to stay on as Assistant Teachers. Due to their experience, however, they shall be awarded an advantage – the para teachers shall be given 2.5 marks for each year of experience in teaching. Such Teachers Eligibility Test qualified candidates will be eligible to apply for the teachers’ vacancies and they will also be exempt from the age restriction of the TET.
Despite these concessions, the apex court’s ruling did not go down well with the Shikha Mitras of the state who broke out in a large scale protest in Lucknow and other parts of Uttar Pradesh. Hundreds of thousands of para teachers took to the streets seriously disrupting the functioning of schools. It is only after the CM Yogi Adinath assured them of the government’s efforts to find an acceptable solution were the protests called off. The representatives of the Shiksha Mitras have been holding regular discussions with the government.
While no immediate solution seems to be in sight, the crisis involving the Shiksha Mitras is a potentially threatening one that may once again disrupt the functioning of hundreds of schools if not handled tactfully. While the BJP led government in the state is only a few months old, it has faced much criticism for not having handled the situation well. It is time we Indians learn to divorce social issues from politics.