The agitation reminds of the country wide strike of 1998, when the then HRD ministry tried to subvert the UGC pay regime for teachers working in higher education.
Dr. Rakesh Kumar Sharma | September 18, 2017
College and university teachers all across the country seem too much worried about the policy shift with respect to their pay and regulations from centre to states. Therefore, they may be gearing up for an indefinite movement in the coming days, a situation that was built only during the previous regime of BJP in 1998. This teachers’day, college and university teachers from across the country boycotted the celebrations and several of them from various states converged at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to protest and give arrest as per the national call for ‘Jail Bharo’. The agitation reminds of the countrywide strike of 1998, when the then HRD minister Murali Manohar Joshi tried to subvert the University Grants Commission (UGC) pay regime for teachers working in higher education. That strike continued for 40 days and because of that the central government had to succumb to the demands. The situation at present seems to be emerging on similar pattern.
The UGC that regulates and funds universities and colleges for their most activities had submitted its pay panel report to MHRD. The Dr VS Chauhan committee report has been kept under a secret cover ever since it was submitted to the UGC. This is unusual to the past practice that used to involve all stakeholders to have discussions on its recommendations before it is implemented. Associations of college and university teachers across the states are affiliated to an All India Federation of University and College Teacher Organisations. It is an important pressure group to protect teachers’ interests and has been influencing the policy on higher education through constant necessary feedback. Last year, when the central pay commission report was implemented, it had to raise a movement in Delhi to at least appoint the UGC pay commission and succeeded after many pressures through countrywide protests. Federation of Central University Teachers Association and Delhi University Teachers’ Association provide enough strength to the AIFUCTO.
About eight lakh university and college teachers are demanding early implementation of the 7th UGC Pay Review commission (PRC) which is pending before the cabinet. The implementation had already been delayed for years. This is more pertinent when almost all sections of central government employees and also many of the states’ employees are getting the benefits of the 7th Pay Commission. Apex teachers’ body AIFUCTO has repeatedly written to MHRD and UGC to share the content of the 7th Pay Review Committee Recommendations, a practice that has been followed by all previous governments. MHRD, however, maintained suspicious silence though bits and pieces of the report got leaked to the newspapers once or twice, which in fact is not a healthy precedence. On May 10, 2017 HRD minister had assured AIFUCTO to bring the report out in a month's time but no progress has taken place till date. On July 24, 2017 thousands of teachers from different corners of the country had assembled at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar and took out a protest march in support of their genuine demands. Furthermore, they observed ‘Black Day’ on August 22, 2017 across the country to protest against the apathetic attitude of MHRD.
A report in The Indian Express of August 04, 2017 stated that finance ministry is not in favour of the idea of 100% assistance to states’ additional expenditure, on account of increased salaries, for the first five years as demanded by the AIFUCTO. As per the report, the ministry would extend only 50% support to states’ additional expenditure, on account of increased salaries for the first three years only in comparison to 100% for full five years. Such an approach mooted by the central government will seriously go against the teachers in higher education as many state governments may refuse to implement the same citing financial difficulties. This situation will inevitably give rise to stir among teachers and thereby affecting the teaching and learning process. Further, such a decision will make the UGC recommendations redundant for the majority of the university and college teachers of the country.
There are many reasons for expecting full financial support from the centre. The role of teachers in higher education has always remained a significant force for building responsible citizens. This is more important when a nation is in a phase where privatisation of higher education is unaffordable to many, goals of enhancing GER are mainly entrusted in government run institutions and above all, nation is passing through a critical phase of huge demographic dividend potential. In case of indifferent policy, the advantage may remain rhetoric only till it ends in 2040. Moreover, country is facing a serious challenge of attracting meritorious teachers in higher education. This is further aggravated by lack of perquisites and the poor working conditions. Therefore, it is only the monetary incentive for job, acquiring qualification and the research pursuits that can attract the merit and sustain merit in the profession.
Teachers like other employees in central and state government jobs, must have the necessary pay revision to maintain the rising cost, standard of research and to perform their duties well. History has shown us that the pursuit of knowledge is best carried out in peaceful conditions and teachers were specially patronised by the ruling classes. This recognition allowed for healthy and free intellectual environment where knowledge was pursued for the sheer pleasure of it. Times have changed but the teaching still remains the noblest of professions and teachers carry out the vital task of educating the nation. However, standards of research and higher studies will be severely compromised in the face of rising cost of living and stagnation in pay structure.
A recent World University Rankings by the Times Higher Education (THE) shows India's flagship Indian Institute of Science (IISc) dropping down from previous year's 201-250 band to 251-300 this time. The Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs) in Delhi, Kanpur, and Madras also dropped by at least one band. While the US continues to dominate the rankings, Chinese universities have been commended for rapidly climbing year-on-year. The big story this year is the continuous rise of China with two institutions in the top 30 for the first time. In this background, union government has to support the country’s higher education with enhanced budgetary provisions from the centre rather than leaving it to struggle in fund starved states.
The resentment of the most educated section of society means a lot for the image of individual leaders and parties and therefore, can’t be taken very lightly. It affected the leadership prospects of HRD minister during the stand-off of 1998 and raised a tirade against the ouster of former HRD minister who showed much arrogance by not even providing the appointment for meeting with the office bearers of parental body AIFUCTO, FEDCUTA and DUTA for almost one year. If the current stalemate is not sensed well by the central government, it may prove dangerous to them and to the plight of higher education sector of the nation, wherein the aspirations of millions of countrymen are still alive to see their wards taking the first flight in their careers. The existing set of country’s human resource sitting on influential and important positions in the country and abroad must remember that it is the same set of aspirations as reared by them and their parents in the past, when they too have gone through a similar subsidised education in government colleges and universities. Hope sense prevails and Indian universities and colleges attract the cream to produce human resource capable of leading India to the new horizons.
Dr Sharma is an Associate Professor in RKMV Shimla and an active member of Himachal Government College Teachers’ Association. Views expressed are his own.
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