The apex court upheld a lower court ruling terminating the services of thousands of teachers recruited by the state government by a policy not compliant with the Right to Education Act.
New Delhi: As many as 10,323 school teachers across Tripura run the risk of losing their jobs after the Supreme Court upheld a state high court order on March 29.
On May 7, 2014, the Tripura high court, in response to 58 petitions, terminated the services of these teachers recruited by the state government in 2010 and 2013 as they were appointed by a policy not compliant with the obligatory qualifications mandated by the Right to Education Act, 2009.
The high court pointed out that the state government did not follow the National Council for Teachers Education (NCTE) guidelines in 2001 while recruiting them. However, with the Right to Education Act coming into play in 2009, the court said it should have recruited teachers as per the norms of the Act. The court asked the state government to formulate a fresh process of recruitment as mandated by the Act. While 1,100 of the teachers recruited were post graduates, 4,617 were graduates and 4,606 were undergraduates.
Though the Manik Sarkar government revised the existing recruitment policy in January 2014 – before the high court order was delivered – it filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court in response to the high court order to protect the jobs of those teachers already appointed under the old policy. It also reportedly wrote to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRC) seeking relaxation of rules for them.
Two other SLPs were also filed in the apex court in response to the high court order – one by those teachers set to lose their jobs, and the other by some who would be benefitted by the order.
On December 8, 2014, a division bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice Arun Mishra, stayed the Tripura high court order, thus allowing the teachers to continue in their jobs till further orders.
However, giving its final judgement on March 29, the apex court upheld the high court order but allowed the affected teachers to continue at their posts till December 31. It asked the state government to initiate a fresh recruitment policy through the Teachers Eligibility Test as prescribed under the Right to Education Act by May 31 and complete it by December 31.
Speaking to reporters after the apex court order, Tripura law secretary D.M. Jamatia said, “The court also said the state government may consult the MHRD about the procedure of recruitment process.”
State law and education minister Tapan Chakraborty told reporters in Agartala on March 30 that his government would take its next course of action after receiving the certified copy of the Supreme Court order. He said, “The government would stand by the government teachers.”
Both the state chief minister – away in Chennai to take part in a programme – and the law secretary – in Delhi for the SC hearing – would return to the state capital on March 31 and “are likely to soon decide on the next course of action.”
Meanwhile, the ruling CPI (M) issued a statement calling the termination order of the apex court “gravely inhuman”. It said the order would have adverse bearing on several lakh people and students.
“Both the state government and the MHRD will have to find a way out soon keeping all the realities in mind. Even if it starts fresh recruitments based on the NCTE guidelines, they will also make these 10,323 people unemployed. It could lead to a sudden collapse of the school education system. How many teachers with all the qualifications could be suddenly found? Therefore, the SC order also says the present teachers should also be made part of the fresh recruitment process,” said Agartala-based senior journalist Sujit Chakraborty.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties have welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court. With the main opposition Congress increasingly losing its hold in the state, the new opposition parties that are vociferously leading the campaign against the CPI(M) government on the issue are Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
On March 30, the TMC announced the launch of a statewide stir from March 31 to highlight the state government’s “irregularities in giving jobs to 10,323 people”, and to press for the resignation of the chief minister and the education minister.
“We also demand publication of a white paper detailing government jobs in Tripura since 2014. An all-party meeting must be called by the state government to discuss the issue and how to deal with the situation arising out of the Supreme Court judgement,” party leader Sudip Roy told reporters in Agartala.
The BJP, aiming to grab power in the state after the 2018 assembly polls, also demanded resignation of the chief minister over the issue. Party supporters held a protest in front of the West police station in Agartala on March 30 demanding legal action against both Sarkar and Tapan Chakravorty. Later, its youth wing filed a case against both of them.
BJP state spokesperson Mrinal Kanti Deb told The Wire, “We will approach the high court soon to seek a directive to have a CBI probe into the recruitment discrepancies of the Tripura government and its corruption through it, by keeping in mind a similar case under which former Haryana chief minister O. P. Chautala was awarded a ten-year jail term.”
The recruitment of the undergraduates in early 2014 particularly led to a statewide agitation by a section of unemployed youth who were supported by the opposition parties including the Congress.