In a move that is likely to lead to deterioration in the service conditions of teachers in the national capital, the Delhi legislative assembly last month amended the Delhi School Education Act (DSEA), 1973 to make it easier for private schools to cut their salaries.
In its original form, the DSEA categorically states that the salary and allowances, including all other benefits, of private school employees should not be less than that of the employees of government schools. The amended version, however, says: “The salary and allowances payable to, and the terms and conditions of service of employees of recognised private schools shall be such as may be prescribed”.
The original DSEA also said that the management committees of schools violating this provision would be asked to give an assurance in writing that they will pay their employees remuneration equal to their government counterparts. In the event that the government’s orders are not followed, the Act also envisaged action against such schools under a section that relates to the conditions of providing recognition to schools. One of these conditions says that the financial capacity of a school desiring recognition should be such that it is able to pay its employees salaries and other benefits equal to the employees of government schools.
Significantly, this provision of withdrawing recognition has been put as the ‘last option’ in the amended version. The statement and objectives section of the amendment notes that at present, “the Delhi School Education Act, 1973 has only two penal provisions, namely withdrawal of recognition and taking over management of school, both of which are extreme measures and hamper effective penal action. It is therefore proposed to include other penal provisions and a provision for imposition of punishment in case of violation of Delhi School Education Act & Rule, 1973 so as to make it more effective.” The ‘more effective’ penal provisions that have been added include a written warning and the imposition of a fine!
It is clear from the amendment that the Delhi government is no longer going to protect the employees of private schools that have not been paying them their just and rightful salaries. They are to be left to the mercy of school management. This implies that the state is shirking its constitutional and ethical responsibility and sacrificing the rights of employees in favour of the interests of those running private schools.
What makes the DSEA amendment especially problematic is that it is part of a larger process shaping policy discourse nationally.
The first aspect of this larger picture can be seen in the statements of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the education minister, Manish Sisodia, where they have clearly declared that their government is not “against privatisation” of education. While responding to the protest against the bill by the management of some private schools, the education minister assured them that not only was the government not against privatisation but that it had nothing against private schools. Giving his statement a strange and paradoxical twist, the minister further said that the government was only against commercialisation of education! The CM himself, in similar vein, said that the government wanted to control the fees being charged in private schools by limiting the salary of their teachers because it did not want these schools to be shut down. There is clearly a not so innocent contradiction between making the claim that the government intends to strengthen the public education system on the one hand and enacting a law in favour of the management and owners of private schools on the other.
The second aspect of the new policy thrust can be witnessed in the close connection between this amendment and the labour law changes introduced recently by the Rajasthan government. These amendments are aimed at the ‘ease of doing business and promoting industry’ with scant regard for hard-won, though limited and often unenforced, workers’ rights.
The third aspect relates to questions of inequality that are related to the basic idea of equal pay for equal work, which this amendment puts to question.
Keeping these issues in mind, what is the possible impact of the implementation of this bill? First, it will now be legitimate for private school managements to employ qualified teachers at low salaries. In other words, the amendment will legitimise the exploitation of teachers by private school management.
Another consequence is the likely acceleration in the pace of proliferation of private schools. This is then bound to lead to a further neglect of state-run schools as the public stake (and thereby their political significance) diminishes further.
Perhaps the most detrimental impact, however, will be on the status of teaching as a profession. When teachers are not paid a sufficient salary, there is likely to be a further decline in popular interest towards the profession. With serious questions already being raised about the quality of teachers, this amendment spells disaster for the growth of the profession as a whole.
Finally, it is possible that many teachers working in government schools may feel that they do not need to agitate against this bill since it is confined to those teaching in private schools alone. If this is how they feel, they are likely to be proved wrong and dealt a rude shock sooner or later. We are afraid that it is they who are going to be targeted next through this bill. We predict that if the present trajectory of public policy in general and of education policy in particular continues to run in the same direction, government school teachers will be its next victims.
Firoz Ahmad is a school teacher, Manoj Chahil is a PhD scholar at Delhi University and Birender Singh Rawat teaches at Delhi University