In a setback to nearly 4 lakhs contractual teacher, the apex court ruled out their demand for “equal pay for equal work”. The supreme court on Friday allowed the special leave petition (SLP) of the Bihar government challenging the October 3, 2017, Patna High court order, which had upheld the teachers’ demand for pay parity with regular teachers.
“There has been no violation of the rights of the ‘niyojit’ teachers nor has there been any discrimination against them, we do not find that the efforts on part of the state government could be labelled as unfair or discriminatory,” said the division bench of Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit in its 150-page order, setting aside the Patna HC division bench order,
The court, however, observed that the teachers must be entitled to decent salary.
“The State may consider raising the scales of ‘niyojit’ teachers at least to the level suggested by the three-member committee set up by the apex court order, without insisting on any test or examination advised by the panel. Those who clear such test or examination may be given even better scales. This is only a suggestion which may be considered by the State,” it added.
The SC verdict was reserved on October 3, 2010, after marathon arguments, starting July 31, 2018, and involving 25 days of hearing featuring top luminaries representing the teachers and Bihar government.
The Attorney General of India also represented the Centre in the case.
All through the arguments, the Bihar government stuck to its stand taken before the HC that the teachers appointed since 2006 through a different recruitment procedure involving panchayati raj bodies are of a “different and distinct” category and could not be compared with the “dying cadre” of teachers appointed before that.
The government also cited non-feasibility due to the huge financial burden. The apex court accepted these arguments, citing that merely 66,000 teachers remained in the old cadre, while the number of new cadre could reach 5 lakh in the days to come.
“Since 2006, a new era was started in Bihar with large-scale appointments through panchayati raj bodies under new rules to fill huge vacancies. Since 2006, there has been no disparity under any count. The strength of teachers appointed before 2006 is coming down with retirements and in the next 3-4 years it may become zero. Patna HC failed to appreciate two ‘different and distinct’ classes of teachers one of which is a dying cadre,” was the consistent argument of the counsels of the Bihar government.
The teachers, battling for prescribed pay scale since 2009 when the matter first reached the Patna HC, on the other hand argued that they deserved the same prescribed pay as old teachers, as they discharged the same work.
In its order, the Patna HC had set aside the Bihar government’s plea that the teachers appointed since 2006 were of a different kind and observed that it was “a pure and simple case of exploitation and runs contrary to the concept of decent life as held out to be integral part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India”.
The saving grace for the teachers is the government’s observation in the court that “it is conscious of the need to pay respectable salary to its teachers and has increased it several times, with average salary now around Rs 25,000.” The government had also offered to increase the salary by 20% at one stage.
The verdict could pave the way for fresh recruitments, especially in the secondary and higher secondary schools, in Bihar.
“Being a welfare state, the government has always been pro-teachers within its means. It increased their salary several times in the past and another hike could not be ruled out, as it has been part of the government process. However, anything can happen only after the elections, as model code is in force,” said an official of the education department.