by Dr Reyaz Ahmad Ganaie and Dr Altaf Ahmad Dar
As teaching is a noble profession, a teacher is responsible for building a nation. Responsible for moulding future citizens, they deserve a dignified position in society. Thus, it is the duty of the government to provide them with decent wages and fair service conditions.
But the existing laws in Jammu and Kashmir, governing the wages and service conditions of contractual lecturers in higher education departments and universities are not adequate to provide them with fair wages. Moreover, the absence of proper legislation regulating these institutions of higher learning in the Union Territory can be cited as an important shortfall in the present legal system. Most teachers in our society feel marginalised and underpaid, working either in the private or government sector.
Teachers in private educational institutions are facing exploitation worse than the exploitation suffered by manual labourers in our brick kilns, and yet very few people realise the extent and scale of this exploitation. On the other hand, the condition of contractual lecturers working in universities is not better than the government and self-financing colleges. Unfortunately, all this is happening under the noose of the government.
In UT of J&K, each year, the higher education department engages lecturers on academic arrangement basis. Presently there are around 600 contractual lecturers posted in various colleges of the valley. They have worked in different colleges since 2003 on low wages even in far-flung areas including Gurez, Tanghdar, Leh, Kargil, Samba, Kathua, and Poonch and still, their hard work counts for nothing.
Although the University Grants Commission (UGC) has issued a revised guideline for enhancement of rates of honorarium of guest faculty in colleges and universities. In this regard, the commission in its 537th meeting held on December 10, 2018, recommended that the honorarium of guest faculty be enhanced to Rs 1500 per lecture subject to a maximum salary of Rs 50,000 per month. However, despite the passage of almost one and half year such recommendations were not implemented by the government in J&K.
Contrary to this, the government has slashed the monthly remuneration of college contractual lecturers by 47 per cent from Rs 28,000 to Rs 22,000 and 12,000 in the current academic session for Ph D. degree holders and NET qualified teachers respectively.
Such a move on part of the government is not only unjustified but adds salt to their injuries. Besides this, the government has also not released their due salaries for the last nine months after the abrogation of Article 370 and these college lecturers continue to suffer most in the times of current Coronavirus pandemic to meet their ends.
In these hard times, the government has ignored them. They are facing immense difficulties in feeding their families. Although the court had last year directed the higher education department to continue utilizing the services of contractual lecturers and subsequently the department extended their tenure. However, the commissioner secretary, higher education department said that the lecturers will be paid salaries only for the period the classwork was conducted in the colleges. He further added that there have been no classes since August 2019, so where does the question of salary come from?
But the question is whether contractual lecturers are responsible for not having the smooth academic session post-August 5 after the centre abrogated Article 370. Therefore the onus lies with the government after the abrogation of the special status of the state on August 5 and subsequently imposed curfew in the whole erstwhile state and put strict restrictions for months together. Therefore if there were no classes, it is not the fault of teachers as they were already at the disposal of the higher education department to serve. So it is evident that unlike teachers, the fault lies with the government as the authorities were unable to restore normalcy for several months. The UT government is making tall claims of improving the standards of higher education in government colleges but on the other hand, is ignoring the genuine demands of these teachers. As a result PhD degree holders and NET qualified candidates are forced to work on meagre salary although they have degrees equivalent to those who have been appointed on a regular basis.
There is a concern. Most of these lecturers have crossed the upper age limit or are on the verge of becoming highly qualified overage unemployed youth. Now they are not eligible for any government job. On several occasions, they have approached the authorities with petitions. Sometimes they held protests from the twin capitals of Srinagar and Jammu. Recently they also went to Delhi to invite the attention of the government to get their issues resolved. They were on hunger strikes but the government is still unmoved to address their issues and there is no end to their woes.
The sad part of the story is that the condition of teachers working in self-financing colleges is worse than those working in government colleges. Except for a few, these colleges are mostly offering teacher education courses where the monthly salary rarely exceeds Rs 10,000. Those working in these colleges unlike government college teachers have neither any association nor they have raised their salary and other job-related issues with the authorities because they are under constant fear of being chided by their respective principles and are unable to express their plight through any forum. The government must enact new legislation for private colleges to prevent the exploitation of teaching faculty working in these colleges which as of now has remained unnoticed and unheard.
Now it is the duty of the government to come up with a concrete policy for the betterment of these teachers either in private or government colleges. They must not only frame a job policy, but these teachers should be given a good salary package and for that, the recommendations of the UGC must be implemented and their salaries pending from last year must be released at the earliest. By doing so, the government will not do any favour to them but it is their legitimate right. Therefore an immediate directive by the government to implement the UGC guidelines regarding remuneration is all that these teachers are looking for.
(Dr Reyaz Ahmad Ganaie and Dr Altaf Ahmad Dar have done PhD from Pondicherry Central University and both are working as teachers in the School Education Department. Ideas expressed are personal)