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Primary teachers cannot be assigned other jobs: Bombay high court

Division bench of justices Ajay Khanwilkar and RM Savant held that under the service rules governing the primary teachers, government has no power to rope them in for non-teaching tasks such as surveys.

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Primary school teachers in the state can now concentrate on their primary duty of teaching. The Bombay high court on Tuesday set aside a 1997 order of the state government requisitioning the school staff from schools run by government and local self-governing bodies for projects such as the enumeration of the below poverty-line (BPL) families.

The court observed that by keeping teachers away from their classes to fulfil these additional responsibilities, the quality of education imparted in primary schools run by zilla parishads (ZP) and panchayat samitees (PS) across the state was getting affected.

Justices AM Khanwilkar and RM Savant also suggested that instead of requisitioning staff from schools for activities undertaken by the centre and the state, the centre should set up one body for enumeration of census, BPL schemes and elections through unique identification cards.

“That will not only obviate the requisitioning of government staff but also save the state exchequer substantial exchange,” the judges said in their order.

The primary teacher’s association, a state-wide body, had moved the court in 1997 after the government issued a circular on November 5, 1997 seeking the deployment of the school teachers for BPL schemes.

Their advocate, CG Gavnekar, said that as per a court order of July 3, 2003, school teachers can be roped in only for election and census-related activities and that too only on non-teaching days. Gavnekar said that primary teachers were also being roped in for programmes such as polio control, malaria and pollution surveys as well.

The association also relied on the Bombay primary school rules, 1979, under which there was no clause which said that the teachers could be roped in for BPL family programs. Under the ZP and PS Act, 1961, they contended that there was no authority vested in the state government to deploy the primary teachers, zilla parishad employees, into BPL programs, essentially a central government scheme.

The state government was unable to show provisions in law wherein the ZPs and PSs can be asked to participate in BPL enumeration. The court, therefore, set aside the circular of November 1997.

Parents-Teachers United Forum president Arundhati Chauhan said: “It is a very good decision. Teachers were unnecessarily burdened with these additional tasks and their teaching hours were affected. It was also affecting the quality of teaching.”

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