Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann is winning kudos from the state’s college and university teachers he recently described as the “architects of the nation”. Himself a teacher’s son, Mann addressed a long-pending demand of theirs, the implementation of the 2018 University Grants Commission (UGC) notification about a pay hike in tune with the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendations effective from January 1, 2016.
Mann made an announcement about it in the state assembly in June end. On Teachers’ Day on September 5, the chief minister addressed the teachers via video conferencing and within four days, his cabinet cleared the decision that would be implemented from October 1, 2022. The impressive speed at which Mann “delivered justice”, as the teaching fraternity looks at it, has also given hope to the private college teachers, among the worst exploited in the education sector.
Days later, a delegation of the Association of Unaided College Teachers (AUCT) met the chief minister demanding that the college managements be directed to implement the UGC scales. There are 5000 teachers in 400 such colleges and getting the private sector to comply would be a tall order.
Mann has not done anything exceptional, but if he is still winning praise, it is because he has reversed the heartless action of his Congress predecessor, Amarinder Singh. Singh’s government delinked the pay of its university and college teachers from the UGC scales, by all accounts, an ill-advised decision that made the state stick out like a sore thumb and put its teachers under tremendous stress. No other state resisted the UGC notification, although they may have taken time to implement it in keeping with their budget constraints.
Those who led the campaign against the Singh government’s decision allege a nexus between the corporate world and the government. The corporate sector needs government patronage/no objection certificates for opening and running the educational institutions that are mushrooming in the state. With no regulation of the pay structure, the managements get away with the exploitation of a vast number of educationists. Even the reputed ones, who are rolling in money, have no qualms about short-changing the teachers.
The Thapar Institute of Engineering, started by industrialist LM Thapar, is a classic example of unethical businesses that still flourish because of government neglect and decisions that encourage exploitation of the staff by private managements.
The Institute does not pay a single rupee as pension to its retired faculty. Imagine an engineering professor, who gave almost 40 years of his life to building the lives and careers of thousands of students, himself reduced to a beggar’s state post-retirement.
Distressed by the callous attitude, the retired faculty of the Institute came together with that of another engineering college, four polytechnic institutes and 137 other privately-aided colleges to file a case in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh. They lost the case when the Prakash Singh Badal-led Akali Dal government passed a law by which only private school teachers would get pension. By its decision, the Badal Government threw its private college teachers, metaphorically speaking, to the wolves that are private sector managements.
The retired faculty next moved to the Supreme Court in 2015, and the case has been hanging there since. Out of the 1800 petitioners, who paid four thousand rupees each as legal cost for the case, 200 are dead. Most of the others are old and ailing. The apex court, they say, is their “last hope.”
Meanwhile, the private college owners continue to thrive. The Thapar Institute, for example, that started in 1956 with less than 100 students who paid an annual fees of Rs 400, today has 10,000 students paying four lakh rupees annually. Its annual budget is a whopping 800 crore rupees while the revenue can be imagined. It is not an exaggeration to say that they are minting money, while the faculty that gave their blood and sweat to building and raising the Institute to its present level, have been longing for a semblance of normalcy and dignity due to them in old age.
A favourable order by the Supreme Court (the order is due in the last week of this month), would, literally, give the retired faculty of these colleges a new lease of life. It would also help them join the celebration awaiting the working college teachers at month end when the latest UGC pay scale would reflect in their salaries.