Mumbai: Observing that the State must be given an opportunity for ‘fair play’, the Supreme Court last week refused to regularise the jobs of over four lakh contractual teachers in Bihar. The top court even set aside a Patna High Court judgment which had held that such contractual teachers were eligible to get equal pay for equal work.
A bench of Justices Abhay Sapare and Umesh Lalit was seized with a bunch of petitions filed by the Bihar government challenging the orders of Patna High Court, which had ordered the former to grant permanent jobs to teachers working on contract basis. These contractual teachers had been appointed under the Niyojit Shikshak Niyukti Niyamavali (NSNN), 2006.
The Patna High Court had, in October 2017, held that these teachers were eligible to get salaries on par with permanent teachers. The court had also held the NSNN unconstitutional as it was against the fundamental right to equality. The contractual teachers were appointed at the panchayat-level while the permanent ones were government employees. Though both the cadres discharged the same duties and functions, they did not get the same pay.
The apex court, in its verdict, has allowed this disparity in salaries on the ground that both the cadres were appointed under different authorities. Setting aside the HC order, the top court said, “In our considered view, there has been no violation of the Rights of the Niyojit (contractual) teachers; nor has there been any discrimination against them.
We do not find that the efforts on part of the government could be labelled as unfair or discriminatory.” The bench took into account the “efforts” undertaken by the government to improve the education system. “In our view, great strides have been made by the State in the last decade.
It has galvanised itself into action and not only achieved the objectives of having schools in every neighbourhood but has also succeeded in increasing the literacy rate,” the bench noted. “It has also succeeded in having more girl children in the stream of education and consequently the TFR (Reduction in Total Fertility Rate) as indicated from records, has also improved to a great extent.
If these are the benefits or rewards which the society stands to gain and achieve, the State ought to be given appropriate free play,” reads the judgment authored by Justice Lalit. The judges further noted the fact that the state has continuously undertaken measures to improve the packages granted to the Niyojit teachers.
“The record shows the state is moving in the right direction and the gap which is presently existing between the government teachers and the Niyojit teachers would progressively get diminished. Considering the large number of Niyojit teachers, as against the government teachers, the steps taken by the state, as evident from records, are in the right direction,” the judges observed.
In its 149-page judgment, the bench has also voiced its concern over the low salaries paid to the contractual teachers, particularly at the initial stage. The judges noted the fact that at the initial stage, these teachers’ salaries are lesser than those of peons and clerks.
While maintaining that the courts could not interfere in the policy decisions of the government, the bench said it could however, raise concerns over an “imbalance.” “The teachers must be entitled to decent emoluments. The government must consider raising the salaries, at least to the level suggested by an expert committee,” the bench ordered.