10,323 : doomed souls headed for sacrificial altar in non-chalant view of ostensible saviours

Shekhar Dutta


Going by the choicest epithets of 'incompetent' and 'product of sin' showered on them already, the hapless 10,323 teachers  currently on a short-lived lease of life seem to be set for the guillotine on or latest by March 31 2020. The education minister Ratan Lal Nath whose new party had got their votes by promising to 'resolve the cases on sympathetic and humanitarian consideration' in the so-called 'Vision Document' (Page 6, Para 12) published with much fanfare on February 11 last year showered the vile invectives recently though he made a feeble attempt to backtrack in the face of all-round criticism. There is as yet no firm commitment or attempt to save the jobs except the so-called and absolutely insufficient 'one time relaxation'  which will flop and the state government is possibly waiting to unburden itself.

Significantly, neither the high court ,nor the supreme court had made any comment or observation on the competence or otherwise of the doomed 10,323 teachers but 471 jobs got dispensed with only on the ground of then state government's recruitment policy. Besides, a different bench of the same high court of Tripura held as valid the appointment of more than a thousand science teachers in the year 2012 based on the same recruitment policy that had governed the recruitment of luckless 10,323 teachers . Now the present dispensation in the state, apparently determined to facilitate the passage of the doomed teachers to gallows, is retaliating by not regularizing the services of science teachers of 2012 despite validation of the appointment process by the high court even though seven years have already passed against the normal schedule of five years.

But what has brought the situation close to such a disaster in the making ? It was way back in the year 2010 that the then left front government had given more than six thousand appointments to posts of graduate and post graduate teachers well ahead of the deadline for introduction of new education policy from 21st August that year. This was followed by issuance of appointment of more than six thousand primary teachers in early 2014 after the state government had obtained a one-time waiver .But the matter had reached the then Agartala bench of Guwahati high court where the single bench headed by justice B.K.Sharma had directed the state government to look into the matter afresh by constituting a high power committee and the state government had been counselled by its lawyers to comply.

But even before a decision could be taken, one of the senior lawyers moved the division bench challenging the single bench order and seeking dismissal of all teachers appointed on ground of recruitment policy. Having heard the case for long the division bench of the high court comprising then chief justice Dipak Kumar Gupta and justice Swapan Chandra Das  annulled the recruitment policy of the state government and got it reformulated in keeping with constitutional provisions.

Besides , as recorded in Para-127 of the judgment the justices said categorically "since we have set aside the revised employment policy which applies to a large category of posts and not merely to teachers , we would like to make it clear that our judgment shall be prospective in nature and shall not affect the appointments already made unless the said appointments are already under challenge before this court on the ground that the employment policy is illegal". It is crystal clear from this crucial Para of the final high court judgement on May 7 2014 that the interpretation that all 10,323 jobs had been dispensed with was and continues to be absolutely, totally and comprehensively wrong. A reading of the full judgment of the high court delivered on May 7 2014 makes it amply clear that services of only 471 teachers whose jobs had been challenged on ground of illegality had been dispensed with and not of  the mythical  figure of 10,323.There was also another major relief given in the said judgment on May 7 2014 in Para 125. What it  clearly and emphatically reads is "it is further made clear that if the persons who are selected in the previous selection and are again selected then the service rendered by them earlier shall be counted for the purpose of seniority, pension and other purposes". There was absolutely no need for preferring an appeal against this judgment which gave sufficient leeway to the state to protect the interests of so many teachers.

But totally on the basis of non-reading of the full judgment and misinterpretation, the nervous state government had filed appeal to the supreme court on the atrociously wrong assumption that all 10,323 teachers had been dismissed. The issue dragged on and finally on March 29 2017 the apex court gave the final judgment , upholding in totality the high court judgment of May 7 2014 and making no other observation which was a golden opportunity to protect the jobs. Even without moving the supreme court the state government could have retrenched the 471 teachers dismissed by high court order and rehabilitated them in non-teaching  jobs.  But even after the supreme court order several petitions for extensions of service to the teachers were made and granted till the crucial date of December 14 2017 when the apex court granted fresh extension but bizarrely consigned all the teachers to ad hoc status, observing  they would work under fresh terms and conditions set by the state government and then no more extension would be given. Neither the bench, nor the lawyers and their clients thought that since the original order had dispensed with the services of only 471 teachers ,how the ad hoc status could be applicable to the entire lot of thousands of UGT, GT and PGT teachers. This is perhaps the worst record of legal and judicial miscarriage in the history of independent India.

Then the assembly election came fast and the vote-crazy  BJP leaders including Himanta Biswa Sarma and other stalwarts made tall promises for votes from the condemned teachers even though BJP supporters had earlier celebrated the supposed job dismissal order of the supreme court on March 29 2017 and later. Moving another petition on ground of shortage of teachers the state government obtained another supreme court order on 3rd July 2018 that the ad hoc teachers would continue in service till March 31 2020 by which time the state government would make up the shortfall in teachers and upon the expiry of that date the hapless teachers will go back home empty-handed for no fault of their own but because of the act of omission  of one government and perfidy of another.

But is there no way to protect the jobs or save the teachers ? There are lot of options ,specially after the Tripura high court judgment on January 8 this year  when the division bench , informed by lawyers of the crucial Para-127  of the original order of 7th May 2014, directed the teachers to apply afresh to the state government for reinstatement in service . But there is no reply despite the applications being filed and the director of secondary education in a recent order has refused to consider even the plea for granting continuation of service to the ad hoc teachers who later qualified through TET, citing the ad hoc status imposed on them by the supreme court. With political good will the state government could simply have reinstated the hapless teachers by a cabinet decision, citing the high court order of January this year but this does not figure in their list of priorities .

Secondly, much earlier the state government could have gone for a validation act to protect the jobs in view of the misinterpretation of the high court order and other contradictions in consultation with legal experts and luminaries. There are many precedents to this, the most glaring ones being Rajiv Gandhi's negation of the apex court order on Shah Bano case by the Muslim womens right protection bill and the enactment of another bill validating 'Jallikattu' in Tamil Nadu by the state government despite supreme court's order to the contrary and at least six validation acts of various state legislatures upheld by the high courts as well as the supreme court, as specifically cited by retired high court justice A.B.Paul in two excellent articles. Another option could have been to file a fresh petition to the supreme court under Article 142 of the constitution for 'complete justice' in view of the misreading of the original high court order. What is needed for all this is political goodwill and a positive pro-people world view which is tragically lacking in Tripura. The 10,323 doomed souls can therefore prepare for the guillotine during the 'ides of March' 2020 in India's first such case.

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