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First salary hope in 31 years

Mandira Chatterjee, 58, has been a schoolteacher for 31 years — without pay.

The victim of an appointment row, her tenure since 1976 at Tarasundari Balika Bidya Bhawan in Howrah has not been recognised by the state education department.

A Calcutta High Court ruling on Wednesday is finally set to change that. The division bench comprising Justice Pranab Kumar Chattopaddhaya and Justice Arunava Basu has asked the government to give Mandira appointment with effect from October 19, 1976, the day she had joined the school on NS Dutta Road in Howrah.

The division bench also ordered the director of school education to calculate the arrears of the teacher denied her salary for three decades and pay her as soon as possible.

“Today, I am really very happy. My long struggle for justice seems to be over. I have fought for years for this day,” Mandira told Metro at her Kadamtala residence in Howrah.

The lights going out at the 24/7 Brindavan Mullick Lane home could not dim the sense of delight in the Mukherjee household (Chatterjee is Mandira’s maiden surname, registered in official documents) late on Wednesday.

Pratip Mukherjee, Mandira’s husband, and daughter Juthi were all “delighted” with the judgment.

Pratip, former employee of a private firm, said: “This is a victory of my wife’s tenacity. We hope things are resolved after this judgment.”

Pranab Sengupta would, of course, advise Mandira to count her arrears only when she gets them. For Sengupta, a teacher of Basak Bagan Primary School who joined the service in 1976 and has continued on a salary of Rs 21.75 per month, has been denied justice despite high court orders in his favour. He has decided to move the Supreme Court for his dues.

In the case of Mandira Chatterjee, she was appointed teacher at Tarasundari Balika Bidya Bhawan by the management committee. In 1977, the school was recognised by the education department and turned into a government-aided institute.

But the education department counted Mandira as an “organiser teacher” and did not recognise her appointment.

“Prior to getting appointment in the school, my client was one of the members of the school’s advisory committee. For this, she was considered an organiser teacher,” explained advocate L.K. Pal, Mandira’s counsel in high court.

Mandira moved a petition before the high court in 1979. In November 1989, Justice S.B. Sinha dismissed her petition and upheld the decision taken by the education department.

“My client then moved the division bench the same year. After a long time, the matter finally came up for hearing before the division bench of Justice Chattopaddhaya and Justice Basu,” said Pal.

Mandira can take heart from a similar case involving Sunanda Chakladar, a teacher of Beleghata Primary School, who won approval of her service 35 years after joining the profession.

The high court division bench, in June 2003, had directed the primary school council to approve her service with effect from 1968 and pay her arrears.

“The state government did not obey the order and moved an appeal against it. This was dismissed by the apex court. She has recently received her dues,” said advocate Pal, who represented her in the high court and the Supreme Court.

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