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Strike on as block teachers, govt refuse to budge
File picture of block-grant schoolteachers sitting in a dharna near the office of inspector of school, Sambalpur circle

Bhubaneswar, Aug. 9: The face-off over the contentious issue of block grant seems set to aggravate with neither the state government nor the Orissa Block Grant Secondary School Teachers and Employees’ Association willing to concede an inch.

The association, which has been on an indefinite strike since August 1, is demanding the abolition of block grant and reinstatement of the grant-in-aid (GIA) system. The association represents nearly 25,000 teachers and employees of 1,983 block grant high schools of the state. However, only 1,620 such schools are participating in the “cease work” and it has affected over two lakh students.

In its defence, the government said that 2004 onwards it was providing 40 per cent grant or Rs 1,68,912 annually to each block grant high school. In April 2008, this was raised to 60 per cent or Rs 5,79,060.

However, the agitators refused to call off their strike. Association president P.K. Mohapatra said until 2004, schools in the state were being governed by the GIA Act of 1969 but with the introduction of the block grant system in 1,983 schools, they have been struggling to make ends meet.

“After presenting four batches at the Class X board exams, it was time for the government to bear the salary of teachers. But it evaded its responsibility and in 2004, without negotiating with teachers and others, the government introduced block grant system and it made our lives miserable,” said Mohapatra.

Taking a serious view of the strike, the government issued a public notice on Saturday urging them to immediately resume classes in their respective schools, failing which grant provided to those institution would be withdrawn. The directorate has also asked the circle inspectors of schools for a list of teachers involved in locking up schools.

State school and mass education minister Pratap Jena said punitive action would be initiated if teachers did not join duty immediately. “We have also asked students who are bearing the brunt of this strike to enrol in government and government-aided schools in their locality. A high-power committee (HPC) has been constituted to look into their demands,” he said.

But the association has dug in their heels. “We will not withdraw our agitation until our demands are met. The minister of school and mass education had made a statement in the Assembly in 2009 about the constitution of a HPC to resolve our issue but nothing has been done so far. When we launched a hunger strike last year, they assured us of coming up with a solution but in vain. The government has only cheated us and made false promises,” he said.

The association has challenged the government to reveal comparative details of the salary structures of government-run schools and block grant schools in public.

General secretary of the association Prasanta Pati said: ”While teachers in government and semi-government schools were paid a salary of around Rs 15,000 per month, under the block grant system we get only Rs 4,995 every month for the same job.”

“The government is indeed paying a bulk annual amount of Rs 5.79 lakh to each block grant school but when it is divided among 12 members on an average, it comes down to around Rs 4,000 per month, which is one-fourth the salary of a teacher in government school. How can we survive when the price of everything has gone through the roof?” asked Pati.

The association has decided to go on an indefinite hunger strike from August 17 which coincides with the commencement of the Assembly’s monsoon session.

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