Calcutta, March 21: With three crucial elections queued up between May 2005 and 2007, the state government today set out to win back the teaching community, one of its largest support bases.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government has proposed to dispense with employing teachers on contract in schools that are run, aided or sponsored by the state, increase their salaries and go on a recruitment spree.
It will also upgrade a few hundred schools and commission nearly a dozen colleges in 2005-06.
The decision to dispel contractual recruitment, part of finance minister Asim Dasgupta's please-all budget proposals, will also be applicable to non-teaching staff in educational institutions and government employees.
Dasgupta, however, denied that electoral compulsions have prompted the move. 'We do not prepare a budget in the light of elections, which happen every year in Bengal. The present initiative is a reflection of our objective to develop the social sector in tune with the emphasis on increasing production, employment generation and improving infrastructure.'
The ruling CPM and its allies have always been dependent on teachers for disciplined and educated workers for election campaigns, preparing voters' lists and manning thousands of polling booths across the state.
Of late, the powerful teachers' lobbies have been openly criticising the state government for enforcing a code of conduct, which bars private tuitions, holding a second job or doing business on the side.
Dasgupta told the Assembly that teachers would be appointed only on full-time basis through the school and college service commissions. He promised to release dearness allowance arrears and ensure higher pay packets.
Sources said the government may think of expanding the DA (at present 49 per cent of the basic pay) by one percentage point and have it clubbed with the basic, raising housing and medical allowances.
Dasgupta promised to hike the remuneration of part-time teachers and set up 5,000 additional child education centres (Sarba Siksha Kendras) to achieve 'universalisation of primary education'.
He said recruitment of full-time teachers for 49,577 primary schools was on to ensure a 1:40 teacher-student ratio.
'Apart from increasing the number of students in primary schools and reducing the incidence of malnutrition and the number of dropouts, we are determined to introduce mid-day meal programmes,' the finance minister said.
There has been a substantial hike in the education budget from Rs 201 crore to Rs 622 crore. 'We have decided to upgrade 2,600 junior high schools to spread higher education,' the minister said, indicating a simultaneous enhancement of facilities for teachers.
The All Bengal Teachers' Association said it is happy with the budget proposals. 'We have all along been against recruitment of teachers on contract basis,' said its office secretary Ashok Ganguly.
Kartick Saha of the Bengal Primary Teachers' Association said the budget has been prepared with an eye on the elections. 'About 70 per cent of school teachers' posts are still lying vacant.... How can the government recruit full-time teachers overnight to fill the posts when the SSC (School Service Commission) takes at least eight months to form a panel of prospective teachers' he asked.
The West Bengal Headmasters' Association also welcomed the government's decision, but demanded that the 72,000 posts of teachers lying vacant in in primary, secondary and higher secondary schools in the state be immediately filled up.
Prithwis Bose, president of the association, said they were against the government's decision to recruit teachers on contract as 'this will create discrimination among the teaching community'.