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Teacher tribunal on table

New Delhi, Oct. 23: Teachers in private schools and colleges with grievances against their institutions may soon be able to seek government intervention through a controversial job dispute redress mechanism proposed by the Centre.

The human resource development ministry has drafted plans for a national teachers’ tribunal that for the first time will see government intervention in employment concerns of private sector teachers, The Telegraph has learnt. The proposed tribunal will cover unaided private institutions.

The decision to set up a teachers’ tribunal was taken after the ministry received a slew of complaints from private sector teachers — at school and college levels — of severe exploitation, ministry sources said.

The private sector employs over two-thirds of India’s teachers at the school and higher education levels.

“As a majority of India’s teachers are today in the private sector, we in the government felt it is essential that we address their concerns. A central grievance redress mechanism is crucial,” a government official said.

The ministry has set up a committee headed by higher education secretary R.P. Agrawal to finalise the blueprint for the project that officials admit is likely to meet opposition from private educational institutions.

“We expect the plan to be opposed by sections of the private education sector. But the government has a responsibility towards the country’s teachers,” a ministry official said.

The initial concept of the tribunal envisages a body that teachers can approach for all concerns related to their employers. The tribunal, sources said, may be given the power to issue a notice to the employer.

The body may be loosely modelled on the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) for central government employees and a bill will have to be moved to facilitate its birth.

Concerns raised by teachers have ranged from a hire-and-fire policy adopted by an institution to the management’s refusal to allow employees to form a union, the official said.

Independent studies have also shown that private schools in several parts of rural India typically pay one-third the salaries that government schools in the same areas pay.

In Delhi, teachers from a number of private schools have over the past three years gone on strike protesting against alleged violation of labour rights.

The private sector contributes around 80 per cent of schools, including pre-schools, in India.

India has 17,625 colleges in all. Of these, only 5,386 (30 per cent) are aided financially by local, state or central governments.

The move to set up a national teachers’ tribunal comes amid growing opposition from college and university teachers across the country over a delay in promised salary hikes.

The announcement of Assembly polls in five states has forced the ministry to delay the raise as the hike could be seen as a form of allurement by the Election Commission.

Although the salary hikes are valid only for varsities run by the government — Centre or state — and for institutions aided by the government, many private universities follow the recommendations of the central pay panel.

Officials denied any link between the delay in pay hikes and the plan for the tribunal, but hinted they were under pressure to start interventions in employment concerns by the approaching Lok Sabha polls.

“We want to finalise the project over the next couple of months after which we can seek Cabinet clearance and implement it,” a source said.

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