The Telegraph
Monday , April 7 , 2014
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How polls rob students of mentors

P. Mahto, a teacher with a primary school in Tamar block of Ranchi, has been distributing voter slips door to door for the past couple of days. He will head for Mandar on April 8 to work as a polling agent on April 10, the first day of elections in Jharkhand. He will also be deputed for poll duty on April 17 and 24 — the second and the third rounds, respectively. In between, he will receive training and collect poll materials

Ranchi, April 6: Several thousand teachers from across Jharkhand are caught up in similar responsibilities to ensure free and fair polls. At the receiving end of their democratic duties are students of over 40,000 primary, middle and high schools, where regular classes have taken a beating for the past few months.

Teachers constitute a majority of polling officials and presiding officers during any election. Besides, they also act as booth level officers (BLOs) and are assigned various jobs like verification of electoral rolls, organising special camps for inclusion, deletion and rectification of names, that begin months before an election.

“Over 90 per cent of the total 25,000 BLOs are teachers. Then, we need a strength of over one lakh government officials for the three days of polling. A large chunk of the manpower is mainly drawn from teachers and contractual para-teachers, who act as presiding officers and polling agents,” joint chief electoral officer A.K. Rao said.

Does it not hamper education at government schools?

Rao conceded that students do suffer when their teachers are sent on poll duty. “The district administration concerned, through block officials, provide us names of BLOs and election officials,” he said.

He added that most other state departments — be it revenue or administration or health — were reeling under acute shortage of manpower, making teachers indispensable during elections.

“Half of our energy is lost in managing and maintaining midday meal, construction work and bicycle distribution, and the rest in election duties. We will be suspended if we raise voice or skip poll duties,” said a primary teacher.

Sources said it is a perennial problem in Jharkhand.

In 2013, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had written to the state HRD principal secretary on “absence of teachers from schools on the pretext of BLO duties”, undermining the objective of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.

The letter dated March 25, 2013, also pointed out that while many states and Union Territories chose BLOs from other cadres, in Jharkhand, teachers make up 81.35 per cent of the booth force.

“This is seriously affecting functioning of primary schools and requires immediate attention by the department of education,” the letter had read.

Also, the NCPCR has been requesting the state government to reduce the number of teachers working as BLOs by roping in more people from non-teaching categories for the purpose.

Ganesh Reddy, state representative of NCPCR, said their pleas fell on deaf ears.