THE Supreme Court’s rejection of Special Leave Petitions against the judgement of the Tripura High Court which set aside the appointment of 10,323 school teachers without considering the far-reaching effect, disappointed large sections of people of Tripura including teachers and students. A division bench led by the then Tripura High Court Chief Justice Dipak Gupta (recently elevated to the Supreme Court) by its order dated May 7, 2014 quashed the appointment of 10,323 teachers which include 1,102 post-graduate teachers, 4,856 graduate teachers and 4,856 under-graduate teachers. The Left Front government appointed the teachers in May 2010, August 2010 and December 2013.
The Tripura government and affected teachers filed three separate Special Leave Petitions before the Supreme Court. Three senior advocates forcefully argued against the Tripura High Court judgement before the Supreme Court Bench comprising Justice A K Goel and Justice U U Lalit almost two full days on 28 and 29 March. But the Supreme Court Bench in its brief order on March 29 afternoon dismissed all three Special Leave Petitions, upholding the Tripura High Court judgement terminating the appointment of 10,323 teachers. The Supreme Court order said that new employment policy should be framed by the state government by April 30, 2017 and fresh selection process be completed by December 31, 2017 and till fresh process is completed the teachers already appointed shall continue.
The Tripura State Secretariat of the CPI(M), in a brief statement, termed the Supreme Court decision “inhuman” and expressed solidarity with the affected teachers. Education Minister Tapan Chakraborty told the press that the state government is sympathetic and will stand by the affected teachers.
The people of Tripura and the Left Front government are playing pioneering role for implementing the slogan of ‘education for all’. It may be recalled that during the feudal king’s rule some educated and semi-educated tribal youths including Sudhanwa Debbarma, Dasaratha Deb and Hemanta Debbarma established the historic Janashiksha Samity in 1945 against the wishes of the king and set up more than 400 schools to spread the light of education. The tribal king issued warrant of arrest against the Janashiksha Samity leaders. Dasaratha Deb and other leaders had to go underground. Hemanta Debbarma got arrested and was severely beaten up inside jail. Thousands of tribal people assembled at capital town Agartala and forced the king to release Hemanta Debbarma from Jail. The king was ultimately forced to recognise most of the schools set up by the Janashiksha Samity.
The first Left Front government established in 1978 and subsequent Left Front dispensations were carrying the message of Janashiksha Samity, ‘education for all’, by establishing a large number of pre-primary, primary, secondary and higher secondary schools. The government was providing free books up to Class VIII, abolition of fees up to graduate standard and distributing clothes, bicycles to girl students and extending many other facilities. Due to these measures, Tripura became top in the literacy rate in the country. The Left Front government formulated an employment policy in 1978 keeping in view the socio-economic condition of the people living in the state. Most of the people in the state were below the poverty line. Tribal people were mostly backward. During the feudal king’s rule and the Congress rule not to speak of education, tribal people were not even provided with ration and as a result starvation death and death due to malnutrition were a regular feature. It is the Left Front government which provided food, work, safe drinking water, house, electricity, road-connectivity and established schools in the tribal inhabited areas and other areas. So, in the employment policy introduced by the Left Front government apart from seniority-cum-merit, ‘need’ was also one of the basis earmarked for selection of teachers so that tribal and Scheduled Caste and other poorer section and those who are living in remote areas can get the opportunity of job. The Left Front government strictly maintained reservation quota for the Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes which comprise 31 per cent and 17 per cent of the state’s population, respectively. The Left Front government also maintained reservation quota for the physically handicapped persons and ex-servicemen. It is committed to provide equal facilities for the people living in remote sub- divisions. Though there is no reservation for linguistic or religious minorities, but the state government is giving some weightage for minorities in selecting teachers. For more than 40 years, the Left Front government has been pursuing this employment policy. There were some cases against some appointments when Tripura was under the Gauhati High Court’s jurisdiction. But the high court never quashed the Employment Policy. As per requirement, the government recruited teachers from time to time.
Regarding the 10,323 teachers, the Left Front government first advertised in 2002 seeking applications for filling up vacancies. But due to severe financial stringency, the government could not recruit teachers. In 2006 again the state government issued advertisement asking for application for recruitment of teachers. But due to the Assembly election and other reasons, recruitment of teachers was held up. The state government advertised for the third time in 2009 asking application for teacher posts. The government also clarified that those who had applied in 2002 and 2006 need not apply afresh and they will be given chance to face interview. The government also clarified that age relaxation will be given to those who crossed the upper age limit after submission of application on earlier occasions. The number of post of teachers was also increased in different categories. The state government constituted 28 interview boards and sent call letters to 1,50,693 applicants, out of those 84,559 applicants appeared before the interview boards and the interview process was completed in 121 days.
In the meantime, the UPA-II government passed the Right to Education Act in Parliament in 2009. In the new Act, 50 per cent marks and B.Ed. or BT degree was made mandatory to sit for teachers’ eligibility test (TET) for primary and secondary teachers. Various state governments including the Government of Tripura requested the Union government to defer the date of implementation of the new Education Act, as there were dearth of trained persons. The Union Government agreed to the reasonable requests of state governments and deferred implementation of the New Education act for 5 years i.e. up to 2015. After getting clearance from the Union Government, the Government of Tripura appointed 10,323 teachers as per recommendations of the interview boards.
Fifty-eight candidates comprising three categories who appeared before the interview boards but were not selected filed petition before the Tripura High Court. They did not raise any allegation against the process of interview or against the boards. The contentions of these petitioners were that they were better qualified than those who were given appointment. They wanted direction from the high court so that they can get job. The Tripura High Court in its May 7, 2014 order quashed the employment policy framed in 1978 by the first Left Front government and set aside the appointments of 10,323 teachers. The high court in its judgement observed that there is no reservation permissible under the economic criteria and asked the state government to frame a new Employment Policy. In the same judgement, the high court itself directed the state to keep certain marks for the seniority and candidates living in the poor family. Which indicates that the findings of the high court and direction made to the state government to frame new recruitment policy on the basis of economic criteria was found contradictory. Three senior advocates engaged by the Tripura government and affected teachers cited many flaws and contradictions before the Supreme Court bench. But the Supreme Court in its March 29, 2017 order dismissed all three SLPs but it has given no grounds not to interfere the judgement of the high court.
State Congress party leaders were very much against the appointments of teachers. Then Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly (now Trinamool Congress leader) Sudip Barman wrote to the Prime Minister and the President of India to take measures to cancel all appointments of the teachers. After the Supreme Court verdict, BJP leaders and workers burst crackers in Dharmanagar town hailing the judgement. Some of the petitioners narrated before the press in Agartala that they were taken to RSS leaders in New Delhi by State BJP leaders and they assured them to extend all help. BJP and TMC leaders demanded resignation of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and Education Minister Tapan Chakraborty.
Tripura Council of Ministers, in its meeting held on 5TH April 2017, reviewed the order of the Supreme Court and observed that the judgement was unexpected. After the cabinet meeting, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar told the press that the state government has decided to comply with the directions of the Supreme Court. He said that state is committed to ensure that ongoing educational endeavour and smooth functioning of educational institutions are not disrupted and affect the future of the children. He said the state government is concerned with the future of all the teachers affected by the court’s order and reaffirms that all possible steps will be taken to protect the interest of the affected teachers who have already served the state with their sincerity and dedication.