Last Friday’s order of Calcutta High Court is suitably strident as it accords precedence to the compulsions of learning rather than election-related duties, such as detailing teachers for roll revision on school days.
The verdict, a clear signal to the Election Commission of India, upholds the binary of teacher and taught, indeed the Right to Education. The rerun of the dance of democracy every five years is of lesser moment in the context of learning. The first ought not to impinge on the second. The EC had on 20 August this year notified that teachers of state-aided schools would be enlisted for summary revision of electoral rolls ahead of the Lok Sabha election.
This has effectively been struck down by the Bench (coram: Tapabrata Chakraborty, J) ~ “For the sake of education of school students, the teachers cannot be engaged in other duties while schools are on.” Uninterrupted learning thus stands protected with the court setting aside the August 20 notification.
Education will hopefully remain undisturbed. The EC has been given the “liberty to issue a fresh notification sparing teachers from poll duty on school days”. The revision of rolls began on 1 September and will continue till 31 October. Towards that end, hundreds of additional teachers had been recruited.
They will now have to be riveted to their primary profession of teaching and there is little doubt that the court order signifies a critical victory for the cause of learning. The notification, if carried to its logical conclusion, would have impeded the students’ fundamental right to education. That right cannot be sacrificed, even partially, at the altar of the election machinery.
The West Bengal government’s behemoth staff, with a large section having little or no work, can well be utilised for election-related duties. Indeed, the EC’s notification mentions that Bengal government employees would be inducted for roll revision. Of course the commission had acted within its constitutional powers, but the High Court has quite appropriately drawn a fine distinction between education and elections.
The Election Commission has for several years engaged teachers from government and aided schools in election-related work, the revision of rolls being only one of them. It is one thing to induct teachers for election work; quite another to engage them in the task for days together, and during school hours.
Implicit is the fact that the judiciary has reaffirmed what ought to be a given ~ the teacher’s primary duty is to teach. The High Court order affords protection to schools, the students, and education in the wider canvas. It has ensured that the students shall not suffer in the midst of the five-yearly tryst with democracy.