The principal and 22 teachers of one of the oldest Marathi medium schools in the city, New English School, Ramanbaug, were suddenly asked to join election duty by the Tehsildar Office on September 21.
When the school did not respond and instead, with reference to the Right To Education (RTE) Act, raised the question of how a school was to be run if most of its teachers were to be sent on deputation for election duty, each teacher separately received a notice indicating he or she would face legal action in case of failure to join election duty within 24 hours.
As the school administration had no other option, 11 teachers have joined election duty and the remaining will be doing so soon. Since close to half of the total 58 teachers will be on election duty, the school principal, Bhalchandra Purandare, fears it will badly impact the school’s reputation.
The school has 2,360 students from Std V to X. In the list of 23 teachers, many have responsibility of teaching Std X.
The school comes under 215 Kasaba Peth legislative constituency. The additional election officer of the constituency, who is the tehsildar, has initiated the verification of the voter list. The job includes a survey, gathering of information and collecting of photographs of voters.
“RTE promises each child of this country that education is a fundamental right and each student should get a teacher,” Purandare said. “On the other hand, by giving some government act’s reference, the tehsildar has asked us to join election duty. These two things are contradictory and our students are suffering. If such deputation of teachers continues for government duties, we will have to think on how to run the school.”
The current election duty is restricted to a month, but as the constituency covers a major area in the heart of the city, teachers fear that the work will take at least five to six months.
“Our school has received the letter related to teachers’ election duty, but as we have not responded to the letter, they have issued a notice indicating they will act on us under the Representation of People Act 1951,” Suhas Deshpande, a Std X teacher of the school, said.
A famous history teacher from the school, Mohan Shete, said government officials were interacting with teachers in a very rude manner.
“We are in the teaching profession because we have passion for this field,” he said. “What is the point of being a teacher if one has to do clerical government duty?”
New English School is not the only school from where teachers were called on election duty. Many other aided schools from the city — most of them Marathi medium schools — have got similar orders.
Coming out in support of the Marathi medium schools in the city, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has raised the issue.
“We have requested deputy district election officer Apoorva Wankhede along with the State Education Director to look into the issue and give concession to schoolteachers as it will impact students’ academics,” MNS city chief Bala Shedge said.
Tehsildar and election officer, Kasba Peth constituency, Meenal Kalaskar, said: “The ongoing election duty is mandatory for government employees from all sectors, which includes teachers.
The New English School’s teachers have not responded to our letter to join duty, that’s why we have no choice but to send them a legal notice. I don’t have the exact number, but teachers from all aided schools from the city have been called on election duty. This duty is just for one month, which can be extended by the recommendation of the EC.”
MLC to talk to Collector
Bhagwan Salunke, an MLC from the Pune teachers constituency, said: “The principal of the school should approach the District Collector and request him that the number of teachers called on election duty should be restricted so that the academics of the school is not affected. I will personally talk to the Collector regarding this.”