Shailendra Jain, S. S. Verma
Every year, there are elections and bye elections for different categories like Parliament, assembly, municipality and panchayat and for the sake of smooth conduct of these elections, most of the times, teaching and non-teaching staff of institutes and universities imparting higher education as well as technical education are put on election duty by election authorities, thus, students are left unattended for months, affecting their learning, growth and progress. The issue of teachers being assigned election duties is a topic widely debated across the country. Various teachers’ associations as well as heads of educational institutions all over India have cited this issue from time to time on account of the student’s education being hampered. The Supreme Court had also issued directives in the past asking for not assigning such responsibilities to teachers during their work hours. As per the 2007 order of the Supreme Court, teachers cannot be deployed in the election duty during working days and work hours but local district administration at the pretext of considering election duty as an emergency duty is always engaging teachers from universities/institutes/colleges/schools for the sake of conducting free, fair and smooth elections with the help of educated staff on duty saying that students syllabus and studies are not being hampered. However, ground reality is completely opposite than this and teachers who are deployed on election duty are not able to attend classes for many days.
It is not only in the case of people from higher education put on election duty which hampers imparting the time bound education inputs to students but same is true for school education system also. A report titled ‘Involvement of Teachers in Non-teaching Activities and its Effect on Education’ revealed that of the 220 days mandated by the Right to Education (RTE) Act, in 2015-16, just 42 days were spent on teaching. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act stipulated that classes I to V (primary) should have 200 working days and classes VI to VIII (upper primary) 220 working days per academic year, with a 45-hour work in a week. But the report showed that teachers spent 81% of their time in non-teaching activities, most of which went into election duty, including work as Block Level Officers (BLO), conducting polls and surveys in the election year. Due to frequent election duty of teachers, students are at receiving end. The election commission would do well if it could spare the teachers by replacing them with employees from other government departments. In 2016, HRD Ministry decided to undertake a study to assess time spent by teachers in non-teaching activities and its adverse impact on education. The study was announced to be carried out by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA). In 2019, the HRD Ministry sought to limit the deployment of teachers in election duty but still this practice is going on. Giving no heed to orders, recommendations and appeals of Supreme court and higher authorities in the Education Department, the civil administration had always gone ahead by deploying teaching and non-teaching staff of various educational institutes on election duties thus upsetting smooth functioning of these institutes. Despite the Right to Education (RTE) Act stating that teachers should not be assigned any non-educational duties that affects their focus on students, election authorities are always deploying teaching and non-teaching staff on election duties.
It is assumed and generally taken that teaching is an easy/moderate profession but teachers and administrative staff of higher education institutes face different day-to-day challenges towards imparting continuous practical and employable learning to students along with imbibing moral and ethical value through lead examples. Efforts should also be made to avoid putting the school level teachers in general and teachers from higher education institutes in particular on election duty. It is not that teachers (professors) of colleges and universities should not be put on election duty as they are more respectable or get higher salaries but consideration must be given to the education level as well as availability of limited time period in case of higher education system in general and technical education in particular. Based on the need of continuous evaluation system, teaching, lab experiments, examinations (minors and major) as regular part of higher education in the times, when teaching hours are almost squeezed to the maximum limit by UGC by introducing semester system as well as limited by compulsory and mandatory holidays, it becomes very difficult to cater to the needs of quality education by completing the specified theoretical and experimental knowledge to students when teaching and non-teaching staff of higher education institutes are put regularly on election duty.
With lots of promises made by election authorities to minimize the wastage of teaching hours, it is no exaggeration to say that election duty with its 3-4 compulsory rehearsals go far almost a month, thus, keeping the staff (teaching and non-teaching) away from classes for many days. Objection to election duties for employees by heads of academic institutes is never well taken by the election authorities. Requesting to various offices like UGC.
AICTE, Central/State Election Commissions, Local/District Election authorities has never resulted with any positive response. Many a time, this type of dictatorial behavior on the part of local election authorities have forced teachers unions to seek the legal directions from courts in this regard. Fully residential institutes further require continuous involvement of its teaching and non-teaching staff in day-to-day student activities along with teaching. So when staff from these institutes is put on election duty, there are difficulties in maintaining academic standards in different forms of institutional rankings in the country like NAAC, NBA, NIRF etc. which not only impact the graduate outcomes but also the new enrolments. Election duty not only hampers education standards but also dampen the spirit of teaching community when they are put to perform election duty under the supervision of people with much lower in terms of the job status, qualifications as well as age seniority. Pay scales, job status and seniority factors also very important to be taken into account when assigning the election duties.
The Central and State Governments should think of removing non-academic assignments, such as election duty, from the responsibilities of teaching and non-teaching staff of educational institutions in a view to improve the education quality in the country. However, giving due respect to the constitution of the country in terms of duty of a government employee and importance of election duty towards conducting free, fare and smooth elections in the country, the election commission of India or its subordinate organs like Returning officers of each district (DEOs) are hereby suggested with some measures in order to let the educational universities/ institutes/ colleges/schools to perform better and be able to impart quality and timely education to students.
* To train and prepare an unemployed graduate cadre for election duties (like other countries, aec.gov.au) at each district level which will give home guard-type employment to several graduates who are jobless as well as cater the needs of staff required on election duty. This will also create awareness among youth about elections and their responsibilities.
* Involvement of the teaching and non-teaching staff on Election duty on provision of priority level-I, II and III may be planned (60% +20% +20% employees).
* Election duties of staff on essential duties (around 20%) such as Director/ Registrar /Deans/ HoDs/Wardens/Medical staff etc. severely affect routine work/may lead to disciplinary issues, be exempted and may be deputed only in case of utmost urgency.
* Senior citizens (age 60+) be exempted taking into consideration their age old problems.
* Employees of central government institutes also face language problem in local election.
Shailendra Jain, S. S. Verma