People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 06, 2009



                   College and University Teachers'

                   45-Day Strike Ends in Success


Sudhir Paranjape


ALL the ten non-agricultural universities in Maharashtra and their affiliated colleges remained shut for 45 days since July 14, 2009 as more than 30,000 teaching staff of these institutes struck work following the call for indefinite strike given by the Maharashtra Federation of University and College Teachers� Organisations (MFUCTO). This strike action had been foisted on the teachers by the callous and belligerent attitude adopted by the state higher education department on the implementation of the Composite Pay Revision Scheme. This scheme was finalised by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and adopted with modifications by the human resources development (HRD) ministry of the central government for college and university teachers throughout the nation. Indeed, as early as December 2008, the HRD ministry had sent out specific instructions to all state governments, including Maharashtra, regarding the implementation of this scheme. It had stated that 40 per cent out of the 80 per cent  financial assistance from the centre could be availed before March 31, 2009 if the instructions about its implementation were adhered to. This was followed up by a reminder by the central government in February, 2009.


Unfortunately, the IAS lobby in the Department of Higher and Technical Education, government of Maharashtra, had other plans. Despite the then minister for higher education in the state making a categorical statement on the floor of the legislative council that the HRD-UGC scheme (which was then being finalised) would be implemented fully and �as soon as� it was received from the centre, it was not done. This assurance was extracted from the minister due to the vigilance of Professor B T  Deshmukh a veteran leader of the MFUCTO and the longest standing elected member of the state�s legislative council who is affectionately called �BT bhau� by the entire teaching fraternity for his yeoman service to the teachers.


After the failure of all attempts at persuasion, on April 19, 2009, the executive committee of the MFUCTO unanimously adopted the resolution to launch a series of protest actions which would culminate in an indefinite cease work action, if the government did not heed to the genuine demands.


There was a simmering discontent among teachers at all levels of education in Maharashtra due to the gross injustice done to the primary, secondary and higher secondary teachers by the P A Hakeem Pay Review Committee of the government. It gave far lower pay bands and grade pay to the teachers in Maharashtra vis-a-vis their counterparts at the centre on the specious plea that their numbers in the state were far greater than those under the centre. The MFUCTO was the first to come out with a well planned program of action which received enthusiastic response of the college and university teachers who were then busy with examinations and related duties. The atmosphere had therefore become quite charged even before the start of the new academic calendar in mid-June.


A dharna of all teachers from KG to PG levels was held on June 8 in Mumbai in which hundreds of teachers assembled at Azad Maidan to vent their anger against the government�s apathy and anti-teacher stance. From this dharna, a resounding call was given by the teachers for sikshan bandh (educational shutdown) on July 14, 2009 which was to coincide with the commencement of the indefinite cease work action of the MFUCTO.




Although the charter of demands submitted to the government along with the strike resolution adopted on April 19 listed 32 demands, it was clear from the outset that among the main demands that had to be resolved through the strike were the following:


a)                 Implementation of the Composite Pay Revision Scheme of the UGC finalised by the HRD ministry through its circular dated December 31, 2008

b)                Issues arising out of wrongful application of requirement of passing the NET/SET examination to teachers appointed between 1991 and 1999

c)                 The leave package finalised by the UGC

d)                Resolving problems of Engineering and social work colleges


Arguably, the issue of NET/SET affected teachers was the most vexed of all, because the government had since 1996, blocked the career advancement prospects of thousands of teachers in Maharashtra. A policy decision was needed to rectify the situation. The plethora of court cases and verdicts during the intervening 10-15 years added to its complexity. Professor B T Deshmukh exposed the doublespeak of the education department using the forum of the legislative council. The crux of the argument has been that the NET/SET was introduced by the government of Maharashtra through a �legal instrument� in the year 1999. It would then follow that those appointed between 1991 and 1999 ought not to be covered by the requirement of passing the NET/SET examination for being appointed as lecturers.


The MFUCTO held demonstrations in each of the ten university headquarters and yet again submitted memoranda to the chief minister and higher education minister reaffirming the charter of demands and resolution to proceed on indefinite cease work from July, and called for their immediate intervention.


The government of Maharashtra however had no time to meet the MFUCTO to find an amicable solution to their demands. The indefinite cease work therefore started from July 14 � the day on which all other organisations of teachers had also declared their one day educational shutdown programme. This was a phenomenal success, both in its scale and intensity. Teachers from all sectors of education held militant demonstrations. The college teachers strike was also total and resulted in all work grinding to a halt in colleges as well as the universities. Even routine meetings had to be postponed.


The impact on the government was there for all to see. On the very next day, the MFUCTO was invited for talks by the minister for higher education, Rajesh Tope. However, the talks remained inconclusive. Simultaneously, the government was stonewalling the demands of the Coordination Committee for parity with the centre on HRA and TA on the ground of entailing unbearable financial burden.




The government of Maharashtra had not only reneged on the salary structure of teachers under its jurisdiction, but also on the allowances such as House Rent Allowance and Travelling Allowance which it had decided to freeze at the rates that were being paid in the unrevised pay structure. On both counts, this was  a complete reversal of the guarantee given by the state government in 1977 after a prolonged 54 days� strike � and honoured for the last 32 years - that all pay and allowances would be paid at central rates. The same Coordination Committee of State Government Employees and Teachers� Organisations gave a call for indefinite strike from August 4, 2009 demanding for allowances on par with the centre and implementation of Sixth Pay Commission scales for teachers as per recommendations of the committee headed by Justice Srikrishna.


At this juncture, some within the MFUCTO had argued that precedence should be given to the united struggle along with the government employees, and the MFUCTO should link its indefinite cease work with the action of the Coordination Committee. However, since the focus of the MFUCTO struggle and the main demands were not the same, the majority view prevailed that the MFUCTO should remain on the course charted in its resolution of April 19, 2009. Only the previous year (2008) a similar strike mobilisation had come to naught when it was withdrawn one day before start of the strike on trivial assurances.


Indeed, on the eve of their strike, on August 3, after negotiations with the chief minister and deputy chief minister, the Coordination Committee called off its strike on the assurance that HRA and TA would be paid at central rates but from August 2009 and not 2008 as was given to central government employees. No headway could be made on the salary structure of teachers. Wisdom of hindsight shows that the college and university teachers could clinch their issues to a large extent through their independent struggle while the secondary teachers are still awaiting resolution of their issues after the withdrawal of strike by the wider Coordination Committee.




The MFUCTO executive committee intensified the cease work, and held a jail bharo before Independence Day to demand intervention by the chief minister and break the impasse. The teachers responded in big numbers to the jail bharo programme with over 10,000 courting arrest in each of the ten universities. To make its position known to the public, the MFUCTO was also compelled to bring out an advertisement using its struggle fund to expose the government�s chicanery. The education department responded with a churlish advertisement which further exposed its sinister designs and revealed that it was willing to forego the 80 per cent financial assistance to push through its plans.


Simultaneously, in another development, pained by the flouting of legislative norms and helplessness shown by the ministers in owning up their assurances on the floor of the House, Professor B T Deshmukh, the senior most elected member with over 30 years� legislative experience, tendered his resignation to the chairman of the legislative council. His resignation sent shock waves throughout the political establishment and highlighted the disdain shown by the bureaucracy towards democratic institutions and elected representatives.


The chief minister met a delegation of the MFUCTO, and informed them that he was personally convinced about the correctness of the demands put forth by the MFUCTO. That was on the 35th day of the cease work. It took ten more days after that, not counting the delays on account of swine flu and the Ganapati festival! This will give an idea of how hard was the bargaining that the MFUCTO was engaged in.


During this period the education department tried its utmost to break the strike by various means. It had brought out the Government Resolution for revised scales after the jail bharo hoping that teachers would abandon the MFUCTO. But the GR was so poorly drafted that it was open to all sorts of interpretations, and instead of being an expression of the government�s decision, it declared that it would be �subject to� the decision to be taken by the government! It also contained toxic clauses not found in any of the pay revision GRs for any section, either at the central or state levels. The department also issued blatant threats of punitive action for joining the strike and fed selected media with vituperative propaganda. The most vicious of these came in the last three days even as the negotiations were in progress and drawing to a close.




Braving all threats, warnings and inducements, the teachers stood firmly with the MFUCTO. Moreover, the teachers maintained their impregnable unity throughout the strike, cutting across various shades of political opinions and other differences. During the last three days of almost continuous negotiations which took nearly 22 hours, the chief minister directed the chief secretary to also remain personally present to assist with the negotiations which were being stalled by the top brass of the higher education department. The minister of higher education had veered around to the teachers� side on most issues except the NET/SET issue on which he pleaded his helplessness. The MFUCTO had to therefore relent on this issue and accept a proposal that their cases will be referred to the UGC for obtaining exemptions, and for which a four member committee with two representatives from the MFUCTO would be constituted.


The last day of strike witnessed the most intensive effort to remove the toxic provisions in the GR. An alien phrase of �being lawfully recruited� was removed only after both the CM and the chief secretary snubbed the principal secretary of education department who had inserted it in the GR, to, in his own words, keep the NET/SET affected teachers out of the purview of pay revision. The need to have this offending clause removed was essential not only to safeguard the interests of the NET/SET affected teachers, but also prevent its misuse on other teachers, and indeed other sections of employees as well.


Because of the intensity and strength of the cease work, the revised pay structure of the HRD ministry was restored in the final draft of the GR issued by the government, without altering as much as a comma or a full stop.


The question of payment of arrears in the event that the central government did not contribute 80 per cent grant was also clinched in this phase. It was possible mainly because of the resolve of the striking teachers to hold on until the very end. The state government will now pay 80 per cent arrears even if the central government does not give its share.


Similarly, benefits such as casual leave, study leave, etc. which are superior to those enjoyed by the government employees will be retained as per the existing statutes of the respective universities. Furthermore, the agreement contains a separate paragraph for the colleges of engineering and social work, to ensure that they too will get the benefit of pay revision.


Regarding the no victimisation clause, the education department first pretended ignorance of any vindictive action on their part. But when confronted with copies of the circulars, they sheepishly agreed to withdraw them and it was duly inserted in the agreement.


The icing on the cake came with the government agreeing to pay the strike period salary, which will be given after compensating the lost days according to the timetable to be framed by the concerned vice chancellors. This makes the agreement even sweeter because that salary will be drawn in the revised pay bands and grade pay that were hitherto the sole preserve of the IAS lobby.


Notwithstanding the bluster carried out in a section of the media, and the official TV Channel, the striking teachers in Maharashtra are jubilant over their victory and are returning to the colleges with their heads held high! It is a testimony to the maturity of the teachers as well as the MFUCTO, who have wrested three of the last four pay revisions from the government with epic struggles!