“Teachers are the backbone of any country, a pillar upon which all aspirations are converted into realities.”
-Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
Article 21-A of the Constitution of India provides free and compulsory education to the children however, a fundamental question that arises is: what are the legislations protecting the rights of the teachers? With the widespread of the pandemic, a lockdown was imposed in the country under Section 2 the Epidemic and Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 which led to the ad-lib shift in the education system from offline teaching to online teaching. The online method of teaching was not very prevalent in India and the very concept of learning through the internet had emerged only a decade ago with the widespread of applications like YouTube. However, the pandemic led to unplanned shift in the education system, an unplanned development or shift always leads to complications and obstacles.
Unplanned shift in Education System: An incongruous action
With the evolution of technology and the spread of the pandemic, the society was forced to accept the new norm of online education. However, even after eight months of the pandemic and the emergence of online teaching, the rights of teachers have not been discussed. The pandemic resulted in an economic standstill and a recession in the country wherein many people lost their jobs and even the education sector was affected but soon the schools opened through various online platforms. There is no technical assistance for teachers and professors as many of them are old and are not familiar with the technology and the educational institutions failed to conduct sessions for making the familiar with the technology.
Further, the institutions have failed to pay salary salaries to the faculty even though full few is being taken from students. Recently, a petition has been filed before the Delhi High Court against the reduction of salary.[i]In another case, the Delhi High Court disposed of a petition filed on behalf NDMC teachers and ordered the schools to pay salaries which were due after the implementation of lockdown.[ii]The High court of Punjab recognized that, the effort in physically teaching students, in a regular classroom, cannot even remotely be compared with the effort that the teacher has to expand, in providing online education.[iii]Further, due to lack of legislation on the method of online learning, the working hours have become unprecedented as preparing assignments, papers, attending meeting, etc. has led to exploitation of teachers.
Article 21 A confers the duty on the state to provide free and compulsory education to all the children of six to fourteen years which signifies the importance of education. However, there is a lacuna in law about the protection of rights of teachers against the arbitrary actions of the schools. Article 19(1)(g) states that all citizens have the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business. Under Section 10(2)(1) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered that all the employers (in industry, shops or commercial establishment) shall make payments of their workers on the due date, without any reduction in their wages. However, the order was subsequently withdrawn by the government which led to no remedy for teachers. In Rashtriya Shramik Aghadi v. Maharastra[iv], the Bombay High Court held that the principle of “no pay, no work” cannot be applied in extraordinary circumstances like the pandemic and hence, in the present case, teachers are working and they have the right to earn wages as they did earlier. The Punjab High court allowed the school to collect 70% fees from the students and in exchange pay 70% wages to teachers.[v]
Need for Legislations in Pandemic:
COVID-19 led to unprecedented and unplanned changes in India, the legislature amended the century old act of the Epidemic Diseases Act under which powers were conferred over it to deal with the extraordinary circumstances. However, the act was not comprehensive and did not deal with any issues pertaining to education, labor laws, domestic violence, and other socio-economic issues that emerged as contemporary issues during the pandemic. Education is building block of the society and shapes the future of our country. It is necessary to draft a legislation for the rights of the students and teachers in pandemic at the earliest. With the introduction of the New Economic Policy by the government, there would be a demand for teachers who are well-versed in the subjects in order to meet the demand for teachers.
Comparative analysis of Legislation in pandemic between UK and India: The United Kingdom enacted its Coronavirus Act, 2020 which is a comprehensive legislation covering all the aspects in connection with COVID-19. It includes emergency registration of healthcare professionals, closure of educational institutions, proceeding in courts, restrictions on gatherings, punishment, and compensation during the pandemic. [vi]In India, there is a lack of implementation of a comprehensive legislation to combat the pandemic which has affected the world. However, according to the recent amendment in the epidemic act, amendments have been made for the rights of healthcare officials but no comprehensive legislation has been passed for the rights of teachers. Further, mental health of teachers has been compromised as no one has talked about the stress that the teachers are going through during this change.
Therefore, it is necessary of India to invoke or make amendment in the existing laws for the rights of teachers. Lack of research of rights of teachers in pandemic has led to the rise of exploitation of teachers by the schools and colleges. Various courts have recognized that the shift in online method of teaching is far more difficult and as AV Dicey stated, it is important to have a codified law in order to combat the arbitrary nature of the society.
By- Ishita Singh
[i] Plea in Delhi High Court Against salary cuts, Available at: https://www.ndtv.com/delhi-news/plea-in-delhi-high-court-against-salary-cuts-of-private-school-teachers-over-covid-2279992, Last accessed: 18th August 2020
[ii] Delhi High Court fumes over non-payment of salaries to teachers amid COVID-19 lockdown, Available at: https://zeenews.india.com/india/delhi-high-court-fumes-over-non-payment-of-salaries-to-teachers-amid-covid-19-lockdown-2292156.html, Last accessed: 18th August 2020
[iii]Independent Schools’ Association Chandigarh (Regd.) and Ors. vs. State of Punjab and Ors.MANU/PH/0466/2020
[v] Independent Schools’ Association Chandigarh (Regd.) and Ors. vs. State of Punjab and Ors.MANU/PH/0466/2020
[vi] India needs to enact a COVID law, Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/india-needs-to-enact-a-covid-19-law/article31529036.ece, Last Accessed:18th August 2020