Tyrant or taskmaster? AP teachers at wit's end with Praveen Prakash
Nothing escapes the officer's scrutiny: Textbooks, spellings, midday meals, and uniforms; it's stressful, say school staff
Praveen Prakash’s name evokes fear and terror among school teachers in Andhra Pradesh. His surprise visits to schools and their bitter consequences are peddled like horror tales. The way he springs on schools without notice, the commotion his convoy creates in villages, and his outburst in classrooms is seen by teachers not as an inspection but as a raid. Every school he ‘raided’ has a story to relate.
But there is another side to the picture. In the eyes of the general public, Prakash is a taskmaster struggling to make a badly damaged machine work. “Remember, it is difficult to tame a wild animal without a few violent moments,” said a businessman who watched a news clip of his visit to a school at Kadiri in Satya Sai district.
Prakash is not a school inspector nor is he a district educational officer (DEO). He is the Principal Secretary in the Department of School Education. What adds colour to the 1994 batch IAS officer’s aggressive behaviour is his proximity to Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.
He travels intimidatingly with a convoy of 10-15 cars — quite like the Chief Minister. His very entry into school premises terrorises the mostly meek primary school teachers. “It is difficult not to escape the wrath of this belligerent officer,” say many teachers.
Nothing escapes his scrutiny: textbooks, notebooks, workbooks, spellings, midday meals, quality of uniform, cleanliness of washrooms, and even purity of drinking water. He takes teachers, headmasters, educational officers, and DEOs to task in the classroom itself, in front of the stunned pupils.
Recently, during a visit to a residential school in north Andhra, he suspended the DEO, MEO, girl child development officer, and the principal on the spot for failing to supply some books to the students.
“This cannot be called inspection. He looks menacingly vindictive toward teachers. His objective seems to malign the teachers working in government schools,” a headmaster of a primary school near Anantapur told The Federal. He said teachers were bogged down by duties of upkeeping the school premises.
On August 23, the Andhra Pradesh Teachers Federation (APTF) urged the government to rein in Prakash and warned of mass leave if this wasn’t done. APTF President Ch Manjula and General Secretary K Bhanu Murthy said his “arbitrary and irrational behaviour” had created a fear psychosis among teachers across the state.
Similarly, Federation of Andhra Pradesh Teachers Organisation (FAPTO) president N Venkateswarlu condemned the suspensions and threatened an agitation if Prakash did not make amends for his conduct. The influential United Teachers Federation (UTF) sought the removal of Prakash from school education, accusing the IAS officer of causing mental trauma to the teachers.
Prakash always seems to find himself at the center of one controversy or the other. But he also has the knack to emerge unscathed.
Before joining the chief minister’s office as the all-powerful principal secretary in September 2019, he was the resident commissioner of Andhra Pradesh Bhavan in New Delhi. In CMO, he was so powerful that he used to override even chief secretaries.
At one point, he was slapped with a show-cause notice for insubordination to the chief secretary. In retaliation, as the person holding the post of principal secretary of the General Administrative Department as well, he transferred the chief secretary to an insignificant post, which led to his shunting to AP Bhavan in New Delhi again.
But he was soon brought back to Andhra Pradesh and posted first as principal secretary of transport and later as principal secretary of school education in 2022.
Teachers in Andhra Pradesh believe that the state government is implementing a vindictive policy through Prakash.
“The government doesn’t like teachers because they are well-organized and had stoutly opposed the PRC (pay revision commission) recommendations. They made the ‘million march’ protest in Vijayawada in February 2022 against the government a grand success. So, the government wants to kill their organizations by maligning and harassing them though they are not at fault,” said M Hrudaya Raju, President of another wing of APTF.
He warned that incessantly maligning government teachers will force parents to transfer their children to private schools.
Sirajuddin, a teacher leader from East Godavari, said inspections and instructions did not appear like steps intended to bring about improvement in the system. “The teachers are the most harassed community in the state. So, fearing backlash from them, the government is planning to keep teachers away from election duties,” he said.
This correspondent’s attempts to reach out to Prakash did not materialize.
The teachers, like the sarpanches of the state, are in a rebellious mood. But unfazed YSR Congress leaders claim that the chief minister’s educational welfare schemes like Amma Vodi, Jagananna Vidya Kanuka, Jagananna Gorumudda and Jagananna Vidya Deevan have created a bigger vote bank of beneficiaries than the number of teachers in the state.
“Prakash is trying to streamline the system. The general impression among the public is that government teachers do not work. The officer is only injecting discipline into the system in order to justify the budget spent on schools,” said a YSR Congress leader.