In a bid to ensure that the evaluation process begins on March 22 as per schedule, the Karnataka government is mulling to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against pre-university college lecturers who have announced to boycott evaluation work and stage an indefinite strike starting March 21, if the government doesn’t fulfil their demands.
According to the Act, any person who commences a strike, or instigates or incites other people to take part in an illegal strike, is liable to be punished with up to one year in prison or be fined ₹5,000.
The Karnataka Pre-University College Teachers Association (KPUCT) which announced the strike has demanded the government to check the pay disparity between PUC and degree college lecturers, to promote lecturers who have completed MPhil and PhD, and to stop early commencement of the next academic year to enable teachers to enjoy their summer holidays.
Some of the demands have been pending for long and the association has the habit of raising them just before evaluation process every year or ahead of elections, say sources.
“Our demands are genuine. We have been protesting since 1998, and we won’t be cowed down even if the government threatens to implement ESMA. Earlier, some of us were detained under the same provision and we are not going to give up unless our demands are met,” said KPUCT president Thimmaiah Purle. “About 26,000 lecturers at the state and district levels will participate in the strike,” he added.
But not everyone agrees with the association’s call. KK Upadhyaya of Sarojini Madhusudhan Kushe Pre-Univeristy College in Mangaluru said, “While the issues raised by the association are right, the timing is not correct. The association should have sorted the listed issues much before. Bringing it up during the evaluation time shows everyone in a bad light.”
“The pre-university teachers in Dakshina Kannada have decided not to be part of the strike,” he added.
According to the department of pre-university education data, there are 1,202 government pre-university colleges, 637 aided pre-university colleges, 1,936 unaided pre-university colleges, 165 bifurcated pre-university colleges and 13 corporation pre-university colleges in the state.
The strike will affect over 6 lakh students who appear for exams.
Though the association members are confident that that the government may not make any announcement as the model code of conduct is in place, they expect the bureaucracy to acknowledge their concerns and address the demands through deliberation.
Meanwhile, Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Tanveer Sait, assured that the government would talk to the association members next week and sort out the issues.
In 1998, lecturers participating in a similar protest were arrested and sent to prison after the government invoked ESMA against them. In 2016, the college lecturers again staged an 18-day protest and it ended only when primary and secondary education minister Kimmane Rathnakar assured them of a solution.
Earlier this year, the association members sought the intervention of the Chief Minister to get their concerns addressed. However, it was not taken up on a priority basis.