By Francis Khongwar
Shillong (Meghalaya), Dec 13 : The newly floated political party , the “Voice of the People Party” today, December 13 strongly opposed the state Government’s notification barring teachers, lecturers and professors from holding office in any Political Organization or Local Bodies.
Speaking to the media after submitting a protest letter to the Chief Minister, Conrad K. Sangma, the President of the “Voice of the People Party”, Ardent M. Basaiawmoit said that he was shocked and anguished to learn that the state Government has taken this regressive step to bar intellectuals of the state from participating in political organizations, local bodies and to be involved in political activities.
In the letter, the newly formed political party informed the Chief Minister that the teaching community has immensely contributed to the welfare of the country and in particular the state of Meghalaya since its inception.
“Meghalaya was able to produce from the teaching community stalwarts in the political field. These included Prof G.G. Swell (who was instrumental for the establishment of NEHU in Shillong), Prof M.N. Majaw (who brought about the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, 1971- one of the finest legislations the Meghalaya State Legislative Assembly has ever enacted), Hoover Hynniewta (an eloquent Member of the 2nd Lok Sabha), Prof R.S. Lyngdoh (the first Speaker of Meghalaya Legislative Assembly), Prof Alexander Warjri, Prof Korbar Sing, Prof B. Pakem, Dr. B.R. Kharlukhi, Prof P.G. Marbaniang and others. These illustrious political leaders coming from the teaching profession were the pride of the people of the State. Besides, there have been many other political and community leaders coming from the teaching community who have contributed towards the political life of the state”, the letter said.
Terming the notification as ‘irrational”, Basaiwmoit said that the qualifications and service conditions of teachers in universities and colleges in the country are governed by the regulations notified by the University Grants Commission from time to time. Though the state government has the power to legislate on education, they should be framed in conformity to the UGC Regulations. In case of repugnancy between the central law/rule and the state law/rule, the state law/rule stands invalid to the extent of such repugnancy. Clause (1) of Article 254 of the Indian Constitution states, “If any provision of a law made by the Legislature of a State is repugnant to any provision of a law made by Parliament which Parliament is competent to enact, or to any provision of an existing law with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the Concurrent List, then, subject to the provisions of clause ( 2 ), the law made by Parliament, whether passed before or after the law made by the Legislature of such State, or, as the case may be, the existing law, shall prevail and the law made by the Legislature of the State shall, to the extent of the repugnancy, be void”.
The UGC regulations are applicable to all universities and colleges recognized by the UGC. While implementing the pay revision for university and college teachers, the Ministry of Education, Government of India expects the state government, universities and colleges under the control of the state government to implement all the conditions laid down in the UGC pay revision and the UGC Regulations issued from time to time as a composite scheme. The UGC vide clarification F.17-6/2013(PS/Misc) dated 09/2015 clearly specified that the UGC Regulations are mandatory in nature and that states are required to follow them in letter and spirit without any deviation therefrom, former Meghalaya Legislator Ardent M. Basaiawmoit said.
Basaiawmoit also referred to 18.07.2018 notification , where the UGC notified vide No. F.1-2/2017(EC/PS) the University Grants Commission (Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and other Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education) Regulations, 2018. Paragraph 17.0 of the 2018 Regulations deals with the Code of Professional Ethics of Teachers and at serial number (iv) of sub para VII of this paragraph states that teachers should “Perform the duties of citizenship, participate in community activities and shoulder responsibilities of public offices;” The term public office has been defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “an office created by a constitution or legislative act, having a definite tenure, and involving the power to carry out some governmental function”. Similarly, Collins English Dictionary defines public office as “Someone who is in public office is in a job that they have been elected to do by the public.” This clearly signifies that it is part of professional ethics of university and college teachers to be involved in politics.
He also added that on May 2019 the UGC made a decision that those teachers in Universities and Colleges who are elected as Members of Parliament or Members of State Legislature can continue their teaching while at the same time execute the functions as MPs and MLAs without the necessity of taking any kind of leave if they so desire. Even when taking leave, there should not be any break in their service.
It has been well established by the Division Bench of the Guahati High Court in WA. No. 14 of 2001, dated 07-12-2005 that employees in government aided educational institutions are not government employees. The Government of Meghalaya has always taken the position before the court of law that employees in government aided institutions are not government employees and that they are the employees of private management. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution guarantees to each and every Indian citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression; to assemble peaceably and without arms and the right to form association or union.
Since, employees of government aided educational institutions are not government employees, barring them from participating in election activities is a gross violation of their Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Clause (2) of Article 13 of the Indian Constitution states, “The State shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the rights conferred by this Part and any law made in contravention of this clause shall, to the extent of the contravention, be void”. It is shocking and unfortunate that the Government of the day willfully took such an unconstitutional and illegal decision abridging the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.
Teachers are the builders of the nations. Their contribution towards society do not remain confined to classrooms. Many of the teachers are also social workers. Any attempt to circumscribe teachers’ activities and contributions will have serious ramifications for the society at large and for the future generations.
It is high time that members of the teaching community reclaim their lost political space. The state at present feels the vacuum left by teachers and this is evident by the lack of quality political leadership and quality debates in the State Legislative Assembly.
In the light of the above facts, both historical and law, Basaiawmoit urged upon the Chief Minister to immediately withdraw the above mentioned order which is arbitrary and contrary to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and other legal provisions. “Rather, it is your responsibility and duty to create a conducive environment to enable the members of the teaching fraternity to perform their professional ethics towards the society as provided in the UGC Regulations of 2018”,. Basaiawmoit added.