When September 5 was celebrated as Teachers Day this year, the teachers of Tamil Nadu were given a ear-full of advice and their leaders were summoned on a contempt petition by a jugalbandi of two benches (both Chennai & Madurai). Their crime? The teachers, represented through various associations and in league with the government employees, formed an assortment of a federation (JACTTO-GEO) and called for an indefinite strike. The major demand seems to be the payment of pension without their personal contribution and an early implementation of 7th Pay Commission scales of pay.
Their strike coincided with the starting of quarterly examinations in schools all over Tamil Nadu. Already the climate in Tamil Nadu is surcharged with strife and torn due to the pro and anti-NEET stir.
The division bench, which was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by an advocate, granted a restraint order against the strike. They were of the view that a strike by a government servant was illegal and therefore they can be prevented from resorting to direct action. The employees led by their assorted federation continued to strike work which promptly made their leaders issued with contempt notice by the Madurai Bench of the High Court. To give them a sop the court also summoned the Chief Secretary to appear and explain the fate of the pension issue.
Another Judge of the Madras High Court once again raked up the issue of teachers’ performance and their need to have organisations to espouse their causes with outside leaders. When large sections of an organised group decide to boycott their work place, how far it is expedient for a court to intervene ? In fact, often, courts in India and abroad have maintained a hands-off policy from interfering in social actions, as if its order is more obeyed in its breach, then it can bring disrepute to the very institution itself.
The Madras bench, on finding that the social media was used by the friends and sympathisers of the strikers, has also initiated action to be taken against such FB/Twitter account holders. The Supreme Court, in the Shreya Singhal case, struck down (2015) Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, thereby bringing certain amount of relief to people who post matters on social media. Instead of multiplying issues, it is high time the court took a magnanimous view and drops further proceedings considering the response by the major stakeholders in returning to their work places.
While advising the strikers to return to their work sheds, will the court also initiate steps to resolve their fundamental issues? The stark economic realities in the present scenario and the blatant discriminatory measures adopted by the government in the issue regarding pension, is it enough to advise only one side? In fact, the Supreme Court, in one of its earlier rulings (2006), had given a shocking advice to teachers in the following words: “The position of the Guru, the teacher, in our ethos is equal to that of God (Matha Pitha Guru Daivam). The teachers of today must ensure that this great Indian concept and the reverential position they hold, is not sacrificed at the altar of avarice.” It is all right to have idealism, but will it give us our daily bread?
—The writer is Retd. Judge, MHC