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Tug of War Between Niti Aayog & ECI Over Teachers' Duty at Poll Booths

The communication between the two bodies took place much ahead of the declaration of Lok Sabha polls. The letter by chief executive officer Amitabh Kant was sent to the chief election officer OP Rawat in June, 2018.

Eram Agha | News18.comEramAgha

Updated:March 16, 2019, 2:31 PM IST
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Tug of War Between Niti Aayog & ECI Over Teachers' Duty at Poll Booths
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New Delhi: The government think tank Niti Aayog and the Election Commission of India had a difference in opinion regarding the “non-deployment of teachers as Booth Level Officers.”

The communication between the two bodies took place much ahead of the declaration of Lok Sabha polls. The letter by chief executive officer Amitabh Kant was sent to the chief election officer OP Rawat in June, 2018.

News18 has the copy of the letter that emphasizes on the need of “non deployment of teachers as BLOs.” After receiving the letter, the Election Commission of India responded in July 2018 saying that this communication from Niti Aayog is “unwarranted.”

The letter assumes importance as the country prepares for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls starting from April 11, 2019, which has been dubbed as the biggest ever election in world history. There are 900 million registered voters in India, out of which 15 million are aged 18-19.

Contents of the letter

The communication starts with the observation by Kant that while “interacting with chief secretaries of some states in the context of educational learning outcomes, it was brought to my notice that deployment of teachers in non-teaching activities is one of the reasons of poor learning outcomes and academic environment,” he wrote.

He emphasized that in particular, “Deployment of teachers as Booth Level Officers leads to long absenteeism from classroom activities and provides needless alibi for truancy among teachers.”

According to the Section 13 (b) (2) of the Representation of People’s Act, the personnel who can be used as Booth Level Officer (BLO) under section 13 (b) (2) of the Representation of People’s Act include teachers, anganwadi workers, patwari, amin, lekhpal, panchayat secretary, village level workers, electricity bill readers, postmen, auxiliary nurses and midwife, health workers, mid-day meal workers, contract teachers, corporation tax collectors and clerical staff in urban areas.

Kant mentioned in the letter, “the Election Commission of India is of the view that the chief election officer of the state decides who is to be enlisted under section 13 (b) (2) of the Representation of People’s Act as Booth Level Officer.”

Consequent upon the passing of the Right to Education (RTE) Act in 2009, the ministry of human resource development issued a letter to all education secretaries issuing guidelines under section 35 (1) of the RTE Act as follows: “Duties relating to election to the local authority or state legislatures or Parliament relate to conduct of elections and the consequent deployment of teachers on days of polling and counting, the time spent on training imparted to them and collection of election material for such deployment.” (Part A)

The Act further states, “All other duties relating to electoral roll revisions will be undertaken on holidays and during non-teaching hours and non-teaching days.” (Part B)

Kant pointed out, “While there is no denying the fact that school teachers like all other employees must indeed be deployed for Part A duties but it is our considered view that we should avoid deploying the teachers as BLOs under section 13(b) (2) of the RPA Act for (part B) work.”

Suggestion made by NITI AAYOG

The chief electoral officer guided by precedent in this regard, added that since there exists past precedent it would be difficult for them to take suo-moto action in this regard and that too on a coordinated basis across states. “It would therefore be desirable that Election Commission of India may consider issuing guidelines to CEOs to mandatorily exempt teachers from being deployed as BLOs,” adds Kant in the letter.

EC CALLS IT UNWARRANTED

Acknowledging the receipt of the letter, the principal secretary of ECI Standhope Yuhlung on the direction of the CEO wrote that the Commission is aware of the contents of Right to Education Act 2009 and the subsequent guidelines issued by MHRD.

ECI principal secretary wrote in response, “Since the Constitution of India under Article 324 has vested the role of superintendence, direction and control of elections in the Election Commission, it would be for the Commission to take a final call in the administration and management of elections and a communication of the nature sent by you in unwarranted.”

News 18 contacted Rawat, but there was no response.

What the numbers say?

The issue of teachers spending time in non-teaching activity has been looked into by the MHRD. Last year, News 18 reported about the ‘Involvement of Teachers in Non-teaching Activities and its Effect on Education’, which was prepared by National Institute of Education Planning and Administration (NIEPA), an autonomous body under the ministry of human resource development. They conducted the study in select states under Vineeta Sirohi and Manju Narula of the department of educational administration. The states covered were Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Orissa and Uttarakhand.

The report revealed that teachers spend just 19.1% of their working hours in teaching activity. In remaining time, they are involved in election duties, carrying out surveys, pulse polio campaigns and maintaining mid-day meal registers.

The teachers were asked to recall their activities in the mentioned year. It came to light that 81% of their time was spent as Block Level Officers (BLOs), conducting surveys and duties in the election year.

The NIEPA report stated that of the 220 days mandated by the Right to Education (RTE) Act, just 42 days were spent on teaching in 2015-16.

Under the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, classes I to V (primary) should have 200 working days and classes VI to VIII (upper primary) 220 working days per academic year, with a 45-hour work in a week.
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