Thiruvananthapuram: Five days after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan lied that the state government cleared arrears of 39 months of college teachers as part of the 7th UGC pay revision, his Finance Minister's wife, a college teacher, was in front of the Secretariat demanding not only the salary arrears but also the revised dearness allowance (DA) pending for 48 months.
Finance Minister K N Balagopal's wife Asha Prabhakaran, Assistant Professor of the Department of English at MG College, Thiruvananthapuram, was at the forefront of the day-long hunger strike organised by the All Kerala Private College Teachers' Association (AKPCTA) in front of the Secretariat on Saturday, December 2.
The association, affiliated to the ruling CPM, raised nine demands -- the first was "the state government should immediately release the DA denied to college teachers", the second was to "implement all the benefits that come with the 7th Pay Revision", and the last was asking "the Union government to release the Rs 750 crore arrears as part of the pay revision".
When contacted, Asha Prabhakaran said she took part in the protest as a member of the union. She, however, refused to comment further on the protest, asking Onmanorama to contact the president of AKPCTA. She is the convenor of the Women's Committee of AKPCTA.
To be sure, on November 4, her husband Balagopal told a news channel that the state government disbursed Rs 750 crore to college teachers as part of the UGC pay revision but the Union government was not reimbursing the money. "They (the union government) have to give but they never gave the money," Balagopal said. His factually incorrect statement went unchallenged in the one-on-one interview.
On November 27, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan repeated the incorrect statement at the Nava Kerala Sadas at Kozhikode's Thiruvambady. Onmanorama fact-checked the Chief Minister here.
The Union government agreed to reimburse 50% of the arrears provided the state government first disbursed the money to teachers, it said. The Union government closed the reimbursement scheme on March 31, 2022. The state government could not claim the benefit because it did not disburse the arrears.
Around 10,000 teachers of state universities, government, and government-funded colleges are likely to lose Rs 1,500 crore of arrears pending for 39 months from January 1, 2016, to March 31, 2019.
If the arrears are not paid, an Assistant Professor would lose Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000 per month and an Associate Professor would lose Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 per month, depending on their pay level.
AKPCTA state president Bijukumar K told Onmanorama that he did not understand why the Chief Minister and the Finance Minister made such statements. "I don't understand how they are interpreting it... The Chief Minister is saying the government has disbursed the arrears and the Union government is not reimbursing the money. But we have not got the arrears from 2016 to 2019," said Bijukumar, an assistant professor of the Department of Physical Education at MG College, Thiruvananthapuram.
He, however, said that the state government was not in a financial position to disburse the arrears without the Union government releasing the money first. "That is why we are protesting this way. This is our second protest (demanding arrears). We organised a similar protest in December 2022," he said.
To be sure, the organisation is officially demanding the Union government to release Rs 750 crore without mentioning that the state government has not released the money.
Another key demand of the organisation is the release of the dearness allowance, which is entirely the responsibility of the state government.
As of now, college teachers' are getting a dearness allowance of only 17% of their basic pay. "The state government employees are getting 25% DA and Central government employees are getting 46% DA. We (college teachers) should get at least 25% DA to bring parity with state government employees," said AKPCTA president Bijukumar. The college teachers' dearness allowance has not been revised since 2019.
The Congress-affiliated Kerala Private College Teachers' Association (KPCTA) blasted Bijukumar and his organisation for comparing college teachers' salaries with state government employees' salaries. "We are under UGC scheme and our DA should have been 46% of our basic salary. AKPCTA is misrepresenting facts," said Dr Premachandran Keezhoth, state General Secretary, KPCTA.
Since 2020, the Union government has increased the DA eight times -- twice every year -- from 17% to 46% in July 2023, he said. "The state government is duty bound to ensure college teachers get the same 46% DA," Keezhoth said.
The other demands of AKPCTA, which protested in front of the Secretariat, are to provide pensions to retired teachers as per the 7th Pay Revision, implement the recommendations of the Workload Committee, resolve service issues of junior lecturers, increase salaries of guest lecturers, resolve service issues of Arabic, Ayush, and engineering college teachers, and end communalisation and centralisation of education.