Column | PM Modi orders crack down on proxy teachers in northern states

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked north Indian states, especially Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, to tackle the menace of impersonation of teachers in village schools.

Alarmed by the feedback that implementation of the New Education Policy will be hampered as many permanent teachers of these schools hardly turn up at the schools, the PM wants the state governments to find ways to stop the practice of proxy teachers. His suggestion to the chief secretaries at a national conference was that the photographs with identity details of permanent teachers posted to a government school should be displayed in classrooms. Thus, if the teacher who comes to take class does not tally with the face in the photograph, vigilant villagers can report the matter to the education department through their telephones.

Senior officials say Modi's call four years ago for villagers to take photographs of potholes and other shoddy work under the Prime Minister's Village Road Scheme had a massive impact as thousands of photographs were received. Engineers and contractors were held responsible for the poor work, and road conditions improved. The phone-in message was widely conveyed through television and social media so that WhatsApp images flooded the prime minister's portal.

Rackets active in small towns

But sending proxies is a widespread phenomenon in north Indian states. Government workers, including teachers, posted to places they do not like, send substitutes to take their places, for payments which are a fraction of the salary. As unemployment is very high in tier-three and tier-four towns, finding these proxies is easy, and there are identification centres which issue suitably altered identity cards for clients for use in place, especially where there are no superior officials or large number of colleagues.

This problem is endemic in schools and primary health centres which have either single teachers or doctors and even where there are three or four employees posted. Since public vigilance is poor, even if there are four employees, they arrange to skip the school or health centre by turns, while keeping leave letters ready with colleagues in case there is a sudden inspection, which itself is rare. But schools and primary health centres are hardly monitored by anyone and villagers in many small places are busy with their livelihood issues, that it hardly matters whether the man who comes and opens the school is the permanent teacher posted to that particular school.

Poor vigil behind widespread phenomenon

There are more than 58 lakh teachers in government and government-aided schools and monitoring them is difficult. Once there was a report from Jharkhand that education department officials posted in Maoist areas themselves had substitutes to mark attendance as the officials spent time more safely in district headquarters.

A Bihar minister had once conceded that many of the primary health centre doctors and nurses were doing other work, including agriculture, and hence attended the government clinic once in a month. But even convicted prisoners and undertrial prisoners also employ proxies to spend time in jails, with the connivance of police and jail staff in many districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. If a landlord or a big businessman is sent to jail, he would look for sending a substitute to the jail, and offer to take care of the family.

Representational image.

But the Uttar Pradesh prison department recently announced introduction of biometric identification at jails and regular raids and the measure has eliminated impersonation. But the corruption among jail staff had come to light in Karnataka recently when DIG D Roopa had said how lax was the procedure in Bangalore's high-security prison and that V K Sasikala, high-profile prisoner and associate of late AIADMK leader and Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa, might have gone out of the prison without proper permission. The prisons minister of Punjab four years ago had lamented that notorious gangsters were substituted by proxies and he had to suspend several prison officials.

Remedial measures, challenges

Will placing the photographs of permanent teachers alone help in ensuring that they attend the school every day and do their pedagogic work? The important suggestion of PM Modi has to be accompanied by better motivation of teachers themselves, improved supervision by the education department all the way and concern among parents that their child gets the right teacher. But state after state is reporting scandals in teachers recruitment itself. The Calcutta High Court has ordered termination of 273 primary school teachers who were recruited against norms. Haryana government is pursuing more teacher recruitment scandals, even though the state's former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala and several officials were convicted for a recruitment scam when he was in power.

The Uttar Pradesh government moved against the senior officials of a state government university for examination-related scandals, including allowing proxies to sit for examinations instead of the regular students. Modi himself may need to devote time to convince key states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana, which have NDA governments, to clean the school stables and remove the impersonators.

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