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Teacher trials: 25 years of toil and tears
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For thousands of candidates from the 1998 District Selection Committee batch, the pursuit of a Secondary Grade Teacher position turned into a 25-year ordeal in Andhra Pradesh. The controversy over the State government prioritising ‘merit over reservation’ has only added insult to injury, finds P. Sujatha Varma

September 22, 2023 09:06 am | Updated 09:06 am IST - Vijayawada

DSC-1998 qualified candidates protest against the inordinate delay in their appointments, at Dharna Chowk in Vijayawada

DSC-1998 qualified candidates protest against the inordinate delay in their appointments, at Dharna Chowk in Vijayawada | Photo Credit: G.N. Rao

It was a bittersweet experience for Annam Jayalakshmi when she received the appointment order for the coveted position of a Secondary Grade Teacher (SGT) in Pedaprolu Mandal Parishad School under Mopidevi mandal in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh only 19 days before her retirement.

“I felt a sense of pointlessness. It came too late to be useful to me,” Jayalakshmi recounts. She joined her new role on April 14 when the clock was already ticking towards her last working day — April 30.

Jayalakshmi is one of the 4,072 qualified job-seekers from the District Selection Committee (DSC)-1998 batch in A.P. who finally secured teacher posts this April after a gruelling 25-year battle. Over the years, some of the candidates have passed away or retired. However, most faced untold hardships during this period, amplifying their desperation for a resolution that eluded them.

The issue dates back to 1998 when the then government of A.P. announced a notification for approximately 35,000 teacher posts to fill SGT vacancies, triggering a saga of recruitment delays and legal challenges.

In September last year, the Commissioner of School Education requested the approval of the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government to appoint 4,534 teachers on a ‘Minimum Time Scale’ (contract) basis. At that time, however, only 3,620 vacancies were available for the DSC-1998 candidates, leaving 914 candidates to seek employment in other educational institutions across various government departments until positions became available in the School Education Department.

While the government approved the proposal, it said the appointment of DSC-1998 candidates was a unique case based on “exceptional circumstances” and “given on humanitarian grounds” and should not be seen as a precedent.

This development initially brought hope to the candidates, but of the 6,754 candidates who underwent the recruitment process, including certificate verification, appointment letters were given to only 4,072, primarily from the Open Category (general). As a result, 2,326 candidates from Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) and Backward Classes (BC) backgrounds were left high and dry. The department’s decision to prioritise merit over reservation for filling teacher vacancies sparked public outcry.

Clock ticking

Like Jayalakshmi, a candidate from Chittoor district, was said to have turned 60 the day he received his appointment order. Another candidate, Venkata Siva Reddy, from Yellutla village of Gurramkonda mandal, also in Chittoor district, retired 18 days after being appointed.

August 31 was the last working day for U. Krishna Bhavani at the Mandal Parishad Upper Primary School at Vibhareetalapadu village of Chandarlapadu mandal in NTR district—she could work there for just three months. Similarly, P. Venkateswara Rao, who joined duty on June 24 this year at the government school in Kapileswarapuram village in Pamidimukkala mandal of Krishna district, is due for retirement on September 30. “There is no point in complaining about lost time. The least the government can extend to us is a pension,” he says.

The issue of pension has been raised by teacher union leaders time and again, too, but a retired Jayalakshmi, who has shifted to her native place in Avanigadda in Krishna district, speaks for many others when she says she has no hope. “I was desperate for the SGT job when my husband incurred huge financial losses in his business. We have seen terrible times. Things would have been different if I had this job then,” she says wryly.

But teachers like Kodavalli Gideon Raju, who was officially appointed on April 13 this year as an SGT at Vakkalagadda Mandal Parishad Elementary School in Challapalli mandal of Krishna district, insist on seeing the brighter side. “Instead of feeling upset, I want to make a difference in the lives of these rural students in the 100-odd days I have with them,” he says. Raju will retire on September 30 this year.

Manikyam, Pratima, Subramanya Sarma, and Relangi Anitha, all from East Godavari district in A.P., say they are thankful that Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has finally fulfilled a promise made by his late father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. “This came at a time when most of us had given up hope and had almost resigned to our fate,” says Sarma.

25 years of torment

The notification issued in 1998 for approximately 35,000 teacher posts to fill SGT vacancies set the minimum qualifying mark at 50 for the Open Category (OC), 45 for Backward Classes (BC), and 40 for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) applicants.

Candidates were invited for interviews, and the final selection hinged on their performance in both a written test, accounting for 85 marks, and an interview carrying 15 marks. However, given a shortage of qualified applicants for the available vacancies, the government issued an order on May 18, 1998, reducing the cut-off mark for the written exam to 45 for OCs, 40 for BCs, and 35 for SCs/STs.

Several candidates who secured marks in line with the initial order were not given preference as the final list was prepared according to the revised cut-off mark, which also took into account their performance in the interview. Thus, it started a series of protests, with many seeking legal recourse. Many summers passed, and governments changed, but the issue remained unresolved.

The case of 57-year-old Allaka Kedareswara Rao highlights the plight of unemployed teacher aspirants in the State. His photographs—in old, shabby clothes and dishevelled hair—published in many local newspapers captured public attention.

After completing an M.A. in English and B.Ed, he cleared DSC in 1998. The 25-year delay and financial distress, coupled with his mother’s death, added to Rao’s misery, after which he says he slipped into depression. Waiting endlessly for a job, he even decided against marriage.

To make ends meet, he started vending inexpensive clothes, moving from one village to another on a bicycle. Luck smiled on him, albeit belatedly, and he was one of the candidates selected for recruitment last year.

That age is catching up is a cause of worry for many. “After experiencing a prolonged phase of unemployment, we have been absorbed in government services at an age when most of us have become grandparents,” says Dasari Suryanarayana, who received his appointment order a few months ago.

For those nearing retirement age, health issues and financial concerns add to the complexity of their situation. “At this age, instead of planning how to manage our time, we are focused on managing our depleting energy reserves. A long commute to the workplace is not only physically exhausting but is also burning a hole in my pocket,” says J. Sairam Prasad, 57, who was appointed to the government school in Girijan Colony of Kapuluru village of Naidupeta mandal in Nellore district. His family stays 280 km away, in Vijayawada, where he had settled 35 years ago.

“Instead of considering the native place, postings should have been given based on the residential address mentioned on the Aadhaar card,” he says. As the daily commute took a toll on Prasad’s health, he was forced to leave his family behind and relocate to Nellore, where he now stays all by himself, sans the social networks he is used to.

On the warpath

A section of less fortunate DSC-1998 candidates continues to protest at Dharna Chowk in Vijayawada, holding placards and raising slogans of “Jagananna, maa sangathi emiti cheppu? (Jagan anna, what about us?)”. They are on a 10-day relay hunger strike.

They constitute 2,325 aspirants, mostly from the SC/ST and BC categories, who made it to the final round of interviews both times, in 1998 and in 2022, but are waiting to hear from the Directorate of School Education about their recruitment status.

Their appointment was set aside for the second time in June this year when the government asked the DSC-1998 qualified candidates willing to join as ‘contract’ teachers to apply but did not implement the rule of reservation in recruitment. The agonising lapse of significant time has changed the course of their lives.

Chamanchi Rajasekhar, a 49-year-old BC candidate from Giddaluru village in Sanjamala mandal of Kurnool district, says he is struggling without a job. “I resigned from a private sector job I had found with great difficulty and rushed back home from Hyderabad to attend the counselling session when I learnt about the recruitment of our batch,” he says. Alleging irregularities in the recruitment process, he adds, “Candidates who did not even appear for interview were given the job.”

Mary Suhasini, 50, another BC candidate, also says she quit her job in Hyderabad and rushed to attend the interview in the neighbouring State. “Just the day before the scheduled interview, I came to know that the rule of reservation was not being implemented. Not even 50 BC candidates have been recruited from across the State. We would have been spared this injustice if the government fulfilled its promise of making appointments till the last qualified rank,” she rues.

Almost every aspirant from the reserved categories has a similar story to share—about facing apathy and neglect and how they were pushed into poverty, something that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated.

‘No need for reservation’

Officials maintain that the rule of reservation need not be applied since candidates are appointed as ‘special cases’. They say it is “technically not possible” to follow the roster system prepared 25 years ago. “We have recruited the 4,000-plus candidates as per government orders,” says the commissioner of school education, S. Suresh Kumar.

While the protesting job aspirants are clinging to the last shreds of hope, MLC from Progressive Democratic Front K.S. Lakshmana Rao and State secretary of Kula Vivaksha Vyatireka Porata Sangham (Anti-Caste Discrimination Struggle Committee) Andhra Malyadri have taken up the cause of the rejected candidates.

“The government says this round of recruitment is done on humanitarian grounds and leaves out candidates belonging to the marginalised communities. What kind of justice is this?” asks Malyadri.

They say they are determined to take their fight to its logical end. “The government should absorb the remaining 2,326 candidates to complete the recruitment cycle for the DSC-1998 batch,” avers Lakshmana Rao.

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