A Supreme Court order on March 29 cancelled the appointment of more than 10,000 government school teachers in Tripura, saying appropriate recruitment procedures had not been followed. It has prompted opposition parties to call for the resignation of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and left the state on edge.

Fears of a backlash to the verdict led to police and paramilitary deployment being beefed up in all district headquarters. The state is set to go to polls early next year, and the apex court order, which upholds a 2014 verdict of the Tripura High Court, may have far-reaching political implications in the state, analysts believe.

At the high court

In December 2013, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) government had hired 10,323 teachers at various levels. The government had then claimed that jobs were given on the basis of “merit” and “need” through an open-interview process. No written tests were conducted. More than 1 lakh people had reportedly applied for these jobs.

Soon after, in early 2014, several rejected candidates filed a petition in the Tripura High Court, challenging the recruitment process followed. The petitioners alleged that government had violated provisions of the Right to Education Act and not followed the guidelines framed by the National Council for Teachers’ Education for the recruitment of teachers while selecting the candidates. The candidates who were selected did not have the necessary qualifications, alleged the petition, seen by Scroll.in.

The Attorney General of Tripura in the High Court conceded that National Council for Teachers’ Educations’ guidelines were not followed, but insisted that the court examine the case on “humanitarian” grounds. The state government argued that the recruitment was done on the basis of the state government’s hiring policy framed in 1978 by the first Left-front government in the state.

The attorney general urged the court to allow a one-off exemption given the urgency of the matter; a redrawing of the entire process would take a lot of time. Schools in Tripura, the government contended, were plagued by a shortage of teachers, prompting it to stick with the old recruitment policy.

The high court bench, however, refused to relent. It ruled in favour of the petitioners and was stinging in its rebuke of the state government. “We find that there was no systematic approach by the interview committee,” the bench said. “Everything was left to the whims and fancies of the interview committee. Candidates who were much better qualified were rejected while candidates much lower is merit have been selected.”

It also asked the government to frame a new recruitment policy.

Objection overruled

After the high court order, the Tripura government approached the Supreme Court, where it filed a special leave petition challenging the former’s verdict on “humanitarian grounds”.

On March 29, when the Supreme Court upheld the high court’s order, it said that the 10,000-odd teachers could continue working till December 31, 2017. The court instructed the state government to start a new recruitment process by May 31 and complete it by December 31, in accordance with the rules laid down by the National Council of Educational Research and Training.

In a breather to the state government, though, the court has allowed teachers who were selected in the previous recruitment drive to take part in the new process.

‘Manik Sarkar should resign’

The Supreme Court’s judgment has led to opposition parties in Tripura clamouring for the resignation of Manik Sarkar, chief minister of the state since 1998.

“If Manik Sarkar has any shame, he should quit immediately,” said Biplab Deb, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Tripura. Deb said the entire episode reeked of a “massive scam”, and warranted a Central Bureau of Investigation enquiry. “If certain undeserving people got jobs, it clearly means there was corruption,” said Deb, adding that in the next few days the party would step up agitations against Sarkar if he did not resign voluntarily.

The BJP, which has established itself as the chief opposition party in the state in recent times, has promised the benefits of the Seventh Pay Commission to all government employees in Tripura, if it comes to power next year.

This is not the first time that appointments by the Left government have been shot down by courts. Last year, the Tripura High Court cancelled the appointment of 34 assistant professors of Agartala Government Medical College for alleged irregularities in the recruitment process.

The Trinamool Congress’s Sudip Roy Barman accused the Left of “playing a cruel joke on the people of Tripura”. “All possible rules were flouted in the recruitment drive,” alleged Barman, who had helped the petitioners avail legal assistance in the Supreme Court. “This is a huge scam, the chief minister should take responsibility and resign immediately,” he added.

Of jobs and polls

Bijan Dhar, general secretary of the Communist Part of India (Marxist), defended the government’s decision to recruit the 10,323 teachers. “There is an acute shortage of teachers”, he said. “The education department is one of the biggest employers in the state and this is an inhuman order that will demoralise the youth of the state.”

Tripura, which boasts of the highest literacy rate of all Indian states, has one of the highest concentrations of government schools in the country. The state has 6,556 primary and senior basic schools and over 4000 high and higher secondary schools. Every sub-division has at least one English-medium school, and there are plans to set up an English-medium school in each block. In recent years, the state has battled a major crisis of vacancies.

Employment is a major election issue in the state, where very few industries exist and the government is the biggest employer in the state. The state, which has a population of around 38 lakh, has over six lakh registered unemployed people.

In the last few Assembly by-elections in the state, the Left’s vote share has gone down considerably.