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‘Change name to prohibition’ — Bihar teachers after education department’s liquor lookout letter

Patna: The Nitish Kumar-led government in Bihar has asked teachers of government schools in the state to ensure that school premises are not used for liquor consumption and to keep a look out for those engaging in liquor consumption and sale in the areas in which they are posted. A letter to this effect was sent to all district and regional education officers (who implement the government’s decisions in schools) by Sanjay Kumar, additional chief secretary of the state’s education department, Friday. ThePrint has a copy of the letter.

The education department’s letter has caused extreme outrage among teachers.

“Perhaps the education department should change its name or merge with the prohibition department,” remarked an angry Pradeep Kumar Pappu, president of the Bihar State Primary Teachers Association.

He added: “The department should be concerned about completing the studies of the students who are suffering due to the closure of schools for the past one month because of the repeated surge in Covid cases in the country. We are ready to undertake any direction related to teaching the children. Searching for liquor is not our job.” Pappu also told ThePrint that the teachers will fight against the department’s directive on liquor.

His irritation, was shared by Member of the Bihar Legislative Council (MLC) and President of the Bihar Secondary Teachers Association Kedar Nath Pandey.

“How many non-teaching jobs will the government give to the teachers?” he asked.

Pandey added: “We are given the responsibility of updating the electoral roll, ensuring the midday meal is given, distributing cycles and uniforms (under the government’s welfare schemes to encourage children to go to schools) Frequently teachers are also deputed in the offices of various officers for tabulation work. Now teachers are being asked to look for liquor. When will the teachers have time to teach in the classes? ”

The MLC told ThePrint that the order affects 3.45 lakh teachers in over 75,000 government schools in Bihar, and that he would raise the issue in the next session of the state legislative council.

Interestingly, the move comes at a time when the state government had appeared to be diluting its anti-liquor policies, following criticism from the judiciary. Earlier this month the Nitish Kumar government had indicated that amendments to the state’s 2016 anti-liquor legislation will be proposed in the upcoming assembly session in February, to reduce the load on the legal system.

The proposal for change came after the Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana criticised the Bihar government for clogging the judicial system with burgeoning cases under the state’s prohibition laws. Now, this letter from the educational department has brought the issue of implementation of the state’s anti-liquor law back in focus.

‘Teachers being made easy targets’

The Bihar government has been especially stringent in its implementation of the anti-liquor law in the state since a series of hooch tragedies in October-November last year claimed 45 lives. In the past 10 days too 13 people have died in a hooch tragedy in the CM’s home district, Nalanda, while 15 people have been killed in Saran district. A similar incident in Buxar killed five people.

In November last year, the state police sparked outrage for raiding over 50 wedding venues for liquor and had reportedly even barged into the rooms of brides.

While the Opposition had held CM Nitish Kumar responsible for the hooch tragedies, these leaders too are surprised with teachers being tasked to keep a lookout for liquor consumption. “The government already has its agencies to enforce anti-liquor laws. Why do teachers have to be included in this work, it is not their work,” RJD spokesperson Mritunjay Tiwary told ThePrint.

The letter from Sanjay Kumar states that according to information received, there are persons who still consume liquor secretly and the ill effects of liquor consumption are felt by their families. It therefore directed all primary and secondary schools to hold meetings to create awareness of the prohibition law in the state.

The responsibility given to the teachers in the matter doesn’t end there, however. The letter also directed all government school “principals, teachers, school committee members and all persons associated with schools should identify liquor consumers and suppliers of liquor” in the areas in which they are posted and “should inform the excise department on the toll free numbers”. It also directs them to ensure that the school premises are used for liquor consumption by anyone.

While the letter says that the identity of those giving information of liquor consumption and sale will be kept secret, teachers still fear for their safety.  “Teachers are not given bodyguards and will be easy targets for the liquor mafia once it is suspected that the teachers are giving information,” said Pappu.

He added: “Besides, the order also makes teachers liable for things which happen after school time. Does the government expect teachers to remain in school after school hours (to ensure that the premises are not used for liquor consumption)? The government already has a large police force, excise department employees and made many appointments to enforce the anti-liquor laws. Still it seems the government agencies have failed to implement the law, which is why they now want teachers to do it.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Empty liquor bottles in Bihar assembly — Nitish fumes, Tejashwi hits out, Speaker stumps both

Source: The Print

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