Primary education in Bihar has had an unfortunate tryst or two with the state-level judiciary. But when the Director, Primary Education, Bihar, refers to the Patna High Court, he never omits to prefix it with a super-emphasized 'Honourable'.
Dr D.S. Gangwar grins when we ask him why the court is so very Honourable. "Well, if you don't mention that it is an honourable court, you might get hauled up for contempt of court."
When the frivolities are dispensed with, we realise that the repeated emphasis on the Honour of the state's judiciary, arises from a worrying situation.
To begin at the beginning, Dr Gangwar explained, enrolment in Bihar is very high. Naturally. Larger population. Bihar has 1,33,000 teachers already. There are 2 crore kids in Bihar, in the 6-14 age group.
"There are 71 students per teacher in Bihar, though the national average is about 40. Enrolment is a problem because we cannot sanction more money to hire more teachers. There is no more money."
The Patna High Court came into the picture when the department of primary education advertised that it would formally appoint 35,000 new teachers. In the meantime, the central government had also sanctioned another 80,000 teachers under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan scheme.
In 2003, when the department released the job advertisements, more than 16,00,000 people applied.
According to Dr Gangwar, "the selection criteria was such that the applicant must be intermediate (Class XII) pass. Those selected in the written exam would be sent to teacher-training institutes. The problem is this - there were several unrecognised training institutes in Bihar that were not functioning properly. We had de-recognised most of them in 1991. But those who have obtained certificates from these defunct, older, pre-1991 teacher-training institutes have built up a lobby. They went to court against our selection process....
"This was rather unfair, because we had allowed a provision for them. We said - those who already have teacher-training certificates could skip the training part of the process, assuming they can clear the exam, at least. But the lobby insisted that only those who already held certificates be considered for selection."
The long and short of it was that 'The Honourable Patna High Court' quashed the department's rules and the selection procedures.
The department decided to dig in its heels and fight back. They went to the Supreme Court and the bench there stayed the High Court order.
That, however, is not the end of the story.
The department of primary education has another grouse against the Patna High Court.
Apparently, there are several para-teachers - under the Panchayat Shiksha Mitra scheme, these are community volunteers who assist a primary teacher. They are appointed by the panchayats and get Rs 1500 as salary, from the central government.
However, the disgruntled lobby (one bureaucrat calls it the 'teacher mafia') of the old, defunct teacher-training-certificate holders went to the Patna High Court again.
They wanted that they, primarily, should be selected as para-teachers, instead of community volunteers chosen by the panchayat....
And guess what? The Honourable High Court, yet again, did not throw this lobby out on its defunct ear.
But, in the meantime, until this judicial battle can be resolved, no new teachers are being appointed. There are already 71 kids per teacher, on an average - an insane, unmanageable number by any standards.
Thanks to the newly-initiated mid-day meal scheme throughout the state of Bihar, these numbers are likely to climb higher. Can you imagine: a lone teacher struggling with a hundred screaming, squabbling, perpetually hungry six-year-olds...?