During the Bihu festive season, there is much buying of gifts for near and dear ones, clothes to wear in the new year, and delicacies to gladden the palate. Which is the reason why people in Assam try to keep some cash in hand before Bihu; they wait eagerly for salaries, pensions, arrears or outstanding dues to be paid out in time. As in other years, this year too there was much uproar in the treasury offices before the 31 March deadline with contractors jostling desperately to get their bills cleared. It is important the contractors get paid before this date or they will be left high and dry for the entire fincial year, which in turn is bad news for a section of corrupt departmental officials waiting for their ‘percentage’ from the contractors. So if the treasury pays out without hassles before deadline, these contractors and officials can anticipate a happy Rongali Bihu. But everyone is not so lucky as it happened in the Jorhat treasury recently. A retired school principal came enquiring whether his pension has been regularised. The official pension documents had long been forwarded from the concerned office in Guwahati to the Jorhat treasury early this year. To his dismay, the retired principal was told that the papers had not yet been received; to his further shock, treasury officials demanded a hefty bribe to regularise his pension. Being made of sterner stuff, he decided to fight back and found out from the post office the date of delivery of his pension papers at the Jorhat treasury. The retired principal then complained to the Deputy Commissioner who promptly ordered a probe. Notices were issued to two treasury officials, with senior administrative officials promising stern action if guilt is established. Whether the retired principal gets justice (and his pension regularly) remains to be seen. But at least he could wage a bitter battle at the treasury. Many retired teachers do not even reach the treasury level for months after retirement.
It is a common if heart-rending sight to see elderly teachers trudging wearily with their pension files from table to table at the office of the Directorate of Pensions. Before that, the retired teachers have to get their files cleared from the concerned district level Education offices right up to the office of the Education Directorate concerned. Corrupt officials ruthlessly demand their cut at every level of clearance, totally unmoved by the plight of teachers who many a times break down abjectly. The situation has reached such a sorry pass that schools and colleges throughout the State have worked out a way to deal with these vel Education officials by having their own agents. These agents pool the ‘contributions’ from teachers nearing retirement, then making payments at pre-determined rates at every table to get files cleared and pensions regularised. Those teachers who do not fall in line like the retired school principal of Jorhat, are made to suffer for years on end. In fact, Education and Treasury officials have set up an elaborate system of extorting kickbacks from teachers. Salary bills, arrears, leave sanction, leave travel concession, medical reimbursement, service book opening and for every other necessary formality, teachers from primary to higher levels have to oil the wheels of an unrelentingly hard officialdom. This chain of graft reaches up from the block and district Education offices all the way through the Education Directorates in Kahilipara to the Education Secretariat in Dispur. This is the lot of our teachers round the year throughout their career — teachers who bear the onerous responsibility of making our fundamental right to education a reality, teachers who shoulder the burden of training our human resource at every level. For decades on end, the Education offices in Kahilipara have been veritable cesspits of corruption. It continues in its incorrigible manner, with Education receiving low priority in Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s scheme of things.