Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Education Minister Naeem Akhtar has stirred a hornet's nest by announcing that the certificates of those employed as 'Rehbar-e-Taleem' (ReT) teachers in the state would be verified and they would have to clear a screening test before being regularized.
ReT teachers are engaged in the state on a consolidated monthly packet of Rs.3,000 for five years after which they are confirmed in government service and put in the regular pay scales.
The aim of the scheme has been to engage locals in different areas and post them in their own areas to ensure attendance and duties in addition to exposing the state exchequer to lesser burden.
"The hon'ble high court had directed the state government on May 14 to scrutinize the degree certificates of ReTs who obtained such certificates through distance mode and also conduct screening tests of ReTs before regularizing their services," Akhtar told IANS.
"The government is only complying with the directions of the hon'ble high court in this case," he added.
Interestingly, the union leaders of the school teachers in the state are up in arms against the decision.
Abdul Qayoom Wani, president of the J&K teachers' forum, told IANS: "It is an exercise to make the state education department defunct and cast aspersions on the genuineness of the universities that have given degrees to these teachers."
"These teachers have obtained degrees from recognized universities and seeking the verification of these degrees now would open floodgates of corruption and prove to be the last nail in the coffin of the department.
"What is the fun of verifying a degree obtained from a recognized university? Further, the decision to start screening tests for regularization would be a mockery as ReTs serve for five years under the condition that their services would be regularized at the end of the mandatory period," Wani added.
The education minister supported his decision, saying: "Pure gold tested at any touchstone would turn out to be the same."
"Why create a controversy that gives one to believe the certificates we intend to verify are not verifiable because of reasons known only to them who oppose such verification?"
Arguments for and against the proposed verification and screening tests were debated through newspaper columns and on FM Radio broadcasts in the state.
It is for the first time since the ongoing separatist violence started here 28 years ago that education and learning have entered public discourse in Jammu and Kashmir.
The common man on the street is showing keen interest in the debate.
"There should be nothing wrong in verifying any degree certificate irrespective of whether the same is issued by a recognized university or not. Haven't we heard of fake certificates issued in the name of recognized and prestigious universities by fraudulent people?" asked Manzoor Ahmad, 56, a resident of old Srinagar.
Others say there should be no controversy about something the highest court in the state orders.
"The decision of the court cannot be challenged except through a legal process. If the high court has ordered such a thing, nobody can question the direction unless it is challenged or set aside by a division bench of the same court or the apex court of the country," said advocate Zahoor Ahmad.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)