Gorakhpur: "My husband was a teacher at a madrasa," in Uttar Pradesh's (UP) Gorakhpur district, said Razia Azam, 36. The government has not paid her husband Mohammad Azam's monthly honorarium, leading to dues of Rs 4 lakh over four years, she said. In May 2021, Mohammad tested positive for Covid-19 and was admitted to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Lucknow. "He passed away on May 24. Had we received the honorarium, probably we would have been able to save him by getting him better treatment."

Over the years, nearly 20,000 teachers at government-aided madrasas, under Minority Welfare and Waqf Department, across UP have protested the non-payment of their honorariums. Some payments have been pending since 2013--that is, for the past eight years.

"In the absence of funds, madrasa teachers and their families have not been able to pay for their medical expenses," said Ahmad Idrisi, an advisor at the Uttar Pradesh Madrasa Shikshak Ekta Samiti (Uttar Pradesh Union of Madrasa Teachers). "Around 100 madrasa teachers in the state have died [of Covid-19 and other medical issues], several because they were unable to avail medical treatment due to the financial crunch. We have been staging protests, and have been to Lucknow and even Delhi. For the past five years, the government has been giving us assurances and nothing else."

Madrasa teachers protesting for payment of their due honorarium. Photo: Satyendra Sarthak

Families find it difficult to make ends meet

After Razia's husband passed away, the government appointed her as a madrasa teacher, but she too has not received her honorarium. Nor has she received the compensation of Rs 50,000 that the Supreme Court has announced for the families of those who passed away from Covid-19, Razia, the mother of two daughters said.

One of her daughters is in fourth grade and the other in high school and the honorarium will help take care of them. "But I am not sure whether we will get this amount ever."

Asif Mehmood is another of Gorakhpur's distressed teachers. "I was very happy when I joined a madrasa as a teacher," he said. "It was my dream to get a government job. But now that I have not been receiving an honorarium, it seems as if my dream has crashed."

Mehmood's son needs blood transfusions for this thalassemia--thrice every two months--which costs Rs 2,000-3,000 each time. "I have not received an honorarium for the past 57 months," he said. "How will I treat my son?"

In Uttar Pradesh, the government-run programme Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM) covers 8,584 madrasas employing 25,550 teachers who teach children Hindi, mathematics, English, social science, computers and science.

An early form of SPQEM was initiated in 1993 to ensure that children studying in madrasas get a modern education. With the government abdicating its responsibility, the well-intentioned system is on the verge of collapse, our reporting found.

"We are a family of five and I am the only earning member. I had taken a loan to make ends meet. As we have not been receiving our honorariums, I also run tuition classes," said Mohammad Akib Ansari, a teacher at a madrasa, based in the Padri Bazaar area of Gorakhpur. "All that has stopped due to Covid-19. I have taken another loan from a friend, assuring him that I will pay him back as soon as I receive the honorarium. Presently, I have a debt of Rs 5 lakh."

In 2017, after finding some irregularities in the functioning of madrasas, the Yogi Adityanath-led government stopped providing relief funds to a few. Later, for transparency, the government started a madrasa portal, to which all madrasas had to upload relevant details, such as teachers employed at the madrasa and students enrolled. After investigation to rule out duplication, the government would pay due honorariums and regularise payments, they had said. But that has not happened, we found.

"They inspect the madrasa twice a year," said Faizan Sarvar, another madrasa teacher. "Officials visit the madrasas to assess the teachers, the madrasa itself, and the quality of education. However, no one tells us the reason behind us not getting our honorariums. Most of the teachers are above 40 years of age. Where else would we get jobs now? We don't know why the government is putting us through this."

For the past five years, the government has inspected madrasas, visited madrasas physically, many investigations have taken place and all relevant information has been uploaded on their portal, said Ashraf Ali, the president of the UP Madrasa Adhunik Shikshak Ekta Samiti [Uttar Pradesh Union of Modernised Madrasa Teachers]. "They have given us an assurance that we will start receiving timely honorariums from January 2022."

But Ali cautions that this flurry of activity from the government and their assurance is a consequence of the teachers' protests and the upcoming state assembly elections in UP. "Had we not been protesting, the government would have shut down this scheme."

What is the madrasa modernisation scheme?

In order to facilitate the inclusion of children from minority communities and bring them into the mainstream, the Ministry of Education, under the National Policy on Education, had initiated the madrasa modernisation scheme. Modern subjects, including Hindi, English, science, mathematics and social science, would be taught at religious educational institutions, such as Dar-ul-Uloom, maktabs and madrasas.

The government expanded this scheme in 2008 and named it the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas or SPQEM. The central government decided that teachers would be paid monthly honorariums of Rs 6,000 if they were graduates, and Rs 12,000 if they were postgraduates or held a bachelor's degree in education.

In 2016, the Uttar Pradesh government announced that it would pay an additional Rs 2,000 to graduate teachers, making it a payment of Rs 8,000 per month, and Rs 3,000 to postgraduate and B. Ed teachers, making it an honorarium of Rs 15,000 per month.

In 2018, the central and the state governments decided to split the costs--the central government was to pay 60% of the honorarium while the state would pay 40%. In 2021-22, the Ministry of Education handed over the scheme to the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

In 2021-22, the UP government presented a budget of Rs 275.55 crore to pay 3,659 graduate and 17,306 postgraduate teachers, according to the minutes of the meeting of the Project Approval Board of the central government. The state government has received approval for Rs 200 crore, based on the number of verified madrasas, according to minutes of project approval board meeting that took place in November 2021.

"The government's Project Approval Board has sanctioned the honorarium to be given to madrasa teachers. It is in the process of being released and it will be released any time now, UP's Madrasa Education Board joint director R.P. Singh told IndiaSpend. "We will come to know the amount only after the approval of the budget."

When asked about the delay on the part of the central government in clearing the dues, Singh said: "The outstanding amount is huge, and it will not be released in one go. The process is on. The Uttar Pradesh government has been writing letters to the central government regarding the same. I cannot reveal how many letters we have written."

IndiaSpend has written to the Ministry of Minority Affairs to know the status of outstanding dues and the interest. We will incorporate the ministry's response into this story once we hear from them.

No honorariums, but new recruitments are underway

While the government is yet to clear outstanding honorariums, it has given orders to publish advertisements for new recruitment.

The Bijnor district minority welfare officer has issued a letter regarding new teacher recruitments, said Mohammad Irfan Khan, the state secretary of the Madrasa Adhunikaran Shaikshak Ekta Samiti, who showed IndiaSpend the letter issued by the Bijnor district minority welfare officer. The letter mentions that, as per the new guidelines, a maximum of three teachers have to be recruited to teach Hindi, English, mathematics, science and social science.

"For the past five years, we have been staging protests and trying to get outstanding dues paid," said Khan. "The government does not have the funds to pay us. In such a scenario, why are new teachers being hired? If the government is not in a position to pay honorariums, it should clear all the dues and shut down the scheme."

First published here on IndiaSpend Hindi.

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