A day after ministers in the Karnataka government said they were unable to pay salaries to the state government employees, the Kerala cabinet today promulgated an ordinance to work around the high court stay on postponing of salary payment to government employees for six days every month between April and August. The decision to defer the payment of 25% of the salaries of workers, purportedly to help the state deal with the financial handicap caused by the COVID-19 lockdown, has triggered a stormy political debate in the state.
The Kerala High Court had on Tuesday stayed for two months the state government’s decision to deduct six-day salary of its employees for five months to garner resources for the coronavirus outbreak.
Recently, a pro-INC teachers’ union burnt copies of the disputed government order that said the payment of salaries would be postponed. The government shot back, getting embroiled in a slugfest with the opposition.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullapally Ramachandran has condemned the ordinance as a defiance of the judiciary. He said it reflected the “Janus-faced nature” of the Pinarayi Vijayan government.
In Tamil Nadu, Ramachandran pointed out, communist trade unions had protested strongly against the bid to reduce the salaries of government employees.
The opposition says the state government had no compunctions about hiring expensive lawyers at taxpayers’ expense to defend its decisions in the high court. It had, Ramachandran said, splurged on hiring a helicopter for VVIP movement. Chief Minister Vijayan had employed, he said, a group of special advisors at a massive cost to the exchequer. He had accorded cabinet rank to CPI(M) leaders who had lost elections, Ramachandran said.
Kerala had dismally failed, Ramachandran said, in collecting revenue, an estimated Rs 43,000 crore, even before the outbreak struck.
Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said Chief Minister Vijayan and Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had tried to pressure government employees to make them give up their wages. The United Democratic Front (UDF) opposes their authoritarian attitude, which did not augur well for the democracy, he said.
He said UDF was consistent in its stance that State employees, who were working overtime to combat the epidemic, should also contribute their mite to the national effort. However, their contribution should be voluntary and not one enforced arbitrarily by the political executive.
The state finance minister explained, “This is not against yesterday’s high court order, instead we have abided by it. We are not going to go in appeal against stay order. The State government is using the provisions in the Act. The provision in the Act is clear as it says this can be done when a health emergency or a disaster strikes.”
“The Centre has declared the pandemic as a health emergency,” said Issac.
“Some people like leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala is yet to gauge the situation what the state is presently undergoing. Anyone is free to go in appeal against the new Ordinance. The salary of April month will be paid in May after completing the procedures,” added Issac and said they will stick to defer six days salary, that they originally proposed.
Exposing a similar limitation of socialism marked by a large government workforce, ministers of the Karnataka government yesterday had expressed concern over their inability to pay salaries to state government employees. The beauty of a free market where the private sector dominates the employment scenario is that private companies can not only spring up in necessity and wind up in distress fast but also mould their way of working promptly to adjust to an evolving or emergent situation. Except for the manufacturing sector, the private companies in India are quite efficiently working online amid the nationwide lockdown. And since they are working, they are earning too — thereby facing little problem to pay their employees.