Public service delivery hit at govt. offices across Kerala as pro-Congress and BJP State employees strike work

A march taken out by Kerala government employees and teachers to the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on January 24, 2024.
| Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

A one-day token strike by pro-Opposition State employee unions for payment of dearness allowance (DA) dues and better service conditions partially hobbled the functioning of government offices across Kerala on January 24 (Wednesday).

Public service delivery was the primary causality of the strike as government employees affiliated with Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led service organisations boycotted work at village, municipal and revenue offices.

Their demands included the release of pay revision dues, reinstitution of leave surrender, reinstatement of the statutory pension system and rectification of the anomalies of the government-funded medical insurance scheme (Medisep) for State employees.

Confrontation at Secretariat

The pro-Congress Kerala Secretariat Association (KSA) prevented employees opposed to the strike from reporting for duty at the Secretariat complex.

Activists of the pro-government Kerala Secretariat Employees Association (KSEA) resisted the move, forcing the police to form a human shield between the confronting groups.

KSA office-bearers said the government had used the might of the administrative machinery to thwart the strike. They said pro-CPI(M) employees used intimidatory tactics to ensure a high attendance rate at the Secretariat to appease the government. However, they claimed that the empathy for the strike was high among staffers.

Government warns strikers

In a communique on Tuesday, the General Administration department (GAD) had warned striking employees that the government would treat their unauthorised absence as dies non. The striking employees risked losing the day’s salary. The government asked section chiefs to refuse leave for employees except in unavoidable situations. It also asked staffers to provide a medical certificate to justify their absence on the strike day. A government doctor should attest to the medical certificate.

Opposition blames govt.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had blamed the administration’s financial mismanagement for the “shutdown”. Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan had accused the government of running the State to financial ruin. He said the treasury remained bone-dry, and the government was hard-pressed to pay salaries and pensions to State employees. Welfare pensions remained unpaid. The lack of money to pay civic work contractors had halted development works.

Mr. Satheesan alleged that even noon-meal schemes for schoolchildren were in limbo. He said the government could not hoodwink the public by laying the entire blame for the fiscal crisis at the Centre’s doorstep. Kerala’s tax revenues had plummeted. It had become a haven for tax dodgers. Mr. Satheesan also accused the State of failing to get its IGST and GST dues from the Centre.

Strike politically motivated: LDF

On Tuesday, Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal called the strike politically motivated. He said the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government was committed to paying State employees their dues. He said Kerala had enacted employee pay revisions when the government was battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the Centre paid IGST and GST dues to Kerala. However, it did not heed the demand of States to extend GST compensation for five more years to give a leg-up to provincial administrations hit by the pandemic.

Mr. Balagopal said the Congress “betrayed” Kerala’s interest by refusing to ally with the government to get the State’s due from the Centre.

He said the BJP government at the Centre included treasury deposits, loans by PSUs, and special purpose vehicles in the State’s debt to haul down the government’s borrowing limit. The Centre has repeatedly refused to pay its share of State and Union government-sponsored infrastructure projects and welfare schemes.

It had slashed Kerala’s share of the national revenue. The Centre introduced a cess regime to keep levies on various products and services to itself without having to share with States, he added.

Mr. Balagopal said the Congress leadership in Kerala seemed oblivious to the criticism raised against the Centre’s financial embargo on States by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

The Congress seemed to have sacrificed Kerala’s development and welfare on the altar of political expediency, he said.

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