KERALA: PINARAYI’S TROUBLES
The government’s appeal to staff to donate a month’s salary for flood relief blows up into a row over the ‘mandatory’ clause
Pinarayi Vijayan’s ‘salary challenge’ to Kerala government employees— to contribute a month’s pay to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF)—has hit the wrong note, with even his Left Front comrades deriding the idea. Service organisations affiliated with opposition parties have objected to the mandatory provisions in the finance department’s order.
The September 11 order states that employees could donate in as many as 10 instalments and even avail of provident fund loans or surrender earned leave. Employees who did not wish to donate were to sign a ‘no consent’ declaration.
“It’s unfortunate that a government is forcibly squeezing its staff in the name of a disaster. This is extortion,” said Ramesh Chennithala, leader of the opposition in the Kerala assembly. Responding to a petition by the Kerala Non-Gazetted Officers’ Union, a division bench of the Kerala High Court ruled on September 28 that the order was “against the spirit of exhortations made by the chief minister”. The court asked the state government to explain why employees were being asked to communicate their nonconsent in writing. Earlier, the court had stayed a similar directive from the Travancore and Malabar Devaswom Boards that their employees contribute a month’s pay to the CMDRF.
Vijayan, who plans to raise Rs 3,200 crore through the ‘salary challenge’, says: “I made an appeal before all to donate generously for rebuilding Kerala after floods devastated the state. We have to raise a huge sum for rehabilitation. I was inspired by schoolchildren, who donated their small savings for the cause.” He added that even the private sector was pitching in.
Despite the row, Vijayan’s appeal struck a chord with state secretariat staff—87 per cent of them contributed a month’s salary. Data is being collated on contributions from the districts. Chief secretary Tom Jose applauded the “generosity” of government employees and called the initiative “a great success”.
Among the thousands who contributed is Sheela Santosh, a 38-year-old treasury employee with a chronic kidney ailment. She gave Rs 40,050 towards rebuilding her state. “I wasn’t hit by the floods, but thousands were affected. They lost everything. So when the CM appealed, I decided to take up the challenge,” she said.
IN A SPOT Pinarayi Vijayan interacts with the media