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

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Ja­cob

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

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