Both the people and governments are reeling in the whirpool of the Covid pandemic. No one has a clue about when the country will see a restoration of normalcy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is of the view that until a drug is invented and the same made available to the people, the world will not be permanently free from the disease. And on the economic and job fronts, the world has been pushed to the brink of a huge economic tragedy. Sociologists give alarming warnings too about possible hunger-deaths and riots that can happen in our country too.
The country is estimated to be incurring a daily loss of Rs 50,000 Cr because of the lockdown. Post April, the total financial loss will cross Rs 10 lac crore: when nobody without loss of income will be left among farmers, merchants, labourers and industrial entrepreneurs. Add to it the uncertainty whether the sources of income will regain normalcy. Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das has confirmed that the economic growth of the country will fall below 2 per cent. When sources of income disappear, even the central government which had advised private firms not to touch the salaries of employees, has now been forced to meddle with the salary of its own employees.
Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had for some time been harping on the theme of having to cut the salary of government employees. Finally, under the extra-ordinary situation of Covid times, the cabinet decided to deduct a month's salary in five installments, instead of the originally floated Salary Challenge scheme. Although the finance minister had put forward some other proposals in place of the Salary Challenge, the cabinet is reported to have zeroed in on the plan of a 'salary cut'. As per this, the pay and allowances of public sector-autonomous-semi-government undertakings, universities and grant-in-aid institutions will be deducted. The salary of ministers and legislators will also suffer a cut of 30 per cent for a year. The honorarium of elected memebers of local bodies, as also of government board/corporation chairpersons and members will also suffer similar cuts. The only exempted category is those who earn less than Rs 20,000 per month. But that forms a mere 15 % of the total employees. And such staff in Class IV, who draw less than Rs 20,000, are only employees with less than five years.
If the Salary Challenge previously used during the flood relief, was expected to net in Rs 2,300 Crore, the actual income was only Rs 1,500 Crore, since 40 per cent of employees refused to co-operate with it. The government suffered also the disrepute of having delved into the employees' pockets. But now with the decision to deduct amounts from the salary of all, this time the treasury is projected to get richer by Rs 2,450 Crore, in addition to which will be ther salary of public sector undertakings and semi-government entities. Although the chief minister has clarified that the government will consider paying this back when the financial situation of the government improves, nobody is prepared to take it at its face value, given the prevailing economic climate. For that very reason, the Oppositin has declared that it will move the court against the decision.
When the country is facing an unusual predicament, and employees in nearly every sector face insecurity, the stance that it should not affect the 5.32 lac-strong government employees, would not be logical; further, it will invite public anger too. It is not only Kerala, but other states like Andhra Pradesh, Oodisha, Rajasthan and Telengana have also announced salary cuts from 10 to 100 percent depending on the rank of staff. In Telengana, the salary of ministers, people's representatives including panchayat members, has been cut by 75 per cent. Higher officials including the IAS, IPS cadres, are bound to contribute 60 per cent of their salary. The remaining sections including pensioners should shell out half their salary.
The case of Andhra and Rajasthan is not different. Other states are also seriously mulling slicing salary. The prime minister has exhorted central employees to make donations to 'PM-CARES' fund. When the entire population is being subjected to a substantial dent in their income, government employees also, as part of the larger public, should come forward to co-operate with the interim efforts to resolve the crisis of the treasury. The move to keep away from it cannot be viewed as justifiable. At the same time, the government should take at its face value the Opposition case that this decision was arrived at without sufficient consultation. The chief minister should initiate discussions with the Opposition without prejudices and make sincere efforts to not enter into legal enanglements.