COVID-19: Pinarayi Vijayan calls for yet another 'salary challenge'

COVID-19: Pinarayi Vijayan calls for yet another 'salary challenge'

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has asked government service organisations whether they were game for yet another salary challenge in the wake of the economic devastation caused by COVID-19.

The proposal was mooted during a discussion the chief minister had with representatives of government employees in state capital on Monday.

Sources said the Chief Minister told leaders of service organisations that the massive Rs 20,000-crore fiscal stimulus recently announced by Kerala, and the amount required to begin afresh, was too much for Kerala's already fragile fiscal system. He expected government employees to contribute to the rebuilding of Kerala by shifting a month's salary to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF).

It is said that organisations, cutting across party lines, acknowledged the need for everyone to pitch in. But many were sceptical whether a large chunk of employees could afford to sacrifice a full month's salary.

Leaders of opposition service organisations also reminded the chief minister that it would be unhelpful if the proposed salary challenge was sought to be implemented in a high-handed way like it was last time.

It is still not clear how the latest salary challenge would be implemented. Sources said the chief minister had told the leaders of service organisations that he would get back to them.

The last salary challenge, announced in the wake of the 2018 floods, could not mobilise what was originally intended and had earned a bad name for the Pinarayi government.

The employee was given the option to pay the amount in full or in ten instalments. They were also given the option of surrendering their earned leave equivalent to their one month's salary.

Then, the government had targeted Rs 3,800 crore. Later, it revised the expectations to Rs 2,000 crore and finally ended up pocketing only Rs 1,220 crore.

Except for the secretariat staff, other government employees, most notably teachers and policemen, were cold to the challenge.

It was the LDF government's move to virtually make the sacrifice compulsory that had left many employees opposed to the challenge.

In what was obviously an attempt to shame, the government insisted on a "certificate of unwillingness" from those employees who were not willing to contribute.

First the High Court found the "certificate of unwillingness" unjust. "There is no way to differentiate between those who chose not to donate their salary despite having money, and those who chose not to because they genuinely did not have enough money to afford such a donation," it said.

Later, the Supreme Court upheld the HC verdict.

"There is no need for those who refuse to give money to humiliate themselves by giving in a certificate. Plus they have no guarantee that the collected money would be used for relief efforts. It's for the state government to instil in them such a belief," the top court had said.

The 'unwillingness' clause was taken out but by then the damage was done.