State government employees sprayed with colored water during protest in Srinagar – Photo by: Bilal Bahadur

As the confrontation between the government and its employees slumps trade and makes people suffer, KASHMIR LIFE analyses whether a solution to the crisis can solve the inherent problems of the system as well.

While the striking employees and the government continue to be on a war path over the demands of release of arrears of sixth pay commission and enhancement of retirement age, the masses continue to suffer with schools, hospitals and other utilities shut down. There is limited movement on the roads as more than three lakh state government employees are not reporting to work even after the government invoked ESMA and arrested many employees union leaders. Meanwhile, traders are reporting a drastic decrease in sales.

This disparity between the state government employees and the commoners for whom they are supposed to work is a major social crisis in J&K. This has created a super-class of a “pampered minority” that dictates the order and the value system from markets to kitchens and would become a much alarming problem in the days to come. Access to authority and control over the systems and services adds teeth to this class to enforce a social stratification in which a majority ends up as an underclass.Government’s firm response to employee strike has evoked a stronger response from employees.

Mohammad Ashraf is an old shopkeeper in Regal Chowk – one of the busiest and crowded shopping belts in uptown Srinagar. For the last few days any unusual sound, such as a police crane towing away a wrongly parked vehicle, draws him out of his shop. He admits such a behavior to be abnormal. “But, I have nothing else to do.”

For the last many days the businesses are witnessing a slump. They are open but there is nothing much to do. Sales have nose dived phenomenally, at least in Srinagar. From provision stores, to book shops and newsstands even restaurants and public transport, every business establishment is facing the heat. “You see, very few people are on the roads,” says Ishtiyaq, an otherwise busy cabbie. Trade is directly proportional to the footfall in a particular market. And everybody is linking the slump in market to the ongoing strike of the government employees.

“This is a recurring system,” says Ashraf. “We have substantial sums coming from horticulture but this is not the season for that and earnings from the handicrafts have nosedived already so the routine trade is linked to the movement of the people especially the employees.”

Closure of government offices and state run services is keeping people off the roads. “When offices are open and people go to the officials, it sends crowds to the roads but when offices are closed, there is no requirement for people to move unless there are emergencies,” says Shabir Ahmad, a central government employee. “We in Kashmir do not have a huge private sector, especially industries, either.”

Links between J&K’s economy and public spending have remained deep throughout. As the government continues to be the principle job-provider in the state, state’s wage bill is one of the main movers of the markets which unlike tourism, horticulture and handicrafts is insulated against situation and weather.

Take the instance of the State’s Gross Domestic Product (SGDP). If Rs 38297crores, the estimate SGDP for 2010-11 is taken into consideration then every single person of the estimated 1.15 crore people living in the J&K have a per capita income of Rs 33285. Getting out the 400 thousand employees from the entire population will reduce the SGDP to mere Rs 26888 crores and the per capita income to 24223 crores. This essentially would mean a per capita income for every employee to be Rs 285225.

Employees obviously take a significant part of the public spending. Take, for instance, 2010 in which the government contemplates spending Rs 25984 crores of which 43 percent would go to the salary, wages and pensions. Interestingly, only 30 percent of the entire spending goes to developmental activities. It essentially means J&K spends Rs 4.30 to manage and run an asset costing three rupees – an unfair system in vogue.

But that necessarily does not mean the state government should hang its employees. On a warpath for last many days to get their dues as promised by the government, the government has detained many of their leaders in the last couple of days.


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