The entire government that was otherwise facing crippling governance crises is literally locked. The services and utilities – from schools to hospitals – are marginally operational.
“We are quite a few officers in the civil secretariat,” a middle rung officer told on phone from Jammu. “It is huge building; it seems, these days, as if it is haunted … The foot-tapping in one corner is being heard in another corner and it is no music.” The officer said that some of the officers who are reporting to their duties are unable to do anything in the absence of supporting staff.
Hospitals are in shambles. “Emergencies are working and patients are being admitted only in rare cases,” admitted an official from SKIMS. “The OPD does get some crowd in the morning but they leave after waiting for an hour or so because nobody is attending them.”
Demands of employees are now known to everybody. After the government agreed to implement the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations that offered employees new pay bands and inflated the wages and pension bill, the issue of arrears remained pending. Government said it lacked resources to manage Rs 4120 crore and would pay the dues towards employees’ G.P.fund (general provident fund) in five installments, with a moratorium on withdrawals for two years once it identifies the resource. It was unnecessarily waiting for the Thirteenth Finance Commission to come to its rescue, which rejected the idea saying it has no retrospective mandate. The stand-off triggered another dose of strike that has paralyzed the government.
Initial response from the government was that of persuasion. Once the clerks and peons shadowing the ministers and bureaucrats disappeared, policymakers started asserting the authority. After a cabinet meeting they invoked ESMA – essential services maintenance act and in the first phase all the union leaders were arrested and some of them let free later. As the government started showing authority at the drop of the hat, the workforce hardened its stand and it became more of a confrontation at the cost of the commoner.
All of a sudden, the government started projecting its workforce as endo-parasites of the system. This triggered a fierce response from employees saying that the lawmakers secured their interests by increasing their salaries and pensions. Even prior to them the IAS, IPS and IFS officers also got their package approved with certain benefits that usually are not available to the low rung employees. Employee arguments had more mass appeal than the government’s point of view. But it did not help to break the logjam and the commoners continue to suffer.
“They are employees and the employer has to pay them on the similar terms as other employers (read states) are paying,” says a researcher in the University of Kashmir. “If the government thinks it is overstaffed, it must reduce intakes on rolls and if its employees are not working or are corrupt it is the headache of the employer to start reforms. Denying what is legally due to them is no way-out.”
Officials admit the nervousness that exists in the state at political level. But, no options are being discussed. “Traditionally the chief minister gets proposals from his colleagues about how to settle issues,” said an informed officer. “Instead, he is being briefed about the problems and asked to find solutions.” There is more or less unanimity at the bureaucratic level that state government will have to be innovative in managing Rs 800 crore from an estimated spending of over Rs 25000 crore to manage part of the arrears the employees are demanding as first installment of their arrears.
Both the sides are using whatever is available with them, to break the ice. But the results aren’t encouraging yet. Everybody agrees that the two sides will have to meet again and explore solutions. But, now there is a growing feeling among a section of employees that the government and the employees being two parties to a dispute should have an arbitrator to settle the mess. The two sides can nominate a group of individuals who are capable of helping the two sides in the larger interests of the suffering society. The crisis has come at a time when the tourist arrivals had barely taken off.
Regardless of the methods the situation will dictate in resolving the mess, a general opinion amongst concerned citizenry is that it should take into account all the grey areas that the two sides have identified.