The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal bites into staff bonus

Calcutta, Sept. 19: The Left Front government today began the process of undoing an act it had committed itself to 15 years ago when it started to pay bonus to its employees.

In financial distress for some time, the government announced halving of the bonus or festival advance it had paid last year to 10 lakh employees, teachers, non-teaching staff and employees of panchayat and civic bodies. The amount it will pay this puja is Rs 1,000.

Pensioners will get Rs 400 per head as ex gratia and employees of state undertakings will be paid according to the norms under the Bonus Act.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta appealed to employees “to realise the entire situation and cooperate with the government to tide over the financial crisis”.

Bonus is the latest of the self-created shibboleths to come under attack in recent years of Left rule. The first was overturning of the policy on teaching of English in schools.

Slashing bonus means angering the huge army of government employees who have traditionally supported the CPM. Smarajit Roy Chowdhury, secretary of the employees association, disclosed that they had been informed by the labour minister that bonus would not be paid at all.

“We requested the chief minister not to stop bonus. He told us that many development projects had been stalled for lack of funds. We are happy that the government has at least paid half of last year’s amount instead of paying nothing,” he said.

The practice of paying bonus started in 1987 with the Left Front picking up the cue from the Congress government, which introduced the concept with a handout of Rs 75 as festival advance in 1964. After assuming power in 1977, when its uninterrupted reign began, the front first paid an ex gratia of Rs 100, taking it up to Rs 500 in 1987.

Last year, the bonus paid amounted to Rs 2,000. Employees drawing a salary of up to Rs 8,300 are entitled to bonus and those receiving a salary of up to Rs 12,000 will get an interest-free festival advance, which will be deducted from their salary in equal instalments. At least 70 per cent of the employees are entitled to the advance and not to the bonus.

Dasgupta reminded employees that no other state government in the country pays puja bonus. “It is only the West Bengal government which pays salary and bonus to teachers and employees of civic bodies up to the panchayat level. We have to incur an expenditure of Rs 1,000 crore on salary every month,” he said.

He said the government was targeting a Rs 500-crore cut in administrative expenditure to find the money for development projects. As part of resource-raising measures, the tariff at Banga Bhavan in Delhi and similar other government properties would be enhanced.

The minister cited the Centre’s raising of employees’ salaries on pay commission recommendations, higher Central loan repayment burden and shortfall in devolution of Central taxes to the state because of the economic slowdown among reasons for the financial crisis.

Bonus and festival advance to state employees will be paid with their salary on September 30 and to teachers and staff in government-aided institutions on October 8. October 11 is the last date for paying bonus.

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