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DA freeze hits BJP hurdle

New Delhi, Oct. 9: Political opposition is mounting to a finance ministry proposal to freeze dearness allowance hikes for Central government staff.

The groundswell of antipathy towards the proposal — both from within the Cabinet and party leaders — is likely to scupper another reform measure conceived by finance minister Jaswant Singh.

Several ministers and senior BJP leaders — including tourism minister Jagmohan who represents New Delhi constituency; minister of state in the PMO Vijay Goel; and BJP leaders from Delhi V.K. Malhotra and M.L. Khurana — are believed to have opposed the move. They say that Central government servants and their 12-million dependents, most of who live in Delhi, are among the BJP’s most ardent supporters.

The finance ministry’s proposal for freezing the 3 per cent DA hike was made in a draft note that has not been circulated to the Cabinet. However, key ministers had been unofficially sounded on the proposal.

BJP ministers and leaders unexpectedly opposed the proposal, arguing it would be politically inexpedient to move this in a year when elections to several Assemblies were due. They said large sections of this government employee votebank had supported the BJP even during the Congress regime.

They also pointed out that the move would no doubt save the government Rs 700 crore but would be bitterly resented as it comes on top of an earlier decision to freeze leave travel allowance. Jagmohan had represented his Cabinet colleagues against the LTA freeze decision and sought its removal.

Associations representing various cadre of Central government officials have already warned the government that they would resort to strikes if the decision to freeze DA hike was taken.

BJP leaders also pointed out that government servants were already running scared. Last August, a core group of secretaries decided to identify redundant staff in all ministries and assign them to a computerised pool from which they could be re-deployed wherever new jobs cropped up. Surplus staff would be trained as they cooled their heels and could even be granted time off to explore greener pastures.

At least two departments — the department of supply and the department of industrial development — were shut down without any fanfare.

Other departments considered for the chopping block are those of fertilisers, steel, mines, consumer affairs and non-conventional energy. Large chunks of two key departments have already been corporatised, taking them outside the purview of Central budgets — the department of telecom and the Central Electricity Authority.

Officials add that an informal decision already exists to freeze recruitment to about one lakh vacant low-level jobs. As a result, many ministries have been farming out jobs like cleaning, security services and running websites to private contractors.

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