The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Obituary fails to move Jaya

Chennai, July 16: With each passing day, the agony is piling up for the sacked government employees in Tamil Nadu. But nothing summed it up better than the obituary notice that appeared today.

In a grim reminder of the rough road ahead for the nearly 1.7 lakh dismissed employees — unofficial figures put the count at three lakh — the first obituary notice since the strike was called on July 2 appeared on a notice board at the secretariat here.

The notice said an under secretary in the labour department died of a “massive heart attack” a few days ago.

Though the death may have nothing to do with the strike, the obit — pasted on the notice board by one of the staff associations soon after they had called off the strike — reflected their growing anxiety.

Inside the secretariat departments, vast stretches of empty spaces and piled-up files mirrored the apprehensions outside. Even the temporary recruits seemed ill at ease as they sat in groups in corners making small talk on the sudden turn of events.

But Jayalalithaa showed no sign of relenting. The chief minister, who was in Namakkal near Salem to participate in a government function, spoke of “duty”, which, she said, “comes first” and “rights next” and urged all those present to “realise their responsibilities”. The employees had called the strike to demand restoration of pension and other benefits.

In a brief reference to the financial crisis facing the state and the extent her government has been able to meet the demand of the employees, Jayalalithaa said state employees accounted for only 2 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population.

“I cannot ignore the inter-ests of the other 98 per cent of the population,” the chief minister added, though she did not reveal what she intended to do about the lakhs of sacked employees after Madras High Court declined to interfere with the action.

“At least, the government employees have job security while those outside the state sector had none,” she said.

Now that a large number of sacked employees have given letters of explanation to their departmental heads explaining their absence on July 2 under the appeal provision in the amended Esse- ntial Services Maintenance Act, sources indicated that Jayalalithaa is unlikely to take a decision quickly.

They said the chief mini- ster might wait for the outcome of proceedings in the Supreme Court as the Citu, the CPM’s trade union wing, has appealed against the high court verdict. This implies more waiting and more agony for the sacked employees and teachers.

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