Finance minister Asim Dasgupta’s announcement to reduce the Puja bonus by 50 per cent this year has put the CPM-controlled co-ordination committee for state government employees in a tight spot while handing Mamata Banerjee a stick to beat the ruling party with.
The committee fears that its members will face criticism from its rival unions who suspect that the decision was taken in consultation with them. This was evident on Friday after members of other unions chased some co-ordination committee members who tried to defend Dasgupta.
To add to their woes, on Saturday the Trinamul leader, while accusing the finance minister of having made “false promises” to the government employees, started picking holes in the co-ordination committee’s arguments justifying Dasgupta.
Banerjee ridiculed its claim that no other state, except Kerala, offered bonus to its employees. “Different states pay different incentives. It is wrong to compare the system prevailing in one state with that in another,” she said.
Grabbing the chance to criticise her political rivals, Mamata added: “Instead of deducting Puja bonus, the government should cut down on wasteful expenses and prevent misappropriation of funds.”
If criticism from rivals was not enough, the co-ordination committee is also having to stem the growing dissension in its own ranks, a leader admitted.
Committee members claim to have been “caught unawares” by the government’s decision. A senior functionary recounted that the government had assured them in a meeting of the State Labour Advisory Board (SLAB) on September 9 that bonus to the employees would be paid by September 17 and there was “no indication” of any reduction in payment. “This is a major embarrassment for us,” he added.
Determined to cash in on the issue before the panchayat elections in early 2003, the Congress- dominated State Government Employees Federation (Unified) has announced a day-long agitation on Monday. Federation supporters will hold dharnas in front of the offices of district magistrates. Mamata warned that her party, too, would launch a stir after the festive season if the government failed to pay full bonus to employees.