The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strikers face Jaya iron hand

Chennai, Oct. 23: As state government employees went on indefinite strike today against the freeze on dearness allowance, Jayalalithaa said action would be taken against them under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma).

The joint action council of teachers’ and government employees’ organisations said that about 10 lakh people struck work across the state. But the chief minister maintained that the government’s functioning was not affected.

“Esma will come into play at once,” Jayalalithaa said. Even education has been notified as an “essential service” under a state Act that got the President’s assent recently, she added. “The notification (specifying the essential services) has been issued yesterday,” Jayalalithaa said. Each striking employee could face up to three years in prison and a fine of Rs 5,000.

The effect of the strike was pronounced in the districts, where government offices reported 40 to 60 per cent attendance. At the state secretariat here, however, almost 95 per cent of the staff reported for work.

Jayalalithaa conceded that elementary and middle schools had been badly hit in many parts of the state, with teachers on strike. Other essential services, including electricity, bus transport, milk and water distribution, were not affected, she claimed.

Jayalalithaa said that despite the financial crisis in the state, the government had been sympathetic to key demands of employees.

After one section spoke to her, she announced an additional instalment of DA at 4 per cent with effect from October 1, 2002. Of this, 3 per cent will be paid in cash and the remaining credited to provident fund accounts.

Although 94 per cent of the state’s current tax revenues went towards salary and pension, “we still agreed to this partial de-freezing of DA instalments to avoid government grinding to a halt if the strike was to be total”, Jayalalithaa said. “Our finances are bad and we cannot do anything more for the employees now,” she added.

To another query, Jayalalithaa iterated that the recent Ordinance to ban conversions was neither conceived in haste nor was it targeted at any particular religion or the Dalits. “We will go ahead with the Bill in the Assembly,” she said.

On Karnataka counterpart S.M. Krishna’s renewed offer for talks on Cauvery, Jayalalithaa said: “How can I hold talks with him now, when two contempt petitions are pending in Supreme Court'” Jayalalithaa also disagreed with the view that the Congress’ good showing in the Jammu and Kashmir elections was proof that Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin was a non-issue. “There is no connection between the poll results and the issues that I had raised,” she said.

The chief minister, who had revived the foreign origin issue, also blamed Sonia’s “obdurate attitude” — much like that she had displayed in 1999 after the ADMK pulled down the Vajpayee government — for the present stalemate in government formation in Srinagar.

When free and fair election had been held amid so many dangers and after people had voted so courageously to uphold India’s democratic tradition, it was the Congress’ “unreasonable attitude” that was holding up government formation, she said.

But Jayalalithaa had nothing to say on VHP leader Praveen Togadia’s derogatory remarks against Sonia.

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