Chennai, July 5: Jayalalithaa has shown Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee how to deal with rebellious babus — but if only courts were not there.
Amma today wielded the axe as none had done ever before, sacking over one lakh Tamil Nadu government employees who had struck work since Wednesday to press for their demands that include restoration of pension benefits.
However, a lifeline for the dismissed employees came in the form of a Madras High Court order late this evening which asked the government to release all employees arrested in connection with the strike and report to the court at 10.30 tomorrow morning.
“The court further hopes that the government would take appropriate steps to withdraw all cases of suspensions and dismissals unconditionally and report the matter to the court at 2.15 pm on Monday,” Justice P.D. Dinakaran said after representatives of seven unions met him at his residence and assured him they would withdraw the strike.
But morning dawned with the iron lady’s heavy hand as Jayalalithaa, known for tough decisions like ordering the midnight arrest of her predecessor M. Karunanidhi, made good her promise to wield the stick. Detailed lists of employees “dismissed from service with immediate effect” were pasted on notice boards at the state secretariat and at all government offices in the city and in the 29 districts.
The tough action followed yesterday’s ordinance amending the Essential Services Maintenance Act which had already banned the strike. The ordinance armed the authorities to impose any penalty, including “dismissal”, without inquiry.
On floor after floor in the 10-storeyed Namakkal Maligai, which houses most of the secretariat departments at Fort St. George — the seat of power — the space on notice boards was taken up by the departmental head’s notification invoking the amended act.
It said employees, who were working immediately before the strike but had not reported for duty on July 2 — the day the strike began — “are deemed to have committed the misconduct”.
So they have been dismissed from service, it said, and added the list of names in an annexure.
In the Chennai secretariat alone, out of 5,084 employees, 4,104 have got the sack. Though a statewide count is yet to be taken, sources said the number of dismissed employees, including teachers, could easily exceed a lakh.
“It is a very serious situation,” said a senior official who felt this one-stroke dismissal without inquiry has failed to separate the “good, hard-working employees” from the “bad and mischief-making” elements.
For instance, in departments like finance, and planning and development, most employees had worked for three months without a break before the state budget presentation, the sources pointed out. But they, too, have got the sack for succumbing to “peer pressure” and not reporting for duty on July 2.
The only way out for the dismissed employees is the appeal provision in the amended act. Otherwise, the dismissed staff will not be entitled to benefits like gratuity and pension, except for their provident fund contributions.
Trade unions, cutting across political lines, condemned the Jayalalithaa government’s action. “This is just an act of sadism. The state government has gone mad in its spree of repressive measures one after another,” said M.K. Pandhe, general secretary of the CPM-backed Centre of Indian Trade Unions. “We are in touch with our state unit and are also consulting other trade unions to work out a strategy to oppose such moves.”
Hansubhai Dave, general secretary of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labour arm of the Sangh parivar, said the chief minister “should negotiate with the employees instead of sacking them”.
“We totally condemn the decision…,” he added.