Chennai, July 8: Thousands of sacked government employees thronged Madras High Court here for an encouraging word from the judiciary even as observers claimed that the Tamil Nadu government’s crackdown on the striking staff had touched the “three-lakh mark”.
But if the packed courtroom reflected the trauma of the dismissed employees and families of the 2,000-odd staff arrested under the Essential Services Maintenance Act, the government’s unrelenting stand took a toll on a person still part of it.
Apparently anguished at being asked to serve dismissal orders to some of her close colleagues, Azhagammal, an assistant education officer, died of a massive heart attack, police said.
However, one ray of hope for the sacked employees came when Chief Justice B. Subashan Reddy, who was hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Esma amendment ordinance with Justice K. Govindarajan, asked advocate-general .R. Chandran if the state could “dismiss employees like this”.
“You are the state and they (employees) are the subjects, and is it proper to dismiss them from government service without giving them any opportunity or chance to explain'” the judge asked.
“At random, if you throw them (the striking staff and their family members) from the government quarters, where will they go'” he observed and added that besides the service element, there was also “a human element to the issue”.
At one stage, the advocate-general was virtually grilled by the chief justice on the implications of giving retrospective effect to the ordinance, which was issued on July 4. The retrospective effect from April 23, the day the government issued a notification banning strikes in any department classified as “essential service”, presumes that anyone who had not reported for duty on July 2 — the day the strike began — or even earlier shall be deemed to have participated in the strike.
The judge pointed out that the employees could not have known about the contents of the ordinance till July 5 and that the next two days were a Saturday and a Sunday. Therefore, would the ordinance “condone” the absence of the employees till at least July 4'
Chandran, however, kept on harping that the sacked employees should have first approached the State Administrative Tribunal and was emphatic that the government had no intention to “condone” the absence of the employees between July 2 and 4. In the state secretariat at Chennai, the agitators had advanced their action by a day to July 1, when the situation “became volatile”, he argued.
With the entire state machinery grinding to a halt, the government had to take a “particular action”, he said and added that after the April 23 notification, the employees should not have been absent from work. The retrospective force of the ordinance only reiterated the position as on April 23, he stressed.
The chief justice did not agree. He said asking the absenting staff to “report for duty at once” (as stated in the ordinance) could not be for the past; it is for the present only. “If the ordinance was not given retrospective effect, then it would have come into force only from July 4,” he observed.