The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt spins web of rules

Calcutta, Nov. 15: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government will approach the high court for clarification of the order directing it to deduct the pay of employees absent without notice during Wednesday's bandh.

Finance secretary Samar Ghosh said tonight the clarification is needed because the ruling does not say whether the salary of an employee who has leave due and applies for it would also be cut.

According to service rules, employees can ask for casual leave on a bandh day and not have their pay cut. The leave can be applied for before or after the day in question.

'It is the first time such a court ruling has reached the government,' Ghosh told The Telegraph. 'It is silent on certain important points like what happens to the employee who has leave due to him and takes a day's leave on November 17 fulfilling the application norms. We may be required to obtain a clarification from the court on this count.'

Earlier in the day, the government sought legal advice on how compliance with the order would affect it in the long run.

The legal team handling the government's case feels the order will not cause any immediate problems. At a strategy session in the morning, top law officers pointed out that such pay cuts are not unprecedented and that the ruling coalition has no role in Wednesday's bandh.

Called by the SUCI, the bandh is expected to be supported by only a small segment of employees. Most staff members owe allegiance to the Left-run co-ordination committee of government employees and associations. By evening, it was clear the Left trade unions would ensure normal life is not disrupted on Wednesday. It is safe to assume the situation would be the same during the bandhs on November 22 and December 3 ' the ruling combine has no role in either.

Besides, Siddhartha Shankar Ray's Congress government ' the last non-Left regime in Bengal ' had carried out nearly two dozen pay cuts for employees missing work in response to bandhs called by the Left. So Bhattacharjee will not be the first to take the unpopular measure.

But his cabinet colleagues, lawyers and leaders of Left parties admitted the ruling had put the government in a spot in view of its long-term impact. If it enforces a pay cut now, it will not be able to turn a blind eye to employees participating in a bandh called by the CPM, its allies or Left trade unions in future. 'For the government, it will become difficult to avoid taking the same pay cut measure,' said Manik Das, former additional government pleader.

Asked for his comment, Ray said: 'I am not sure what my government did' it happened so many years ago. But you cannot stop bandhs by holding out the threat of pay cuts. There should be popular, spontaneous resistance against bandhs.'

The Bhattacharjee government has no choice but to impose the pay cut unless the order is overturned. 'We are hopeful of getting the interim order on pay cut quashed on November 17 (the day of the bandh) by a regular bench,' standing counsel Subrata Mukhopadhyay said.

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