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- Telangana pen-down protest blocks pay of CM and three lakh Andhra employees

Hyderabad, March 2: Andhra offered prayers on Shivaratri today. Chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, his cabinet colleagues and some three lakh state employees may be praying too — for their salaries.

They have not been paid for February as a result of an ongoing “pen-down agitation” by state staff in Telangana. The official reason being offered is that attendance records could not be compiled and the payments could not be released because the treasury staff are also on strike.

But the government’s hands also appear tied by a court stricture. Andhra Pradesh High Court has asked the government to explain why the salaries of the agitating employees — many of whom were said to have signed attendance sheets but not worked — should be paid. The judges were hearing a PIL filed by C. Narayana, a resident of Anantapur town, seeking to hold back the agitating staff’s pay for February.

But a lakh employees in the police and judiciary departments did get their pay, as did some six lakh employees of the coastal and Rayalaseema who were not on strike.

The chief minister and his cabinet colleagues are in “august company” — even the deputy Speaker hasn’t got his pay, nor have top officials, including the chief secretary.

Nagarjuna Reddy, the director of treasuries, said: “The salaries of (the agitating) employees were not paid as their (attendance) records could not be received by the treasuries, whose staff were also part of the pen-down strike.”

Asked how the police and other departments had been paid, Reddy said under treasury regulations, salaries could not be released unless attendance records were received.

Treasuries issue payment instructions to branches of the State Bank of Hyderabad — the main banker to the state government — where the salaries are credited to the employees’ accounts.

Sources in the government secretariat and the chief minister’s office said Rs 4 crore had been earmarked for salaries to the 4 lakh employees of the Telangana region — including 5,000 employees in the secretariat itself as the agitation also covered Hyderabad. But the finance department issued a late-night circular on Monday to withhold the salaries. It was not clear if such instructions were issued to all regions or selectively.

The employees’ unions have threatened to take to the streets over the salaries while continuing their statehood agitation. But finance secretary G. Sudhir has told union leaders that the agitating employees would get half a month’s salary as they had all worked for only 15 days in February. Sudhir is believed to have cited the court’s observations to persuade the unions that the government cannot go against the law.

Chief minister Kiran Reddy is said to have directed the finance secretary to take a written affidavit from the union leaders that they would join to work if they wanted their salaries. “If not, they would be eligible for only half a month’s salary,” an official quoted Reddy as saying during a meeting. Reddy had said the strike had caused a daily loss of around Rs 100 crore in terms of revenues that couldn’t be collected.

Such disruptions have occurred for the first time in over three decades — after the Telangana agitation of 1969 and another six years later. A treasury official said an Ordinance, later ratified by the Assembly, had to be promulgated then to release salaries and meet other government expenses. “This time, we are helpless as the employees are adamant and the government may not issue such an Ordinance,” he said.

House boycott

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti has decided to boycott the entire budget session of the Assembly to press its demand for a bill on creating a separate state in Parliament. Party chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao addressed an emergency meeting of the party’s executive today to chalk out the future course of action after a rail roko agitation yesterday in the Telangana region that forced the cancellation of over 100 trains during the day.

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