With 16 people working at Mantralaya, the state secretariat building, succumbing to Covid-19 so far, government officials have threatened to stop work if the condition of 100 per cent attendance is not withdrawn.
In a representation to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday, the Maharashtra State Gazetted Officers Federation (MSGOF) and the Maharashtra Mantralaya Officers Association (MMOA) has blamed the lack of precautionary measures and the violation of social distancing norms for the surge in the number of cases, while arguing that the decision mandating 100 per cent attendance of class A and class B officials was ill-conceived.
According to the associations, at least 16 people working at the Mantralaya have succumbed to Covid-19 so far. As part of its ‘Mission Begin Again’ guidelines, the state has made 100 per cent attendance mandatory for class A and class B employees from September 1 in government offices. Earlier, it was 15 per cent.
MMOA general secretary Vishnu Patil said the revised guidelines applied to all officials above the rank of assistant section officers and cover about 80 per cent of the employees reporting to Mantralaya.
“Around 4,000 to 4,500 employees report to the Mantralaya building on a daily basis. Besides, the number of visitors to the building has also sharply risen. No SOPs are in place for regulation of people’s movement in and out of the building. Social distancing is not possible,” said Patil, alleging that entrants to the building were not even screened for flu-like symptoms.
When contacted, Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar said, “The associations have given their representations seeking reconsideration of the 100 per cent attendance condition. These will be placed before the chief minister. A conscious decision will be taken.”
At a Cabinet meeting in August, senior ministers had pressed for an increase in the attendance of employees in government offices to push file work.
To highlight their demand for a roll back, the associations have planned protest meetings across the state on September 21.
“If the demand remains unmet, we will have to resort to a stop work protest in the interest of the officials and their family members,” the MSGOF’s representation to the CM said.
Contending that 90 per cent of the employees had to travel long distances to report to work, both associations have further complained to Uddhav that the “public transportation services arranged for their daily commute are woefully inadequate and infection prone”.
G D Kulthe, founder and chief advisor to MSGOF, alleged that “employee associations were not taken into confidence before implementing the 100 per cent condition”.
“Nobody wants to willingly shirk responsibilities or official duties. But one cannot turn a blind eye to the sharp spike in cases in the state and the lack of precautionary arrangements for the safety of the officials and their families,” he added.
Both associations have also argued that most officials have now gotten used to the “work from home” regime and demanded it be encouraged.
“Office attendance for employees across the state should be gradually increased. One should take into account the availability of facilities and the general trend of cases in the office area while doing so. At this point, our demand is to restrict mandatory official attendance to 50 per cent at the most,” said Patil.
A senior official, who tested positive last week, alleged that the “government was ignoring genuine concerns of the employees”. He added, “Even thermal screening at the Mantralaya entry gates had stopped working in the last few days and bag scanners were still being employed despite the risk they carried.”
Patil, meanwhile, complained that despite the spike in infection, the government had been dilly dallying on the suggestion for carrying out rapid antigen tests at Mantralaya and its other offices.
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