Hours after the Kerala High Court directed it to issue orders barring public servants from participating in the 48-hour general strike, the state government declared on Monday that, during the strike, employees’ period of absence without valid reasons would be treated as dies non.
The order is a major setback for the trade unions affiliated to ruling CPM as well as Opposition Congress, which have actively taken part in the first day of the general strike against the Centre’s policies. Offices across the state reported only thin attendance on Monday and all educational institutions remained closed.
The order issued by Chief Secretary VP Joy said that pay for the days on which the strike is taking place would be withheld from the salary for next month. No leave would be granted for employees and teachers on strike days except for unavoidable reasons. It said people indulging in violence during the strike days would be prosecuted. Provisional recruits who keep away from duty during the strike would be removed from service. The order directed the state transport corporation to ensure service to enable employees to reach offices.
Earlier in the day, a division bench of Justice S Manikumar and Shaji P Chaly issued an order saying that “we direct the government of Kerala to issue appropriate orders forthwith to prevent government servants from engaging in strike and also to issue necessary orders forthwith to all the heads of the departments to ensure that Rule 86 of the Government Servants’ Conduct Rules, 1960, are not violated, and in case of violation, to take appropriate action. The government should issue appropriate orders to enable the operation of vehicles to enable government servants to attend duty’’.
The court acted upon a public-interest petition moved by Chandra Choodan Nair urging the court to declare the strike illegal. The petitioner listed the chief secretary; the principal secretary of the department of general administration, and the principal secretary of the department of finance as the respondents.
The court said the government had not issued orders well in advance preventing any such public servant from taking part in the strike nor provided any machinery enabling others to go to work.
The court said trade union activities pertaining to the statutory provisions under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, could not be allowed to impede governance. It is the duty of the government to not only protect the citizens, but also to continue with all government work as expected. It should not attempt slowing down government work.
The court said a post-decision on the alleged failure of government servants in not attending for duty was entirely different from the government exercising its power and duty to ensure operation of buses with sufficient police protection to ensure attendance. If this practice is allowed to continue, then the government can always take shelter under Rule 14A, which deals with dies non. Disciplinary action can be taken if only there is participation of government servants, which again requires a detailed inquiry.
The petitioner said the government was helping the strike by granting leave with salary to employees taking part in it and not declaring dies non following the court’s directions over the years. It said the government had acted hand in glove with trade unions and encouraged public servants and teachers to participate in the strike.