ERNAKULAM: Taking cues from others, the Kerala government on Wednesday decided to cut a month’s salary of all its staffers to raise ₹2,000 crore for the state disaster relief fund to fight the covid-19 crisis.
On Monday, the Telangana government decided to cut salaries of all its employees, in varying degrees depending on their rank. On Tuesday, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan also announced a cut in salaries, from 10% to 100%, again depending on the ranks.
Maharashtra has announced payment of salaries in installments.
All these states have cited the financial crisis in the wake of covid-19 forced lockdowns as the main reason behind the move. In Karnataka, chief minister B S Yediyurappa has announced he will renounce one year's salary and donate it to the covid-19 fight.
Kerala's cabinet on Wednesday decided that salaries for April will be cut. On Tuesday, state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said the government was considering asking officers to do a repeat of the 'salary challenge', a phrase popularised during the catastrophic 2018 floods when officers volunteered donations to the relief fund.
However, these initiatives will be easier said than done for the state governments. Telangana's main opposition Congress has come out strongly against the mandatory salary cut. In Maharashtra, the government had initially planned mandatory salary cuts but revised it to payments in installment fearing a backlash.
In post-floods Kerala, about 40% of government employees, mostly from unions linked to opposition Congress, had abstained from taking part in the 'salary challenge'. The government tried to make it mandatory then but the Supreme Court turned down the move, citing the government cannot insist its workers donate for charity.
The opposition-backed unions have come out against mandatory donations this time as well. "We will welcome the salary challenge but mandatory salary cuts will be opposed," said Ramesh Chennithala, Kerala's opposition leader from Congress, reacting to the development. Moreover, the government also faces a trust deficit after an official of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM was involved in the corruption of ₹10 lakh over the flood relief fund. The official, a local committee secretary, was suspended from the party.
Kerala's four main pillars of revenue— remittance, tourism, alcohol, and lottery— have been hit because of coronavirus-induced lockdown. While revenue has shrunk, the state's expenses have risen following the health crisis.
The state has announced some of the biggest schemes among Indian states to put more money in the hands of the people as part of covid-19 relief works, from an advance payout of two-months social security pensions to free food kits and rations through the public distribution system for nearly everyone.