Tuesday, December 5, 2023

J&K Admin bans Govt employees from organizing strikes, protests

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A soldier guards the roadside checkpoint outside of Srinagar International Airport (SXR) in Jammu and Kashmir, India.

The recent govt order asking all its employees not to participate in any demonstrations or strikes has triggered an “alarm and anxiety” in Jammu and Kashmir, where the government is the biggest employer with approximately 5 lakh people.

A week ago, on November 3, the Lieutenant Governor-led admin issued an order warning of “serious consequences” if the employees of the Union Territory indulge in the protests and strikes.

The circular issued by J&K’s General Administration Department (GAD), stated that “some employees are resorting to demonstrations and strikes in favour of certain demands”.

Citing Rule 20 (ii) of Jammu and Kashmir Government Employees (Conduct) Rules, 1971, the circular (No. GAD-ADM0III/158/2023-09-GAD) stated that any demonstrations and strikes by the employees are an “act of serious indiscipline and misconduct”.

The administration has warned that “strict disciplinary action” will be taken against any employee who is found indulging in “organizing demonstration(s) and strike(s) in terms of the rule mentioned supra,” the circular reads.

Rule (ii) of J&K employee conduct rules bars the government employees from organizing or participating in “any form of strike in connection with their service matter or the service matter of other government employees”.

“Therefore, all Administrative Secretaries are requested to circulate these instructions to employees in their respective Department(s) to desist from all such uncalled for demonstrations and strikes: an act of serious indiscipline and misconduct,” the GAD circular states.

Panic among employees

The government decree stating its employees not to participate in strikes or protests has created apprehensions among the employees of the Union Territory. Maktoob reached out to several employees for their comments but they either denied or did not want to be quoted fearing “harsh repercussions” from the government.

“The blatant ban on strikes and protests is against the spirit of the law and the constitution of the country,” said an employee working in the health depart for the past 40 years, wishing not to be named.

“This move has spread panic among the employees who are not only frightened but also suppressed following a series of dictating orders after the backdrop of abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019,” he said.

“This is our fundamental right to put pressure on the authorities against our unfulfilled demands,” believes an employee wishing anonymity.

“I fail to understand how on earth one can come up with such kind of dictating orders if there is already a separate section in the general administration department (GAD) dealing with matters of associations”? He questioned.

He further said that why is the government giving registration to employee unions in the first instance if they have no right to stage protests for their genuine demands? “Why are they (government) bound to provide office, furniture, and mobile phone connections to association offices, and invite suggestions from unions for dealing with any welfare measure? Why are union leaders being invited for talks and other suggestions?” he said while raising questions about the said order.

He cited the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 saying that any employee has a right to get his problem solved and he has a right to take along any senior employee or union leader before authorities to press for his demands”.

To say it precisely, he said the order is simply a tool to “suppress the voice of the people”.

Employees under the radar in J&K

The circular comes at a time when dozens of employees have been terminated in Jammu and Kashmir for alleged “security reasons” of the union territory following the abrogation of the special status of J&K in August 2019.

Hundreds and thousands of employees of Rehbar-e-Khel, National Rural Health Mission, etc have been protesting to seek the attention of the government in addressing their long pending demands. They have been protesting in the city centre demanding regularization of the jobs.

The order has forced the Joint Action Employees Forum – a conglomerate of organizations of medical, forest, power employees, teachers, and clerical staff to roll back their scheduled call for strike on the very next day.

They were supposed to observe the strike in favour of its demands, including issues related to GP fund cases; gratuity, and SRO 43 cases.

Maktoob tried to reach out to the leaders of this forum but they didn’t wish to speak over the issue.

Not a new order

The lawyers dealing with the matters of service laws say that the order is not a new thing nor a “worrisome”. But, rather an extension of the already existing rules. “This is not the new order. It is the reiteration of the already gazetting rule. This rule was always there. It is a part of their (employees’) service rules. They have just reproduced it and brought it to the knowledge of the employees of the union territory,” believes Shariq Riyaz, a service lawyer.

“The timing of it is something that you can always speculate about why is it being done at this point. Otherwise, it is not a new order as such,” he added.

“Yes, the strikes and demonstrations is a fundamental right, but once you are governed by certain rules, they come with certain restrictions,” Shariq said adding even though this rule exists in the textbook generally it doesn’t have such harsh implications because whenever something like this happens it always tries to balance between the two competing rights”.

He added that this rule being wrong or against the constitution is not true. “Because when you enter into employment with the employer, the employer has the right to set the tone of the conditions of the service. The same rules are in the service rules of the unions as well, but despite that rule, people do protest and engage in the demonstration but they have to be peaceful and need to be done in a certain manner”.

Order evokes criticism from political parties

There is widespread criticism from the regional political parties of Jammu and Kashmir to the move of the government barring employees from organizing protests or participating in strikes to press for their demands.

Former Chief Minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and People’s Democratic Party President, Mehbooba Mufti while hitting hard at the administration said that the LG administration’s blanket ban on peaceful protests by government employees reeks of a doctoral mindset.

 “Stifling voices of reason in a democracy is unacceptable,” Mufti said adding threatening them with dire consequences and disciplinary action is outrageous”.

Member of Parliament and National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah said that the government order is more of an intimidation to the employees.

“Rightful dissent is a distinguishable feature of any democracy. There is no question it being wrong or right, justified or unjustified,” Dr Farooq said.

 “This is draconian. The employees have the fundamental right to go for strikes and hold peaceful protests while seeking the redressal of their issues with the employer,” Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) senior vice-president and media in-charge, Ravinder Sharma told Maktoob over the phone.

Terming it highly unfortunate, he said that the government is afraid of the strikes of employees who are seeking salary and redressal of other grievances for the last three months. So, this has never happened that a blanket ban has been imposed by the authorities”.

The Congress, Sharma said, is fully supporting the employees and every citizen and demands the rollback of the “arbitrary order”.

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, senior political leader of the Communist Party said that the employees take out rallies when their genuine demands are not met.

“The order is yet another assault on the employees’ and workers’ constitutional rights,” he said.

Alleging that the government has nothing to offer to its employees, especially the daily wagers and scheme workers whose salaries have been pending for months.

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