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In a major embarrassment for the Kerala Government, the Supreme Court upheld a Kerala High Court order that stayed the government move to collect letters of unwillingness from employees who did not wish to contribute to the “salary challenge” that was set up in the wake of the floods in August. The government had urged all its employees to donate a month’s salary to the chief minister’s distress relief fund for the reconstruction of the state.

The SAC came down harsh on the government and said there was no need to “humiliate” people by asking them to give in writing that they don’t want to pay. They would also have no guarantee that the money would be used for relief efforts. It is for the state government to 9instil in them such a belief”, the court said.

The Kerala government directive to its employees had and has received mixed opinions from the public and much flak from the Opposition. On September 11, 2018 the Kerala Government issued an order requesting all government employees to donate their salary for the month of September to the Chief Minister’s Distress Fund (CMDRF) to help reconstruct the flood affected areas. The employees can also transfer from the Provident Fund (PF), amount equivalent to the gross salary for the month of September and even surrender earn leave of 30 days as part of the challenge. This Salary Challenge does not force anyone, rather requests the employees to make their contribution; transferring the amount as full or partial installment for 10 months. Moreover, any amount donated to the CMDRF prior to this by the employee would be deducted from the salary money that would be donated. People unwilling to pay could be exempted from this challenge if they submitted a refusal letter.

On October 9, the Kerala HC had stayed this measure, stating that forcing employees to submit a no-consent letter would hurt their self-respect. It also opined that there was no way to differentiate between those who chose not to donate their salary despite having money, and those who chose not to because they genuinely did not have enough money to afford such a donation. On October 4, the High Court also criticised the Kerala government’s move to prepare a list of all those who had chosen not to participate in the salary challenge. It had also said that “the demand that one month’s salary should be donated is tantamount to forced fund collection”, while issuing the stay order.

The appeal in the Supreme Court comes close on the heels of reports that the Kerala government on October 24 has forcibly seized one month’s worth of salary of 49 police officers in Idukki district who did not agree to contribute to the salary challenge. The money was deducted from their salary for September.

                                                                                                         —India Legal Bureau

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