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The ordinance issued by the Kerala government to cut a portion of the salaries of its employees for the next five months has been challenged before the High Court. The ordinance – Kerala Disaster and Public Health Emergency Ordinance (Special Provisions) – was promulgated last week and has been challenged by the various employees’ organisations.

The ordinance was brought after an earlier High Court order stayed the government order to defer the salaries of government employees for five months to meet the crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ordinance was later approved by the Governor.

The petitioners, challenging the ordinance, pointed out that it was issued to circumvent the earlier court order and also allege ‘mala fide’ intentions behind the ordinance.

The ordinance allows the government to defer up to 25% of the salary of an employee during an emergency. It gives the government a time of six months to decide when the deferred amount will be paid back.

The petitioners argue that an ordinance is not enough to defer salaries, and that the Kerala Service Rules (KSR), which decides the payment of salary of the government employees, will have to be amended.

Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had earlier taken a jibe at the earlier Congress government led by AK Antony that once cut salaries of government employees during a crisis. He said that the present ordinance will not cut salaries, but only defer them for a period.

The earlier government order on deferment said that the salaries of employees would be deducted for six days every month for five months, beginning April. It also said that the order was only applicable to those employees who got a salary of more than Rs 20,000 a month. The order also exempted those who had already given up a month’s salary to contribute to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.

-India Legal Bureau

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