The Kerala High Court on Tuesday stayed the state government’s decision to cut a month’s salary—spread over five months at six days salary every month—-from April 2020 onwards.
The cut would have been effective from the first week of May and would have been applicable to all State Government employees, employees of all state-owned Enterprises, Public Sector Undertakings, Quasi-Government organisations, Universities etc.
Acting on a clutch of petitions by various employees organisations, Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas said the decision was legally untaneble. The state had said to meet the difficulties arising out of COVID19, the salaries of all government employees who are in receipt of a gross salary of above Rs 20,000 would be deferred to the extent of six days every month from April till August. The court observed that “Payment of salary is a right vested in every individual to receive the salary. Article 300A of the Constitution which confers a right to property will include within its purview “salary” also a property, at least prima facie.”
Advocate General C.P. Sudhakara Prasad submitted that the Government order only postponed the payment of salaries. And that did not deprive the employees of their salaries. Besides, no provision of the law stipulated that the salaries should be paid on a particular day. In fact, the condition that the salaries should be paid on a particular day was based on the Financial Code, which was a compilation of various executive orders. The government had the power to defer the payment of salaries. It could be traced to the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, as amended in 2020, he argued.
The State Government had last Friday issued the order to deduct the salary of government employees for six days every month for the next five months as part of raising funds for fighting the Covid-19 pandemic in the State.
The order made it clear that there will be no salary cut for those staff who earn less than Rs 20,000 per month.
The order also stated that ministers, MLAs, various Board members, Local body institution members, members of various commissions would receive 30 per cent less salary for one year.
However, this order is not applicable for those who had already contributed their one month salary to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund (CMDRF).
“The salary for six days every month would be deducted for the next five months. This would be applicable to employees of all State-owned Enterprises, Public Sector Undertakings, Quasi-Government organisations, Universities, etc in the State,” the order said.
The order said the state was going through a fiscal crisis as the tax collection revenue had fallen drastically.
“The pandemic has completely brought down the already weak economy to a standstill. The livelihood of the agriculture, industrial, unorganised sector in the state has been affected” it said.
Earlier, the state cabinet on Wednesday decided to deduct the salary for six days every month for the next five months.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had earlier said government employees and their associated organisations have expressed their willingness to contribute one month’s salary to the CMDRF.
Vijayan had also said the state would consider giving back the amount deducted to the employees when the financial condition of the state improved.
-India Legal Bureau