The Kerala High Court today refused to order a stay on the implementation of the recently passed Kerala Disaster and Public Health Emergency (Special Provisions) Ordinance, 2020.
The ordinance gives the government the power to defer up to 25 per cent of the salary of government employees in case of a disaster or health emergency. It also allows the State government up to six months to take a decision on giving back the deferred amount to the employees.
But as the government explained, it has decided only to defer six days’ salary for the next five months, or a total of one month’s salary by the fifth month.
The opposition employees’ organisations thus received a setback today in what was turning out to be curious political battle. The court, while refusing to order a stay, pointed out that the ordinance was meant only to “defer” an amount payable to the employees.
Justice Bechu Kurien Thomas said the ordinance itself clarified that the government would evolve a mechanism to pay back the deferred amount. It does not mean taking away the rights of employees.
The ordinance was passed on April 30, under controversial circumstances to overcome a stay order issued by the court earlier against the implementation of the same decision through an executive order.
While granting the stay, the court had then said that the government did not have the power to delay the disbursement of salary by a few months through a mere executive decision.
“When our Constitution in unmistakable terms stipulates that property of a citizen can be deprived only by an authority of law, and when that authority of law means a law duly framed, the government order to be valid, must of necessity trace its source to some provision of law,” the court had said
But today the court said that it was within the legislative competence of the government to issue the ordinance, which only deferred payment of salary and had not appropriated the salary of employees, as it was meant to help it overcome a very difficult financial situation.
Further hearing on the case has been postponed till the second week of June.
Expressing satisfaction at the court’s decision, State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said the government had issued the ordinance imbibing fully the spirit of the High Court’s earlier order that such a deferment of salary and wages of employees through an executive order was not right.
The court decision was also in tune with the approach of the Left parties at the national level, he said. That is why the government took care not to give itself the power to cut salaries through this measure. But it has given itself the right only to defer the payment of a portion of salary for a specified period.
The Finance Minister said, “Those who are behind the appeal should remove their masks and disclose their political affiliations. The appeal was filed by, among others, some sets of people who are not so well known. A section of our politicians seems to be doing research on creating mischief in all possible manner in order to create cracks in our defence against COVID-19 even as Kerala’s efforts in this regard are being praised the world over. They must stop doing it. I have no doubt that within a few days the number of COVID patients in the State will come down to single digits. But our real war is only beginning.
“In the context of people from many hotspots returning to the State, and a likelihood of the situation going bad, instead of joining hands to try and find out means to counter the threat of the pandemic, it is an outdated political strategy to create mischief and divisions to scuttle the united efforts that Kerala is undertaking. This is what those who went on appeal against the ordinance have done. They are here only to create an uproar over non-issues, as is evident from the fact that they are now silent on many such issues that they raised a while ago.”