Kerala HC stays govt order deferring payment of salary to employees amid Covid-19

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C P Sudhkara Prasad, Advocate General, sought to justify the government decision stating that the state was faced with a severe financial crisis due to Covid-19.  

In a huge setback to the Kerala government, the state high court on Tuesday stayed for two months the order issued by the state government for deferring payment of six days' salary of employees of government public sector undertakings for five months from April 2020 citing financial crisis due to Covid-19.

The order issued by the finance department on April 23 mandated deferment of the payment of salaries of employees with gross salary of above Rs.20000 per month to the extent of six per month for five months.

After hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the government order, a single bench of Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas observed that the order was, prima facie, not supported by any provision of law. He observed that it was a vested right of every individual to receive salary for the work discharged.

The petitioners contended that the government order is illegal and without authority. Though it is named as deferred payment, nothing has been mentioned about the time when the payment would be made.

They also pointed out that there was no provision either in the Kerala Service Rules (KSR) or Kerala State and Subordinate Services Rules (KS and SSR) empowering the government to withhold a part of the salary of the government employees.

The government servants should have been given an option for making a voluntary donation as was done by other state governments and the Centre.

C P Sudhkara Prasad, Advocate General, sought to justify the government decision stating that the state was faced with a severe financial crisis due to Covid-19.  More than 50 per cent of the revenue receipts are used to payment of salary. Covid-19 has put huge burden on the resources of the state. Rs.5000 crore was spent last month for providing relief to the people affected by Covid-19.

He submitted that the government order is only postponing the salary, and there was no deprivation of the same. He pointed out that similar orders were passed by Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha government. The orders of AP government mandate 50 percent deferment of the salary of the government employees.

If such measures are not taken, the state will go deep into financial crisis, he added.

The bench did not accept the state government argument.  

"Financial difficulty is not a ground for state government to defer the payment of salary. Prime facie I find that deferment of salary, for whatever purposes, amounts to denial of property. In such a view, I stay the operation of the impugned order for a period of two months".

 

 

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