Covid becomes excuse to deny dues to MP state government employees

“In the first and second wave of the Covid pandemic, ministers and MLAs were sitting in their homes. They avoided common people and crowds. Had virtual meetings. Continued their rhetoric via Twitter and Facebook. Not one rupee was deducted from their salaries. Whereas, we government employees worked round the clock. We did not get time to go home, could not even go, because oxygen had to be arranged for the patients”.

Devendra Goswami remembers the work done during the two deadly waves of Covid over the last year. He used to provide services in Madhya Pradesh’s state-level control room, set up for coordinating the supply of oxygen. They had to continuously monitor the location of the tankers carrying oxygen and when they reached their destination.

It was a 24×7 effort. At the peak of  the crisis, there was no time for visiting family or relatives. In return, Goswami and countless others like him who worked on MP’s Covid response teams were not given full salaries, any allowances or  an increment.

“While the ministers and MLAs enjoyed various government facilities they stopped our salary increase under the guise of Covid and did not give us the benefit of dearness allowance  (DA)) on par with central government employees” he says.

Equally disillusioned is Mahesh Pandole, who works in the government’s Panchayat Department.

“I used to go to the localities of Bhopal wearing a PPE kit. There were four more people in my team. Our job was to take samples of the family members of the Covid infected patient. At that time it was a challenging task. Wearing a PPE kit used to be a big punishment. Our clothes got soaked in sweat. There were many other teams working like us. We performed our tasks very well” he says.

COVID Response Watch LogoMahesh is upset over the fact that till now central government employees were getting a 28 percent DA, recently increased further by 3 percent, while state government employees like him got only 12 percent DA. Earlier this year the central government decided to increase the dearness allowance by 3 percent and the state government by 8 percent.

The increase in DA however is not enough to abide by the rule is to pay DA equally to the central and state government employees. Further,  salary increments which were to be received in July 2021, has been announced to be given in October 2021.

However employees association leaders point to the fact that in the midst of the pandemic Ministers in the MP government have been actively lobbying for increasing the salaries of MLAs.

‘Under the guise of Covid they have implemented all kinds of restrictions on employees while the ministers and MLAs are having fun” fumes Mahesh.

The story of Wahid Khan, who drives the vehicle of an officer at the Directorate of Health in Bhopal is even more troubling.

“My father and sister died in the Covid second wave. Even then I did Covid duty. The family was scared, I could not be with them in their hour of grief. There was pressure on me to go to work and it was also my duty to serve the public in times of crisis like the Covid epidemic. I worked with utmost sincerity in tough times. But the government is not showing honesty” he says.

An increase in DA on par with central government employees would have benefited thousands of MP state government employees, at a time when costs of everything from basic food or fuel to healthcare and education has shot up.

“We can’t even speak about our grievances in front of ministers and officials of the government. If we say anything ministers and officials taunt us or  implicate us in false cases” says Wahid.

Raghu Sinha, posted in the Transport Department, remembers how, back in 1985, when malaria was on the rampage in some districts of MP, he had worked very diligently. For the last two years of the Covid pandemic again he has worked extremely hard.

Along with his family, he says he has been working in the interest of the people of the state. Even when father-in-law died, he could not go to Balaghat to attend the funeral. He believes that during the Covid epidemic it was appropriate to serve the public first. However ministers and government officials  do not see the difficulties of common employees.

“ They  talk about giving us higher DA, but they are not giving even half of what is due to us. The amount of arrears should also be given, but under the guise of Covid, deductions are being made from the salaries of employees” he says.

It is not just current employees but also pensioners who are being denied their dues. There are over 12 lakh state government employees and pensioners in Madhya Pradesh.

Representatives of employees’ organizations of Madhya Pradesh say that there are crores of arrears of dearness allowance received before October 2021, when and how the government will pay it is not known.

According to the MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan the state had to face two “horrific waves of coronavirus” which led to increasing in expenditure and also hit the revenues. This was according to him the reason for delay in increasing salaries of the state government employees.

Ashok Kapse is a journalist based in Bhopal

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