Despite the sops, the crackdown of 2002 is not forgotten

R.K. Radhakrishnan

Chennai

Memories of `black July' nearly three years ago are yet to fade for many Government employees in Tamil Nadu. It was then that many employees saw the inside of a police lock-up for the first time in their lives and more than 1.7 lakh were dismissed.

On July 2, 2003, employees decided to strike, demanding restoration of pensions and other benefits withdrawn by the Government. The Government cracked down on the striking employees, pushed through an amendment to the Tamil Nadu Essential Services Maintenance Act (TESMA) 2002, and sacked the employees en masse.

"How can anyone forget? We were treated like criminals. What sin did we commit," asks a Secretariat office assistant. There are many in the Secretariat, and the Government office complexes at Kuralagam and Ezhilagam, who share his view.

Tamil Nadu Arasu Aluvalar Sangam (C & D group) president P. Sounderrajan blames the constant propaganda of the Opposition unions for the incident still remaining fresh in the collective memory of employees.

"Every single day they have been talking from one platform or the other. The fact is there was a strike and the Government took action. Now it is history," said Mr. Soundarrajan, who heads the Federation of about 85 associations in various departments. The C & D staff, about 2.5 lakh, form the largest chunk of Government employees.

But for employees unaffected by State action, the strike and the punishments are history. They were happy with the Government decision to merge 50 per cent Dearness Allowance with pay. "Most of us got a 20 per cent jump in pay," says a section officer in Kuralagam.

Over 7 lakh employees

By no measure are Government employees in Tamil Nadu a homogenous group. They include the nearly six lakh `direct' employees, including teachers, and about 1.1 lakh police personnel. Hence, for practical purposes, the number of employees is just over seven lakh.

Then there are the `semi-Government' employees. They include staff of local bodies (about a lakh), teachers in aided schools (nearly a lakh, again) and transport corporation workers (about 1.25 lakh). But numerically the biggest of these are noon meal workers, numbering about three lakh.

The immediate demands of each group are different. For noon meal workers, the overriding concern is to become Government employees. They will back any Government willing to do this.

Neither the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have conceded this demand, because of the huge drain on the exchequer it would entail.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Central Committee Member T.K. Rengarajan claimed that many employees looked at the sops the Jayalalithaa Government has thrown at them as an insult.