TAMIL NADU

Antony mum on ESMA

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, JAN. 31. The Chief Minister, A. K. Antony, declined to confirm or deny whether the Government would be using the Essential Services Maintenance Act against employees proposing to go on strike from February 6.

Talking to presspersons after a Cabinet meeting, the Chief Minister said the Government would be facing the strike as previous Governments had done. "It would carry out its responsibilities in this respect."

Noting that the CPI(M) had virtually called upon the employees to unleash a violent agitation against the Government, Mr. Antony urged the employees not to become tools in the hands of political parties.

Asked about employees owing allegiance to the constituents of the UDF also proposing to join the strike, Mr. Antony said the UDF was not supporting militancy by the employees. The employees were part of the Government and they knew the realities. They would not be going to strike unless incited by outsiders.

He said that even if the strike got prolonged, the Government would not be able to concede demands which were impossible to carry out. The employees had been paid their salaries this month using Plan advance for February. In February, they were to be paid salaries using the development loan floated by the Government the other day.

Though Kerala could have floated only a loan for Rs. 76 crores this time, the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, and the Finance Minister, Yaswant Sinha, had acceded to its request to increase the amount to Rs. 276 crores.

He recalled that the previous Government had kept four instalments of dearness allowance due to the employees in arrears. The present Government's decision to abolish leave surrender was a milder measure compared to that.

The CPI(M) was urging the employees to actively participate in the strike when the party itself had retrenched employees from its institution (Kairali television channel). There was no protest when the previous Government introduced the voluntary retirement scheme.

He said he was not averse to talks with the employees. None would be happy about the cutting of benefits and promotional chances, he said when asked about the reaction of the senior civil servants to recent decisions of the Government.

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