The J&K government on Saturday expressed helplessness to meet the agitating employees' demand of enhancing the retirement age from 58 to 60 to benefit around 4.5 lakh employees.
"To agree or disagree on the retirement age issue is very difficult. It needs general consensus as varied opinions are aired by several stakeholders. Educated youth and a large chunk of government employees are against the move. The demand has come only from a small section of employees," said state finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather.
Rather's statement has come on a day when the employees observed a pen-down strike to press for their demands. Several agitating employee leaders continue to be behind the bars.
"We have met most of the demands of the employees. The agitating employees have taken the government for granted by going ahead with strike politics despite reassurances. We will enforce no-work, no-pay rule against the employees who are used to striking work and getting salaries at the end of the month," said Rather.
The government is cash-starved and the Centre has refused to help saying "J&K should create own resources for it". The implementation of the sixth pay commission arrears has already burnt a hole in the government pocket -- for `4,200 crore. The government has decided to pay arrears in five instalments, of which three has been already made.
The wage bill has shot up from `5,477 crore in 2008-09 to `16,000 crore, including pension. "There is around `10,000 crore increase in the wage bill," said Rather, while expressing helplessness over increasing the retirement age of the employees. However, the government has reiterated its stand to continue the dialogue with the employees "to address genuine grievances".
"The government believes in discussion, reconciliation and dialogue to sort out the issues of its employees," said Rather.
A cabinet sub-committee of six ministers is already looking into the demands of the employees. The government has already increased the House Rent Allowance of employees.
The minister also assured of action into the cases of regularisation of contractual, consolidated and daily wagers. "The government made a law, first-of-its-kind in the country, to regularise the services of adhoc, contractual and consolidated employees. More than 2,800 employees of these categories already stand regularised." He said the government has also hiked the TA from `6,000 to `10,000 and TMA from `600 to `1,500 monthly.
Rather said in view of the employees' unwarranted and rigid stand, the government is constrained to take action against them under law "as it cannot allow the people to be held hostage by unlawful and illegal tactics".
Opposition People's Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti took the government head on for its decision to re-employ several top-ranking employees.
"There is irony in what the government is saying. On the one hand it says it is concerned for the unemployed youth, at the same time it re-employs and extends services of senior officials, who draw lakhs of rupees as salaries. Don't we have talented youth to perform the jobs?" she said.
Awami Itehad Party president Engineer Rasheed, MLA from north Kashmir's Langate constituency, said, "The government should make it clear to the employees that it cannot raise the retirement age. It can only happen over the bodies of the unemployed youth."
Besides Mufti and Rasheed, Panther Party's MLA Harsh Dev Singh and CPM's MY Tarigami asked the government to withdraw cases against the arrested employee leaders and restart negotiations.
"We cannot wage war against our own tools," said Mehbooba.