Kashmir is in for a major showdown between the government and its employees. A day after imposing the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), the government on Wednesday arrested a leading employees’ leader in Srinagar. The employees’ strike has cost the bankrupt state Rs 189 crore so far this year.
Both the factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Sayeed Ali Shah Geelani respectively, have thrown their weight behind the protesting employees. The APHC factions have described the demands of the employees “as genuine” and “government action as barbaric”. Several traders unions have also supported the employees’ strike.
A drama unfolded earlier on Wednesday morning when a posse of the police tracked the movement of Employees Joint Action Committee (EJAC) chairman Qayoom Wani and arrested him at the Jhelum Valley Hospital at Bemina, where Wani’s wife had to undergo a medical check-up. Wani was taken into preventive detention under Section 107/151 of the CRPC. Wani has been lodged at a sub-jail in Baramulla.
Since Tuesday, police sleuths have visited the residences of many employees’ leaders, including Farooq Trali and Khursheed Wani. Nobody was, however, detained.
“We condemn the state government’s action. It’s inhuman. But these detentions will not break our resolve,” Farooq Trali, EJAC leader, told the Hindustan Times.
The EJAC, in response to stringent action taken by the government, has extended their strike from April 10 to April 13. “There will be protest processions in all district headquarters on coming Saturday. We are also planning a rally in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. The government is forcing us to take harsh steps…next protest programme will be given on April 13,” said Trali.
The state employees have a string of demands, which includes arrears to be released under the Sixth Pay Commission Recommendations and raising of retirement age from 58 to 60.
The government, however, is categorical that it was not in a position to accept the demands due to its poor finances. The government in its recent round of talks with the employees’ leaders had suggested the formation of a joint delegation of all parties, which would meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for funds. The state government requires Rs 4,200 crore to meet the employees’ demands.
The main opposition political party has criticised the government move saying “it shows the incompetence of the government”. “First the government promise the sky to people in general and employees in particular but fails to meet the demands…In our tenure we never went with a begging bowl to New Delhi like the present government,” said PDP chief spokesman Naeem Akhtar.
PDP president Mehbooba termed the invocation of the ESMA as imposing “Marshall law in the state.” “The present government is in confrontation with all, like traders, employees etc. The ESMA should have been the last resort but unfortunately this was used as the first tool to deal with protesting employees,” said Mehbooba.
The state government, which raises the revenue of just 3,600 crore a year, pays more than 11,000 crore as salary to the employees every year.
For the third day today, schools, colleges, offices across Kashmir valley and Kargil remained shut. If the strike continues till April 13, the state will lose Rs 378 crore as direct losses and indirect losses to the tune of Rs 810 crore.