Grounded by their otherwise ‘faithful’ drivers who went on strike demanding a further hike in their ‘fat salaries’, Punjab’s frontline bureaucrats switched into the chauffeur’s mode and drove official/ personal vehicles to reach the Secretariat in Chandigarh on Thursday.
Seeking monetary benefits such as removal of pay anomalies, travel and risk allowance, promotion and insurance cover, the drivers’ welfare association of civil secretariat and mini-secretariat — attached with ministers/ bureaucrats — went on a two-day strike from Thursday after the talks failed on Wednesday night.
Chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal will meet the agitating drivers on Friday to break the logjam. Near 100 drivers are attached with bureaucrats and ministers here. There are about 5,000 regular drivers, while as many are on contract. The union had given call for a statewide strike.
Even as the strike was ostensibly successful, the bureaucracy left in the lurch sent out a loud and clear message—fall in fast--to the striking drivers. A Punjab government driver with about 20 years service is paid over Rs 50,000 gross salary, besides other pecuniary benefits.
As the drivers refused to relent on Wednesday night, the general administration department (GAD) had swung into action to hire cabs. First top-rung officers were called to know if they wanted cab. But a majority of the officers said they would manage this “mundane issue” without much fuss. Kumar Anugresh Prasad Sinha, secretary (GAD), the department that provides vehicles etc to officers, drove in his personal car to office.
Another senior officer and trained commercial pilot Viswajeet Khanna, principal secretary (housing and urban development), also opted to drive his official Honda City.
Another adventurous IAS officer Mandeep Singh Sandhu decided to walk up to his office in the mini-secretariat.
Additional chief secretary (development) Suresh Kumar and Rakesh Kumar Verma, secretary (technical education) reached office in cabs. Punjab-cadre officers posted in Chandigarh also pitched in to help their stranded colleagues.
The senior officers posted in the chief minister’s office (CMO) such as Gaggandeep Singh Brar, IAS, special principal secretary (to chief minister) drove personal car to office.
The scenario on Thursday was in sharp contrast to the routine spectacle when the officers don’t even have to open or shut the door of their vehicle.
In many cases, the police personnel attached as personal security officer (PSO) with majority of the officers doubled as drivers also.
“Majority of the demands of the drivers are unjust. It’s a blackmailing tactics basically. They will have to shape in or they will be shipped out. The government can manage without these highly paid drivers,” said a senior officer, in an indication of government’s firmness before Friday’s stormy meeting with the drivers’ association.