Another hare-brained policy of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been ripped apart by the Kerala High Court. The court observed on Monday that the 'salary challenge' initiated by Vijayan to raise money for the reconstruction of flood-hit Kerala is a loot.
The chief minister, whose many a high-profile bungling has been part of the folklore in Kerala, had ordered the collection of one-month salary from all state government employees. Though there were reservations against the move, the CM had gone ahead with the plan to forcibly take the salaries of all state government staff.
The Kerala high court made the observations while it considered a plea by the Dewaswam Board staffers who challenged the government move to forcibly take one-month salary in ten equal instalments.
"It is not right to collect money forcefully. Such things cannot be handled just like private banks conduct sequestration", the court observed.
How could the CM roll out such a thoughtless plan? Who does he consult before taking decisions as the CM of the state? It's well known that Vijayan, who is currently in the US for medical treatment, depends on his posse of advisers. He is perhaps the only chief minister in India to have a high-profile police adviser apart from the DGP. He also has five other advisers, according to the government website. At one point he had as many as eight advisers.
Interestingly, some of the CM's advisers are bleeding the exchequer. While some didn't take a salary, the remuneration and staff allowances for some others were exorbitant. According to a Malayala Manorama report last year, the government had spent more than Rs 90 lakh towards the salaries for the two drivers for the police adviser alone. Two other advisers had taken a salary of 29 lakh.
Clueless about the number of his own advisers
In May last year, the CM had appeared clueless about the number of his own advisers. In reply to a question in the state assembly the CM said he had six advisers, only to correct himself on the same day when he replied to another question saying he had eight. Despite having all these advisers, his government came a cropper on multiple occasions, forcing him to go on the back foot, admit a mistake or take a late corrective action in the face of public wrath.
Why should the CM have such a large number of advisers? He already has a cabinet of 19 ministers. What's going on in the cabinet? Well, that's also a well-guarded secret, as the CM hates to meet the press after a cabinet meeting. The secretive and seat-of-the-pants administration by the CM reminds one of the time when he was the party boss for a decade-and-a-half before he became the CM.
The 'salary challenge' was certainly another of the knee-jerk reactions by the CM during the flood crisis. The CM was in denial when the floods happened, rescue operations were too late and too little and the official relief mechanism was often hijacked by the ruling party cadres. But the cyber army of the party deftly tried to swing the public mood in favour of the government.
The collective goodness of the people of Kerala was sold as the government's effective intervention -- while, in fact, it was the horrible failure of the government machinery that had aggravated the impact of the floods.
The salary challenge was one such gimmick the CM pulled from his hat. He must have thought that this was a visionary act! There were protests against forcing people to part with an entire month's pay. But soon came reports of vindictive action against those who refused to pay the entire salary. People were even suspended for not giving the money in full. In some instances, staff were forced to pay back the festival allowance they had already drawn.
'Donation targets' for department heads
Across the state, the government insisted that those who didn't give the entire month's salary to had to give it in writing that they couldn't. Worse off, department heads and even the police inspectors were assigned 'donation targets'. That's pretty much akin to the way the biggest and the wealthiest cadre party in the state collects the funds, not the way a government raises money for flood relief.
The CM also tried to bask in the glory of the Sheikhs in the UAE by jumping the gun and announcing that the UAE rulers would give Rs 700 crore in aid to Kerala. There wasn't an official confirmation from the UAE, the centre had after thoughts about foreign aid, and eventually, the UAE categorically said there wasn't a plan! However, the CM and his supporters had made sure that the social media chatter had turned in favour of him.
Now, the Kerala High Court has called the bluff on the CM's madcap policy of forcibly taking the salary of people. Not many in Kerala have forgotten the way in which the CM and his much advised- cabinet spent the relief amount received from the centre a year ago -- the CM had used the relief funds to pay for a helicopter trip from Thiruvananthapuram to Thrissur, to attend a party rally. When the news was out and the agitation followed, he put Rs 8 lakh back into the Ockhi relief funds.
In another brazen, asinine move, the CM had the gumption to announce that the state ministers would go on multiple foreign visits to raise relief money for the flood-hit state's rebuilding. Hope some courts intervene and knock some sense into the government!
(Opinions expressed in the article do not reflect those of International Business Times)