For the past two weeks, Thiruvananthapuram Secretariat has been witness to protests organised by various political and apolitical groups against the backdoor appointments in Kerala’s government services. A few of these groups — different associations of PSC rank holders — had been continuously protesting near the Secretariat gates and on Monday they took it one step further.
Pouring kerosene over themselves, they told the state that it doesn’t matter if one of them died as long as the rest of them got a job as a result. This isn’t some form of a political gimmick, but a statement from a group suffering from a state-manufactured situation.
Narendra Modi had, in a brilliant example of irony, called the farmer’s protest “sacred” but added that “andolan jeevis” had polluted it. The Kerala government had not, yet, called the PSC protest sacred but has alleged it to be a political narrative. The state has made the point that the protestors have a political agenda to push, and they wish to topple the government. However, as the protestors asked, what could they gain from toppling a government that has only two more months?
Interestingly, around a dozen left organisations are currently protesting against the West Bengal government over the alleged backdoor appointments in the state. They have claimed that the state had taken drastic action against the protestors using water cannons and other brute actions. However, back home, the same is being done to protestors here, and they echo the same demands that the left parties are making in West Bengal.
Kerala’s Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala had stated that people could understand the difficulty in giving jobs to all unemployed people. “However, the reasons forwarded by the PSC rank holders aren’t unreasonable. The government should be able to provide jobs to as many people as possible, legally and constitutionally,” he said. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said that most of the rank holders’ union were created with a political motive. “They are protesting as if someone convinced them they would get a government job if their name appears in the rank list. At any point, the government can’t provide jobs to every name in the rank list,” he added.
The government has been trying to create a narrative whereby they show that the protestors are political actors in a conspiracy to malign the state government. However, the state actions are pointing to an apathetic behaviour towards candidates who claim that they have no other option but death. The Kerala government is eerily behaving like the BJP Centre since both are trying to invalidate a movement by claiming political intentions and active actors — sort of like Modi’s andolan jeevis.
During a prime time debate in a leading Malayalam news channel, CPM MLA M Noushad is trying to explain the PSC situation, adding that ‘if’ there were any problems from the government’s side, then it would strive to correct it. On the other side, one of the rank holders is explaining how he, like many others in the rank list, had reached that point through sacrifice and struggle, and while he was going on about the difficulties he had faced, the MLA asks the anchor to ask the candidate to quiet down.
The government made tall claims but has not yet implemented it. As the candidate explained in the debate, while Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had claimed that the vacancies for training posts have been extended till December 2021, an order for the same, dividing them into battalions, has not been given to the Police headquarters. This is based off an RTI reply that the candidates had collected for the matter. Interestingly, Noushad has only made one claim: “If there is any mistake, the government would correct it”. Note that he doesn’t admit to the misgivings, despite evidence proving that there is a failure from the government’s side.
In Wednesday’s press meet, the CM stated that almost 80% of those in the rank list might not be selected since the list is five times the reported vacancies. He added that the only thing the government can do is properly report the vacancies in each department under the Public Service Commission. Pinarayi Vijayan added that strict action would be taken against anyone not reporting correct vacancies.
Yes, the government says that PSC handles employment and any lack of reporting of vacancies in departments is punishable, but what if the PSC doesn’t handle the employment of major government centres in Kerala. Over 30 major institutions are yet to hand over the employment process to PSC. This includes KEPCO, KILA, C-DIT, KTDFC, KSFDC, GCDA, Agro Machinery Corporation, Poultry Development Corporation, and many more.
Interestingly, the government claims that it is because special rules are yet to be implemented. In some cases, the special rules are not even ready, and in others, the government had recommended handing it over to PSC but never fulfilled. These are a few of the biggest employers in the state, they are open to appointments outside the purview of the PSC, and it is mostly because the government is yet to make or implement rules. This state warranted disregard is another example of bureaucratic apathy that the rank holders have to face.
The third is the regularisation of employees who have completed 10 or more years in government service. Ministers and MLAs of the LDF claimed that it was a humane action, and it was to protect the families of those regularised. It would have been a noble gesture if there weren’t evidence pointing to the fact that many who were regularised were relatives or acquaintances of the CPM. Even more, this benevolence by the state seems to be a selective strategy.
A protest by sanitation workers of the Kozhikode Medical College entered its 100th day on February 6. These workers were active during the Covid-19 lockdown despite the social stigma they had faced from their neighbours. When the pandemic worsened, authorities had asked them to go stay in quarantine. However, upon returning to work they learnt that they had been replaced. They begged the authorities to give them any work, as it is difficult for them to survive this economy without a job.
However, in a typical bureaucratic fashion, the officials claim that they can’t regularise these employees or take them back since they are temporary recruits. However, many of these terminated staff has been employed at the institution for almost two decades, one more than necessary for regularisation.
Meanwhile, Members of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s social media team will be regularised without having completed 10 years of service. This would be the second attempt since trade unions within C-DIT had opposed to the move, and reportedly, the cabinet will be relying on a Special Rules amendment to regularise the employees.
Why is this regularisation a problem? In the landmark Uma Devi judgement, the Supreme Court noted two things. Firstly, the government must ensure a specific objective criterion if they need to regularise employees and the objective criteria cannot exclude people as long as someone qualifies it. Secondly, governments shouldn’t employ people on a contract basis for specific periods to create a circumstance artificially requiring regularisation, since it would usually be contradicting the Constitutional provisions guaranteed to the people.
If that is the case then everyone who has completed 10 years of temporary service should be regularised, including the sanitation workers. Since it isn’t so, then no one should be regularised. However, Industries Minister EP Jayarajan justified it by asking whether the families of the temporary employees who were regularised should immolate themselves for the job.
The government claims that they are helpless, hiding behind rules and regulations. While they had time to make special rules for the regularisation of employees, they failed to do that for including major public companies under the purview of PSC. Besides, many bodies, including the Library Council, had also regularised employees despite there being an active PSC rank list for the department. These actions don’t seem to be pointing to a helpless government, but to a system that tied its own hands and claimed innocence.