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Firing govt employees may just make matters worse for Mehbooba

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

In March 1990, when Kashmir plunged into a runaway pro-independence revolt, the state government sacked five middle-rung bureaucrats for their alleged involvement in the anti-national activities.

Employee organisations soon went on a strike, which lasted 72 days, till the government reinstated the officials. The employees later held a victory rally in the Polo View ground in Srinagar, which was also addressed by their reinstated colleagues. Among them was Naeem Akhtar, senior PDP leader and now J&K's education minister.

The government took similar action in 1995, when some employees were allegedly found to be active in militant ranks. However, this time, there was no agitation, as the government allegations indeed were true.

Now, in the throes of another nineties-like revolt, the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP government in the state has terminated 12 employees, ushering in a deep sense of deja vu. Another agitation stares the government in the eye.

The government's order

The termination order, which was issued on Tuesday, 18 October, states that "the acts of these employees are not only aimed at questioning the sovereignty and integrity of India, but also violate Rule 14 and 20 of the J&K Government Employees Conduct Rules 1971. Their continuation in service will not only set a bad precedent, but would be tantamount to putting a premium on indulging in misconduct, subversion and anti-national activities."

The order also defended the government's decision to not hold a prior inquiry.

"In the prevailing situation, and keeping in view the charged atmosphere, including the threat perception to witnesses, it would not be feasible for the witnesses to depose in case of inquiry," the order read.

However, the government has stopped short of identifying the employees, who are reportedly lower-rung officials from various departments.

Employee organisations preparing for strike

The Employee Joint Action Committee, a grouping of various employee organisations, is meeting on Saturday to decide the future course of action.

"We condemn the government action," EJAC spokesman Farooq Ahmad Trali told Catch. "We want the government to take back its order. It is arbitrary to sack employees without inquiry."

Similarly, EJAC president Abdul Qayoom Wani termed the move "illegal and unjust, and in contravention of the law of land". He also demanded the constitution of a high-level committee to look into the charges framed against these employees.

Some employee leaders, however, privately said they had been left with no option but to go on an indefinite strike. "Sacking employees without an inquiry and on arbitrary charges is a dictatorial move. We can't afford not to resist it," said an employee leader. "We would have liked the government to first hold an inquiry and prove its charges. Then we would have gone along with such a decision."

However, when contacted, education minister and state government spokesman Akhtar said the decision had been taken after due deliberations. "The law will take its own course. And we expect the employees to cooperate rather than confront the government," he told Catch.

Now, the question is whether employees will go on a strike to press for withdrawal of the order.

EJAC president Wani said: "We will the unjust order of the government fight tooth and nail, and provide all assistance to the sacked employees. We will come out on the roads if the government will not reinstate them, and take other measures too."

Unrest losing steam

In such a scenario, the government will be faced with yet another extraordinary crisis, just when the current unrest was looking set to give way to some semblance of normalcy.

In recent days, private traffic on the roads has increased, despite the burning of some vehicles by masked men.

Similarly, there is now more movement of the people on otherwise deserted roads, including in Lal Chowk, Srinagar's commercial hub, which, over the years, has become a signifier of sorts for the public mood in the Valley.

And on Sundays, the Valley's largest flea market re-opens along Residency Road, in defiance of the Hurriyat Conference's protest roster.

This has made some people question the timing of the termination of the employees. "This order would have had a better impact if passed earlier on in the unrest. Now, dismissing employees when the situation is showing remarkable signs of improvement makes little sense," said a senior government functionary.

Another government official was more cynical. "When what you are dealing with is a cancer, a terminal disease, sacking employees will make no difference to the state of affairs, either for the government, or for the other side (separatists)."

In the largest sweep in the state's history, the government has so far arrested more than 7,000 people, and booked 483 under the Public Safety Act, including human rights activist Khurram Parvez. The law sanctions incarceration for six months without trial.

On Sunday, the government conducted house-to-house searches in the old town of Baramulla, and arrested 35 people.

So far, 94 people have been killed, several hundred blinded and more than 14,000 injured in the continuing clashes between the security forces and the protesters, punctuated by a militant attack now and then.

What the separatists say

Separatists have also started speaking on the issue of the employees' termination. They have, however, made no bones about the fact that the employees are a part of the current upsurge.

"It is most unfortunate and undemocratic to punish the employees just for raising their voice against state-sponsored terrorism. Everybody has a moral right to raise their voice against the excesses, and if employees have stood against the tyranny and the vandalism by the state machinery, they have not violated any law," Hurriyat said in a statement.

"Employees are part and parcel of our society. How can they be aloof and silent to the happenings around them?"

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 21 October 2016, 9:20 IST