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12 Jun 2017

Mamata cracks hill whip - Govt signals rapid action, truant staff face stick

PRANESH SARKAR and KINSUK BASU, TT, Calcutta, June 11: The salaries of employees who fail to turn up for work during the Darjeeling agitation will be docked and their service considered broken, the Mamata Banerjee government has announced on the eve of the launch of an indefinite campaign that will test the writ of the State in the hills.
The government order detailing the penal measures for government employees who skip work <>was issued on a Sunday, suggesting the government had decided to deal with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's challenge to its authority on the first day itself.
"All arrangements have been made to ensure offices function normally. In case there is any disruption, there are laws in place and action will be taken," district magistrate Joyoshi Das Gupta told The Telegraph.
The Morcha, on the other hand, resolved to make the agitation a success. Party chief Bimal Gurung said: "All government offices will remain closed from tomorrow."
The government said in the order that its offices in the hills would remain open and "all the employees... should report for duty on each day till the call for such bandh is not withdrawn".
The notification said no leave would be granted during the period and absence without a valid reason such as hospitalisation, severe illness or bereavement in the family would "be treated as dies non, which will constitute a break in service of the employee concerned and no salary will be admissible".
A government employee is entitled to full pension only if he completes 20 years of continuous service. A break in service entails a decrease in the pension amount.
Sources said the government would deploy the six columns of army personnel - over 250 soldiers - that have been called in by the state government to maintain law and order.
The six companies (around 600 personnel) of security forces stationed in the hills will also be pressed into service. If required, additional policemen could be brought in from nearby districts and reinforcements sought from the Centre.
Today, the winding road leading to the Darjeeling district magistrate's office was lined with security personnel in fatigues armed with rifles.
A detailed plan is being chalked out by three senior IPS officers - Jawed Shamim, Ajay Nand and S.N. Gupta, who had been sent to the hills to tackle the situation soon after trouble erupted on Thursday - along with the police superintendents of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, sources said.
Other than ensuring that the symbols of the State are not shut down, the government is keen to keep its offices open for two reasons. One, the hills have around 10,000 employees and the state government wants to send a message that the Morcha is playing with their jobs.
Two, if subdivisional offices and block development offices are stopped indefinitely from functioning, the weakest will suffer as these offices are in charge of the last-mile delivery of welfare measures.
"In Darjeeling and Kalimpong, 5,000 poor people get government relief a month on an average, for contingencies including natural calamities and illness. Hundreds visit the SDO offices for caste certificates," an official said.
This is not the first time a " dies non" order is being issued. But it has rarely been invoked from the first day of an indefinite agitation.
When the Morcha had organised a 44-day strike in the hills in August 2013, with relaxations in between, the government had issued such an order to its employees 10 days into the shutdown.
"We will counter the agitation from Day One.... If they (the Morcha) can enforce their writ, they will create more problems. So, the plan is to deal them a blow at the very beginning," an officer said.

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