April 4, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Centre’s decision to impose the Central Civil Service Rules on employees under the Chandigarh administration is justified. We also look at how Jharkhand has become the first state to have broadband connectivity in all its gram panchayats, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Understanding the Civil Service Changes in Chandigarh
Things are heating up in Punjab and not simply due to the time of year. Last Sunday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah dropped quite the proverbial bomb on Chandigarh. Something Punjab says is absolutely out of order and is hurting their rights as a state. While skirmishes between the northern state and the Centre are nothing out of the ordinary, the situation has definitely escalated up there.
The Centre said that the Central Civil Service Rules will replace the Punjab Service Rules for employees under the Chandigarh administration. Punjab didn’t like that one bit and alleged that the Centre was trying to push the state into a corner. The State Assembly even passed a unanimous resolution reiterating their claim over Chandigarh as the capital, effectively dragging Haryana into this mess.
A lot is happening, and the newly-elected AAP administration has put up an anticipatedly aggressive front. Are the first-timers actually on to something this time, or are the Centre’s motives simply misconstrued? Let’s look into it.
On 1 April, the Union government implemented their Central Civil Service Rules in Chandigarh. Before this, as mentioned in the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, the employees of Chandigarh’s administration were subject to the Punjab Service Rules. This meant that all the 16,000 or so employees of the Union Territory were running on conditions similar to those of Punjab’s employees. Considering Chandigarh is a UT, its employees have now been brought to the level of central employees.
This is the source of the new tension brewing in the north. You see, when it comes to Chandigarh, this is not the first time central regulations have been adopted. In fact, for government employees specifically, certain groups and unions have been waiting for this change as they believe that the Centre’s regulations have better benefits. For years, the state governments have successfully ignored their demands but to no avail. The Centre soon barged in and cried synchronisation.
Political parties from Punjab, especially the AAP, have come out in strong opposition to this. According to them, this is yet another way the Centre is pushing Punjab out of Chandigarh. All parties other than the BJP in Punjab see this as a direct threat from the Centre. The BJP, however, is saying that these changes in service rules are just for better governance and efficient record keeping. It doesn’t affect Punjab’s role concerning Chandigarh as it was already implemented there from the UT’s inception.
VIEW: Good for employees
For over two decades, certain groups of Chandigarh’s employees have been demanding a shift to the Central Civil Service Rules. Why? Well, according to them, it’s simply better. For one, the retirement age of employees increases from 58 years to 60. Women employees will now get two years of childcare leave instead of just one year. Principals of schools will be allowed 30 days off instead of the 8 earned leaves that the Punjab rules gave them. In general, the central pay scales for teachers and nurses are just better under the Centre’s regulations when compared to the Punjab Service Rules.
Other provisions like the Children Education Allowance (CEA), the amount paid to government employees for schooling their children, also gets a hike. Every month, a CEA of ₹2,250 will be provided for 2 children from one family. Medical bills will also get fully reimbursed when the bills get submitted, something the Punjab rules only had a fixed amount for. Under the central mandates, gratuity increases by 25% when one’s dearness allowance (cost of living) grows by 50%. It also raises an employee’s conveyance allowance (compensation for travel) according to their pay grades.
Understandably, employees see this as a massive win. According to former MP Satya Pal Jain, anybody opposing this is blatantly anti-employee. The main issue Punjab’s political parties have harped on, he says, is an alleged dilution of the state’s authority. As per Jain, no such right is getting affected because of this. The ratio of employees from Punjab and Haryana is still at 60:40, as mentioned in the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966. And given that Chandigarh is a Union Territory, the Centre was well within its rights to implement such changes.
Finally, it is also important to remember that the Central Civil Service Rules were once fully implemented in Chandigarh. When the UT was constituted in 1966, government employees were subject to the central rules with the pay scale of Punjab. In 1986, the Centre’s pay scale was also implemented after protests from employees. This was changed only in 1991 when Punjab changed its own pay scale, making it more enticing to the employees. Soon, the demands were back but remained mostly ignored till now.
COUNTERVIEW: Bad for Punjab
Let us set the scene: for the first time, the AAP won Punjab’s assembly elections in a colossal victory, beating out both the BJP and the Congress. Haryana is already run by a BJP government right now. It’s just Punjab that seems to be pussyfooting around when it comes to backing the Centre. In fact, after the farmers’ protests, the popularity of the BJP has been plummeting in the region, and this doesn’t sit well with them. Just earlier this year, in February, the Centre changed the appointment rules of the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) which makes it harder for candidates from Punjab to secure one of the top jobs.
Right after that, the Centre chooses to go ahead and put up a “pro-employee” narrative that several officials find rather suspicious. Turns out, the shift to the central rules only helps the medical and education departments. Most of the other essential sections, like the police and power, actually have nothing to cheer about. For them, all this change does is add another year to child care and increase the retirement age. Even the contractual and outsourced employees have nothing in it for them. Before this, Punjab was trying to regularise them under its service rules. Now, those posted in Chandigarh won’t benefit from this.
The state finance minister also brought up the fact that the Centre made this call without consulting any of the stakeholders, i.e. Punjab and Haryana. This alone should be seen as a violation of the Punjab Reorganisation Act. The Act also clearly states that, even though the shared capital is a Union Territory and run by the Centre, the laws implemented in undivided Punjab will apply to it. This is also why the pay scales of Chandigarh employees after its inception were that of Punjab. The issue here was never about the ratio of the employees but the rights of a state getting regularly impeded by a Centre that doesn’t cooperate.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Centre’s move to apply the Central Civil Service Rules to the Chandigarh government employees is justified.
b) The Centre’s move to apply the Central Civil Service Rules to the Chandigarh government employees is not justified.
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🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
CAG report on Agro-Industries Corporation (Haryana) – The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has criticised the Haryana Agro-Industries Corporation (HAIC) for its lacklustre functioning in the regular verification of paddy stocks. In their report, the CAG said the HAIC favoured millers by not encashing cheques and delaying legal action to recover dues. It resulted in losses of more than ₹6 crores. The state government said physical verification couldn’t be done due to a staff shortage. It was a violation of government guidelines.
Why it matters: The HAIC was supposed to carry out 16 physical checks between November 2017 and June 2018. Its first verification was only in May 2018. It also didn’t follow the guidelines where it could have transferred the un-milled paddy to other millers. The signed cheques of ₹2 crores from millers weren’t presented to the bank until October 2020. The audit said the government and the HAIC now have a responsibility to uphold the guidelines.
Forest fires (Telangana) – Telangana continues to report an increase in forest fires. From November to date, the state has reported more than 11,400 forest fires. This is according to data from the state forest department. Usually, forest fires occur from November to June, with 97% in reserved forest areas. Mulugu district reported the highest number of fires with 2,148. The forest areas of the state are dry in nature and leaves start to dry up and fall from January onwards.
Why it matters: Since 2019, there has been an increase in the number of forest fires in the state. From November 2019 to June 2020, there were more than 12,000 cases reported. For the 2020-21 season, that number increased to more than 18,000. According to officials, 80% of them are manmade. Non-timber forest collection is the biggest cause, followed by negligent acts by nearby villagers and residents.
Broadband connectivity (Jharkhand) – Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited (HFCL) has completed broadband connectivity through optic fibre cable in all gram panchayats in the state. Jharkhand is the first state where all gram panchayats have broadband access. More than 1,700 gram panchayats were covered using more than 7,700 km of optic fibre cable. The company will operate and maintain the network for eight years.
Why it matters: This initiative is part of the Centre’s BharatNet programme by the Department of Telecom to provide broadband access to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats with a minimum of 100 Mbps speed. HFCL has done similar work in Punjab connecting more than 3,200 gram panchayats. It also supplies optic cables in Maharashtra, Telangana, and Chhattisgarh under the BharatNet project.
Vasundhara Raje comeback? (Rajasthan) – Former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje could return to play an active role in the BJP. The party has asked her to help win back the state after more than five years of Congress rule. Recently, she has met with the BJP’s top brass, including party chief JP Nadda and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She has also been present at many oath-taking ceremonies. Polls for the state are scheduled for late 2023.
Why it matters: The BJP lost the state to Congress in 2018. According to one BJP general secretary, she is the only acceptable mass leader in the state. She helped the party win in 2003 and 2013. Nadda and Home Minister Amir Shah have been giving the state more attention. Raje’s supporters want her to be the Chief Ministerial candidate.
Dalit Sikhs seek help (Meghalaya) – Many Dalit Sikhs living in Shillong are hoping the newly-elected AAP government in Punjab, led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, will intervene as they face eviction threats. Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC) president Gurjit Singh said the previous Congress government from Punjab sent teams to Meghalaya to talk to state officials. The eviction was challenged by the HPC in the High Court, with a hearing set for April 7.
Why it matters: Earlier, the court directed the Meghalaya government to consult the HPC. However, there’s been no contact from the state. The government-appointed committee looking into a relocation plan didn’t involve the residents in their discussions. In the Harijan colony, ancestors came there with British troops in the 18th century. The Khasi tribal chief gave the area over to Dalit Sikhs. In 2018, residents of the colony were attacked by some local tribals.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹7.22 crores – The out-of-pocket allowance released by the Sports Authority of India (SAI). It will benefit more than 2,500 athletes across 21 disciplines.