Srinagar: Not with standing the advisory from the Ministry of Labour and Employment against the termination of employees during COVID-19 lockdown, the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir terminated the services of over 40 employees leaving them high and dry in the middle of a crisis.
In its May 5 order, DIPR disengaged as many as 45 stringers, most of them from Kashmir region and the rest from Jammu, who worked as reporters, camerapersons and translators in the government department since the last five years.
"Whereas stringers (reporters, translators, cameramen and hired editor films) were empannelled/hired/engaged by the department subject to the condition that it will not confer any right or entitle them to any regular service or future permanent appointment in the department against any permanent or temporary vacant posts and such engagement will be purely on need basis and will be discontinued by the department at any point of time without giving any notice," the DIPR order said.
The disengagement of the employees comes at a time when people in the region are reeling under the worldwide coronavirus pandemic which has resulted in a severe lockdown and forced an unprecedented global pause. Job cuts during crises such as these are expected in various public and private sectors, but DIPR employees told NewsClick their termination has come as a "shocker" from unexpected quarters.
“We were always told from top to bottom, the government understands how brilliantly this professional group of DIPR is working. This comes as a surprise after you give your prime years of career to a department which is seen as the face of the government,” one of the disengaged stringers said.
Pertinently, the Ministry of Labour and Employment in a March 20 communication had advised all state and UT administrations not to terminate employees in the face of a "catastrophic situation due to outbreak of Covid-19."
"In the backdrop of such a challenging situation, all the Employers of Public/Private Establishments may be advised to extend their coordination by not terminating their employees, particularly casual or contractual workers from job or reduce their wages," the employment ministry said.
The disengaged stringers termed it a "harsh decision" bereft of a careful thought.
"With our entry into the department, the reporting pattern changed and it was a quality work, which was also accepted by the officials on the papers, officially communicated to the departments. Government would call us Information warriors on official communications and the warriors have been put to rest in this crisis," another stringer said.
Another called his termination a case of "regional discrimination" without delving into much details. "We have been caught in politics and the administration seems to have given way to regional politics instead of merit and competence," he said.
Soon after the decision was taken, the employees sent a representation to Lt. Governor G C Murmu seeking his intervention.
“During the period, we covered all major events, meetings and functions of the Raj Bhavan, Chief Minister’s Office, Cabinet Ministers from the previous Government, along with other Government functionaries as desired by the department. Besides routinely covering the entire business of assembly, GST Conclave held at Srinagar, Back to Village Programme—an ambitious programme of the Government, besides facing all odds, we remained available on duty post August 05 developments in the State,” they said.
“We have been assigned key assignments; including covering Advisors to hon’ble Governor, besides covering several other vital events including visits of several high profile personalities like President of India, Prime Minster, Home Minister, hon’ble Chief Justice of India and Press council of India.”
"The Department has sought extension of our services from the administrative department, due to which our monthly remunerations get stalled for months together. At present, our file is lying with the LG Office. We humbly request your intervention so that the extension of our services could be granted at the earliest," the employees wrote.
The stringers worked in government departments including at the advisor’s office, chief secretary office, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir office, Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Jammu office, Divisional Office Jammu, Media Facilitation Centre, various District Information Centres and within DIPR.
Following their disengagement, the DIPR has issued another circular stating they have now relied on meager manpower amidst the present situation.
"Under prevailing circumstances, the work load of the department has been increased manifold and the department has to rely on meager manpower available at Divisional and District level offices," the DIPR circular said.
Even as the employees have urged the authorities to review and re-examine what they termed an "arbitrary decision" on the basis of merit, for them the crisis due to the Covid-19 lockdown has left them with fewer options of employment.
Also read: COVID-19 in Rural India-XXXV: How Assam’s Atugaon Is Coping With Lockdown