- "We just don't have enough revenues," Kerala Finance Minister said
- "Kerala is deferring payments," Thomas Issac said
- Central government transfers not sufficient to pay all salaries: Mr Issac
Kerala said today that it would "defer" a portion of the salary for its government staff to deal with "an emergency situation beyond our control", in the fight against coronavirus. The Left-led government will bring an ordinance or special order to authorize itself to do so in the case of disasters.
"We don't have a choice. We just don't have enough revenues," Kerala Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac told NDTV.
"Central government transfers are just not sufficient to pay all salaries, let alone pensions. Unlike other states, Kerala government is not cutting salaries, we are deferring payments," he said.
On Tuesday, the Kerala High Court had stayed the state's executive order deferring salaries, saying it lacked legal backing. Pinarayi Vijayan's government had said in the order that six days of employee salaries a month would be deferred for the next five months to raise funds to tackle COVID-19.
The state government now will pass a new ordinance allowing it to defer up to 25 per cent of the salary in the event of a disaster, a decision taken by the state cabinet.
"We have found a legal remedy," said the state finance minister.
"We accept what the court said and through this ordinance, we have the legal basis now to defer payments, but not to cut them. The state government can take a decision on giving back the deferred amount within six months," Mr Isaac said.
The state expects to save around Rs 2,500 crore with the move, and according to the minister, it will be used only for relief measures under Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund.
Other states, said Mr Isaac, had ordered 30 per cent salary cuts.
"The then UDF government had attempted to cut salaries in 2000, paying only the basic salary. But after protests they had to revoke it. We are not cutting salaries. And what has the central government done? They have gone ahead and cut the Dearness Allowance. Is that not part of salary? And here BJP is opposing state decision," Mr Isaac said.
Kerala, with 484 coronavirus cases and four deaths, has been praised for its effective response to the COVID-19 crisis. However, the state complains that it has received hardly any help from the centre in terms of special funds.
"The centre must realise that this is no way to handle a pandemic. Why this attitude towards state governments? When everyone knows that revenues have disappeared, expenditures are rising, the central government is forcing states to cut salaries and expenditures. States and local bodies are on the frontlines. They should be taken into confidence and supported," said Mr Isaac.