In March this year, 25-year-old Balakumar (name changed) from Puducherry received a token to work as a security guard in the Government Hospital. After years of waiting for a government job, and greasing several palms to achieve his end, it was a dream come true for him. In April, however, his dream came crashing down when the Election Commission of India ordered the scrapping of his job.
Balakumar was one of over 3,000 people who were allegedly appointed to government jobs after the announcement of the elections. Following many complaints from the Puducherry Pradesh Congress and other parties, the ECI scrapped the jobs deeming them irregular.
According to sources, the government had issued tokens in March to “several thousands” of people. “People with tokens got jobs in government departments including the Public Works Department, health department, and various public sector undertakings.”
“Suddenly all the government-owned petrol bunks had 20 to 30 people in each shift. The Government hospital and the Women and Child Hospital had hundreds of people standing around, blocking the way,” Gopal, a resident of Kanniakoil, said.
According to one complaint to the ECI, over 5,000 people had been appointed after the Model Code of Conduct. Corporations, Societies, Cooperatives and Boards have been running at a “severe loss” for the past five years, and employees have not been paid their salaries or wages on time. In this situation “where is the justification for appointing over 5,000 people through the back door since August 2015, with pre-dated appointment orders,” the complaint reads.
Corporations, Societies, Cooperatives and Boards have been running at a “severe loss” for the past five years.
A government enquiry into the matter found that the recruitments were made before the model code of conduct came into place. “We decided to scrap the jobs because there were an unusually large number of appointments in a short period of time right before the elections, making them suspicious,” election commission sources said.
Unemployment in the UT
Unemployment in Puducherry has become a major talking point during these elections, with the Employment Exchange data indicating that fewer than 2,000 people had received appointments in the past five years. “There were a few vacancies in the education department, but apart from that there have been only a handful of government openings in the past five years. We tied up with a few private players, but the response has not been great,” sources in the Labour Department say. By the end of 2015, there were over 2.5 lakh people registered with the Employment Exchange.
A woman sells fish in Goubert Market in Puducherry. Puducherry, formerly known as Pondicherry is a Union Territory of India.
Puducherry has been known for its textile production, and the 110-year-old Anglo French Textile (AFT) Mill was the first of its kind in the country. Over the past couple of years, however, three major mills: AFT, Sudesi and Bharathi, have stopped production completely, and the employees have not received wages since 2014.
The Puducherry Textile Corporation, which controls the mills, has been running at a loss since 2014, sources said. “There has been no money allotted for raw materials, and over 3,000 employees have been laid off,” he said.
“The AFT Mill is part of Puducherry’s heritage. People from across the world would place orders for the materials, and it provided employment for a bulk of Puducherry residents. Now, there is nothing left, and there has been no move to revive the mill, or provide alternate employment for the staff,” M Petha Perumal, former minister, said.
"There were an unusually large number of appointments in a short period of time right before the elections."
In addition to the lay-offs, the Employees Provident Fund Authorities have also started proceedings against the management under the Income Tax Certificate Proceedings Rules. “The management needs to settle a gratuity of over ₹39 crore for around 1000 employees, so we had no other recourse,” an official from the EPF Authority says.
According to sources, the present government has been using funds allotted for infrastructure projects to ensure that welfare schemes received funding. The government’s spending has increased, and the government has a debt of over ₹6,080 crore, sources said. “Although on paper, the tax revenue has increased, the government has not been able to collect these taxes, increasing the debt. With many industries shifting out of the UT, the financial crisis is at an all time high,” former CPI (M) general secretary M Perumal said.
The Lieutenant Governor is the final authority in the Union Territory of Puducherry, however, there have been several instances where the UT assembly, led by the Chief Minister, have had disagreements with the LG. The most recent case was that of former LG Virendra Kataria, who openly opposed Chief Minister N Rangasamy regarding law and order and the shuffling of funds. He was removed as LG in July 2014, and has filed a case in the Supreme Court demanding that they explain their reasons for sacking him. Other LGs, including Govind Singh Gurjar, MM Lakhera, and KR Malkani have all had fallings out with the UT government.
Nominations filed by the ruling party
It seems like the Puducherry Chief Minister N Rangasamy cannot escape controversy in these elections. Along with the complaint over government appointments, the Congress party has also alleged that N Rangasamy missed the deadline for filing nominations. They have asked that the Election Commission remove the All India NR Congress (AINRC) party symbol from the Electronic Voting Machines.
N Rangasamy, Chief Minister of Pondicherry receives the petitions from the common people while riding on his motorbike in Pondicherry, India.
The Union Territory of Puducherry goes in to elections on 16 May, along with neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Congress party is alleging that the AINRC did not submit their Form A and Form B in time. Form A contains the consolidated list of candidates backed by a political party, while Form B is submitted to the Returning Officer indicating that a candidate is backed by the party. “Only if these forms are submitted within the given deadline will the candidates be considered,” an election commission official said.
The government’s spending has increased, and the government has a debt of over ₹6,080 crore.
According to data received from the Election Commission, Rangasamy’s AINRC had not submitted the forms to the commission in the stipulated time. However, despite a complaint from the Congress to the election commission, the party was allotted a symbol. “The decision is left to the Returning Officer. While it is a significant complaint that the Election Commission did not receive the forms in time, it is not a reason for disqualification,” officials said.
The Congress, in the meanwhile, has sent copies of the complaint to the Election Commission in Delhi. “The ECl rules stipulate that Form A and B should be submitted to the Returning Officers (RO) of the respective constituencies and the Chief Electoral Officer of the state by 3 pm on 29 April in Puducherry,” A Namassivayam, Puducherry Pradesh Congress Committee President said in his complaint, stating that several parties, including the AINRC, had not submitted these in time. The CEO’s office confirms that the AINRC had not submitted Form A to the CEO office until 5 pm on 30 April.
“We have registered our complaints to all the authorities, but there has been no action taken, and the party was allotted a symbol. We have now decided to focus on our campaigning,” Congress party sources said.
Overall, it appears that Puducherry is heading for a crisis. With no jobs, and virtually no income, the UT relies heavily on tourism and liquor revenues. “These elections, the people should vote for a government that will help revive the old Puducherry,” Perumal added.