May 25, 2020
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"When The Entire State Is Suffering, State Employees Must Make Some Sacrifices"

"When The Entire State Is Suffering, State Employees Must Make Some Sacrifices"
His cost-cutting measures may have invoked the wrath of government employees. But Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony says he has no option but to cut expenditure and bring in reforms to save the state from the financial nightmare it is currently trapped in. Excerpts from an exclusive interview to Outlook:

What made cost-cutting the only option?
When I took over as CM, I found Indian Airlines wouldn’t give me a ticket to Delhi as we owed them money. Everywhere I looked there was debt. Unpaid bills were Rs 6,000 crore. In the last five years the state debt had risen from Rs 10,000 crore to 25,000 crore. The situation was alarming. In the last five years, administrative expenditure has more than doubled—our salary bill in 1995-96 was Rs 2,200 crore. Now it is Rs 5,018 crore. Even money from central schemes and borrowings from cooperatives were being diverted to wages. I paid December’s salary by drawing on the Plan funds for January and February. And January’s salary I have paid because of a special allocation by the prime minister.

Is the public supporting your move?
The public knows the difficulties. No one will support the strike. In the last three to four years, because of the steep fall in the prices of agriproducts—rubber, coffee, arecanut, tea, ginger—farmers here are on the verge of committing suicide. In rubber and tea estates, workers are not getting their salary. Also, there are 44 lakh unemployed youth. So 95 per cent of Kerala is suffering. In such a situation, we told government employees they must make some sacrifices.

Is there a perception that state employees are pampered?
The employees must realise they also belong to Kerala. When the entire state is suffering, they must cooperate. They are better-off people. Millions others are starving.

Have you sacked any government employee?
No, we are not dismissing anyone. I told the employees they would get their salaries and their one month bonus and one month’s paid leave. But we said they would have to give up their leave encashment facility. This was introduced when there was a shortage of employees. Now there are 80,000 people sitting idle with no work but getting full payment. Then there was the question of commuting pensions. When we had surplus money, we could be liberal.

Your critics say your policies are dictated by the ADB…
This is not at all correct. Forget about adb, if there is no money, what can I do? This is the survival instinct of the state at work. Otherwise the state will collapse. The government has to be downsized. We will see to it that psus become profitable.

Is there any going back on the strike?
How can I go back? If I go back, the treasury will close down. For months together we have not even paid pensions to widows, disabled persons, agricultural workers, fishermen. Recently, we announced a package for farmers which we cannot implement because there is no money. So without giving relief to common people, what is the use of a government? We can boast Kerala is a state which pays salaries to government employees every month and promptly. Is that an achievement?

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