The Kerala High Court also refused the petitioner’s request to exempt health workers from the purview of the ordinance.

HC refuses to stay Kerala govts ordinance on salary deferment
news Court Tuesday, May 05, 2020 - 17:54

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday refused to stay on the state government’s ordinance that empowers the state to defer salaries of its employees during public emergencies. The ordinance — called Kerala Disaster and Public Health Emergency Ordinance (Special Provisions) — was challenged in the Kerala High Court by various associations, including the Kerala NGO Association. 

A single judge bench of Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas said that the court cannot interfere with the ordinance at a nascent stage, reports LiveLaw.

A week ago, the Kerala government introduced the ordinance which empowers the state government to defer 25% salaries of its employees for five months in the wake of any emergency. The ordinance also put in place a time period of six months for the government to announce when the deferred amount will be credited back to the employees. The ordinance was brought in by the Kerala government after the High Court stayed its order that directed salary deferment for government employees for six days to meet the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state government argued in court on Tuesday that the ordinance only implies that payment of salaries will be deferred and that it does not mean reduction in the same.

The petitioners argued that the ordinance was brought about to circumvent the HC’s stay on the state government’s previous order. Appearing for the government, advocate Kaleeswaram Raj told the court that the ordinance could not be said to be in defiance of the court’s order since the earlier order was a mere "stay" and "not a mandamus (command)".

During the hearing, Advocate General CP Sudhakara Prasad who was also appearing for the state government, informed the court that the ordinance also has legislative competence as per various entries of the Indian Constitution, reports Live Law.

After hearing the state government’s counsels, Justice Kurian Thomas stated that it was a nascent stage for the court to intervene. 

“When the government says that they have legislative competence under the aforementioned entries, the court cannot interfere with the ordinance at such a nascent stage,” Justice Thomas said after hearing the state government’s counsel.

The court also stressed on the point made by the state government that the ordinance only deferred “the amount of salary that is payable to a certain specified class of employees belonging to certain specified institutions.”

The court also observed that the ordinance has itself stated that the government will notify a mechanism to pay back the deferred amount within six months of time and that it does not take away rights of employees. 

No exemption for health workers

The High Court also refused the petitioners’ request to exempt health workers from the purview of the ordinance. The court observed that the “ordinance uniformly applies to all government employees, there is no classification or discrimination entailed therein and hence, any interference is uncalled for.”

The case has been adjourned till the second week of June.

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