Putting a halt to the functioning of hundreds of revenue offices in the state – from village offices to the land revenue commissionerate – thousands of staffers working with the Land Revenue Department of Kerala stayed away from work on Wednesday, as part of a one-day token strike. About 90% of the staff, under the banner of Kerala Revenue Department Staff Association (KRDSA) took part in the one-day protest as an ultimatum to the government to consider their long standing demands.
The Land Revenue Department deals with many issues from collection of taxes to distribution of social welfare pensions, and is the largest department of the Kerala government. Any disruption to the normal functioning of the department, known as the ‘mother of all departments’ with 19,000 employees, directly or indirectly affects day-to-day administration of the government itself.
One of the main demands raised by the protestors is to upgrade the post of village officers to that of deputy Tahsildars; if not, they want the government to implement the recommendation of the tenth pay revision commission which recommended an increase in pay scale of village officers. The protestors allege that it was the previous UDF government which stayed away from implementing the recommendations of the pay revision commission.
“Without implementing the recommendation of the pay revision commission, the Oommen Chandy led UDF government (2011 to 2016), put out an order to increase the pay scale of the village officers from Rs 27,800-Rs 59,400, to Rs 29,200-Rs 62,400. Even that salary hike has not been implemented till now (Pinarayi became CM in 2016). The order is stuck in red tape in the Finance Department,” said G Motilal, who is part of KRDSA.
According to the revenue department staff, an assistant panchayat secretary or an agricultural officer receives higher salaries when compared to village officers though the latter's workload and responsibilities are higher. Though members of KRDSA were able to get a favourable order from the Kerala High Court, they allege that the Finance Department did not comply with it and is instead planning to file an appeal against the order.
Another major demand raised by the protesting revenue staff is regarding the upgrading of certain posts.
“Village field assistants are the lowest category of staff at village offices. They are appointed through the Public Service Commission. Even if people in this post complete 20 years of service, they don't get promotions. All village offices have two village field assistants. If one post is upgraded as village assistant, then the salary can be increased according to the ninth pay revision without giving an extra burden to the government,” said Motilal.
Though there are 1,665 villages in the state, there are only 1,532 village offices. As per KRDSA, the staff in about 133 village offices are given special responsibility to run other villages. They have also demanded that front office facilities should be opened in at least major village offices in the state.
“When the state government asked us to give one month’s salary for the flood relief fund, almost all of us readily donated it. But when we are asking something from the government, nobody is there to consider it,” said G Sukumaran Nair, president of KRDSA.
The protest which brought the workings of the revenue department to a grinding halt in the state on Wednesday, is only a token strike said KRDSA. “If the government does not act, we are planning to go on an indefinite strike,” said the KRDSA president.