The Kerala High Court today stayed the state government’s decision to defer payment of six days’ worth salaries to government employees for the next five months amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The Court opined that deferring the payment of salaries would, prima facie, amount to denial of the right to property.
To make up for the financial difficulties faced by the state due to COVID-19 pandemic, the Kerala government had issued an order stating that salaries of all government employees whose gross salary was above Rs 20,000 would be deferred to the extent of six days for every month starting from April till August.
Various government employee associations had challenged the order and the same were taken up this afternoon by Justice Bechu Kurian.
After hearing detailed submissions regarding the same Court concluded,
“Payment of salary is certainly not a matter of bounty. It is a right vested in every individual to receive the salary. Article 300A of the Constitution which confers a right to property will include within its purview “salary” also a property, at least prima facie.”
While rejecting the submission that the government has the power to delay the disbursement of salary by a few months through an executive order, Justice Kurian noted that the same “cannot, in the face of law, be countenanced.”
The judge further observed that neither the Epidemic Diseases Act, nor the Disaster Management Act provided any statutory basis for the deferment of salaries. He stated, “The provisions read out (by the State of Kerala) do not specify or confer any power upon any government to defer the salary due to its employees during any kind of disaster.”
Adding to the question on the ambiguity of the challenged order the court stated the government did not propose as to how the amount set apart would be utilised by the state.
It observed, “It only refers to the financial difficulties that are faced. The said financial difficulty is not a ground for the State Government to defer the payment of salary.“
While staying the operation of the challenged Government Order for a period of two months. The judge held,
“Prima facie, I find, the deferment of salary, for whatever purposes it may be, amounts to a denial of property. In such a view of the matter, I stay the operation of Exbt P1 (GO) for a period of 2 months.”
Advocates for the case-
Petitioners: Advocate KP Satheeshan, Advocates Kiranlal and Rekhesh Sharma
State: Advocate General CP Sudhakara Prasad, assisted by Advocate Manoj