UP govt temporarily stays sacking of 25,000 Home Guards after backlash: Ahead of Diwali, personnel say sense of gloom pervades homes
Yogi Adityanath’s government has planned this year’s Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya on a grand scale even as 25,000 Home Guards have been laid off citing 'financial constraints'.
Yogi Adityanath’s government has planned this year’s Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya on a grand scale
Meanwhile, 25,000 Home Guards employed by the state government were laid off on 15 October
The government’s claim of budgetary constraints is being met with some skepticism
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s government has planned this year’s Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya on a scale set to surpass its two previous editions in terms of grandiosity: a Guinness World Record number of 5.5 lakh diyas are set to be lit on the Sarayu River for the traditional Deepotsav, the water around the Ram ki Paidi Ghat will be pumped through a specially created water pump; a grand palace-like stage will be set up at the Ram Katha park. All this at a budget of 130 crore. This time around the state government has also decided to take the onus of the expenses on itself, and not on the tourism department.
Meanwhile on 15 October, 25,000 Home Guards employed by the state government were laid off. Financial constraints and an inability to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to pay them a salary at par with a police constable was cited as the reason by the government. While the Uttar Pradesh government later announced it will reinstate Home Guards services on a temporary basis in view of the oncoming festival season, their future remains uncertain.
The BJP MLA from Ayodhya, Ved Prakash Gupta, pressed to explain how budgetary constraints for paying salaries make sense in the face of these big-budget celebrations, responded, “This expense is for people’s cultural and spiritual advancement and therefore necessary.The state government has already stated that no one has been removed from their jobs. Development does not just mean brick and mortar. In this country, it means making the gods happy and this is what the government is working towards. Hence, the money that is spent is very well spent.”
It has become almost a norm in the past few years for state government spokespersons to react with nonchalance to such matters. However, we delved deeper into how this move affects thousands of families who have been robbed of their only source of income. “You can only imagine our situation in these hard times,” said Ravikanth Tripathi, a home guard from Varanasi, who is in his late 30s.
“Only we know how we were managing our children’s school fees, our parents’ care and barely running our households on our salary. We barely managed earlier, so it’s too difficult to think about how we will manage now. Around 42,000 of us who have lost or have a reduced income. On Diwali, Adityanath has presented us with diwala,” he added.
Responding to a civil appeal filed in 2015, the Supreme Court in July 2019 stated that the Home Guards could not be considered regular appointees of the police force, but they should be paid at par with the salaries of a police constable. Their earlier stipend was Rs 500 which was then raised to Rs 672 as per the Supreme Court’s orders. The Home Guards, in fact, were deployed by the Home Department only about a year ago to fill the vacancies in the police department. Now, the government has also reduced the working days for the Home Guards from 25 to 15, further affecting another 99,000 Home Guards.
“This is the only employment we have had for years, and with advanced age and limited skills, in an already overburdened job market, there is little hope,” said Chandrashekhar Pandey, a home guard from Varanasi. The sense of gloom is so strong that another Varanasi Home Guard, Ajay Pandey said, “By taking this decision right before Diwali, the mood in our homes is as if a death has occurred. We will have to resort to begging, and will do this all the way from Varanasi to Lucknow.” Both are in their 40s.
A visually-impaired senior female Home Guard, Chaya Devi has been doing this job since 1989. She said she hasn't had to face such a blow over the past five decades of her life, especially from a government she had been serving for so many years. ‘This is really wrong. Imagine, a person who has been working in the same job for so long and has been getting barely 15,000 rupees a month has to now sit at home with no hope of any income. It’s a lot of stress and tension to face,” she said, tearing up. “I haven’t slept in days.”
Mounting medical bills is another problem for those whose family are battling health issues. Home Guard Ravikanth, whose daughter is being treated at Banaras Hindu University has not been paid for three months. He is already deep in debt because of the medicine he needs to procure. Now with his one steady source of income gone, he is unsure about how he to continue his daughter’s treatment.
Most Home Guards work in bigger cities and travel every day from their villages. As a visibly emotional 45-year-old Home Guard Rajesh Kumar Sinha, said, ‘After completing duty at 9 pm, many of us reach home by 12 and our wives have to stay up too. The years of service that we have put in have been erased in just one step because we have not been granted the status of a regular appointee. The chief minister will be responsible for the dire consequences that 25,000 of us face.”
The Uttar Pradesh Home Guard Unpaid Officials and Employees Association on Sunday registered their protest against the government in Shahjahanpur. They hope that those in power will listen and do something to help them find alternative employment. “In case the honourable chief minister cannot find us any alternate employment then rest assured, we will reach Lucknow with our families. And if not there, then we will reach the seat of Guru Gorakhnath. We will go wherever to get our source of income back. We will not back down from our demand,” said Ravikanth.
The government’s claim of budgetary constraints is being met with some skepticism. “The downturn is already affecting employment. The few people who were employed have been shown the door by the government. So, our demand is that the government reverse this decision and take back those they have removed from their jobs.” said Ateek Ahmad, a representative of the Communist Party of India, from Ayodhya.
Ravikanth made a final appeal, “Respected Yogi ji, Respected chief minister ir, please give employment, don’t take it away from us.”
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