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GTA to provide an increment of 15% per annum to the 5,000-odd casual employees

DARJEELING : The GTA has decided to provide an increment of 15 per cent per annum to the 5,000-odd casual employees of the hill body and also promised to step up its efforts to regularise their jobs. The GTA today held a meeting with members of the Janmukti Asthai Karmachari Sangathan, an affiliate of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, where Bimal Gurung made the announcement. After the meeting, Machendra Subba, the president of the JAKS, said: "The meeting, which was chaired by GTA chief executive Bimal Gurung, was very positive. He has announced an increment of 15 per cent to all ad-hoc employees and more importantly, has decided to take all possible measures to start our regularisation process." At the moment, the causal employees were getting an increment of 5 per cent annually. "Our annual increment will not be 20 per cent following today's announcement. 

However, the more important issue of us is regularisation of jobs and the hill body has decided to take positive steps," said Subba. Gurung reportedly told representatives of the JAKS that the GTA would immediately write to the state government to start the regularisation process. "Bimal Gurung has assured us that the letter will be written within three or four days, after which the GTA will wait for 21-days for a response from the state government," said Subba. "If the government fails to give any response, Gurung has assured us that the GTA will start the process of regularisation by exploring different avenues," said Subba. The different avenues, however, was not immediately known. Technically, the state's concurrence is most important as regularisation of jobs entails financial implication. "The GTA has also decided to send a delegation to Calcutta to meet state officials on this issue. 

The delegation will include members of our organisation," said Subba. The GTA Act has empowered the hill body to recruit employees into B, C and D categories but the recruitment has to be done through a sub-ordinate selection board. The board has not yet been formed. At the moment, there are 5,321 casual employees in the GTA. The hill body has 4,011 vacancies, according to Subba. "Even Calcutta High Court has given us a favourable ruling on the regularisation issue and we hope justice will not be denied to us," said Subba. On May 14 last year, the court had issued a directive, asking the state government to convene a meeting with the GTA within four months to decide how it would set in motion the process of absorbing the casual employees of the GTA. In the order, Justice Sanjib Banerjee had asked the state to allow two representatives of the JAKS, the sole association of casual employees at the GTA, at the meeting to decide the regularisation process. But soon after, the state filed an appeal with the division bench of the high court against the directive. 

The casual workers of the GTA have been demanding job regularisation since 2007. On September 17, 2009, following a hunger strike by them, the state government had given a written assurance to the JAKS. A fax sent by the then home secretary Ardhendu Sen had stated: "The government has authorised the DGHC to start regularisation process against the sanctioned vacancies in all categories which it is authorised to do as per the existing act and the recruitment rules there under." The fast was lifted following the assurance. However, the government backtracked and said the promise had been given under duress. In 2009, when the DGHC existed, there were 3,472 sanctioned posts but none of the casual employees had been made permanent. The fate of the remaining workers - there were around 6,800 workers at the DGHC then - was to be decided later. 

 In 2011, the state government decided to do away with the six-month contract system from August 1 and included employees who had completed 10 years of services under a "pay- band", where they would serve till the age of 60 and would be entitled to Rs 1 lakh on retirement. The salaries of staff in all four categories, A, B, C and D, were almost doubled. For those who had not completed 10 years in service, the salary was increased by 75 per cent. Subba said at the moment, the lowest salary of a contract worker was Rs 5000 while the highest salary was Rs 21000.

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