Striking bureaucracy

The two-day nationwide general strike called by the five political parties, irrespective of its political impact, has ended. Professionals and civil servants also took part in it, and, as a result, many government offices could not function; even the treasury of the central bank was affected, halting the financial transactions of commercial banks and financial institutions. Employees of government ministries, departments and state-owned corporations struck work from 9 AM to 1 PM and staged a dharna within their office premises to express their solidarity with the five political parties’ struggle against “regression.” They also took out a rally to Ratna Park which merged into the rally organised by the five political parties. A dozen of them were arrested, including women employees who were allegedly manhandled by the security forces. Among other people, the employees of public utilities concerned with power supply, water and telephone services also struck.

It may be argued that civil servants must have nothing to do with protests of political nature as they are supposed to remain neutral and that they are not supposed to disrupt work, causing inconvenience to the common citizens, as they pay their bills out of the money raised as taxes from the people. Whoever may be in power, they should act faithfully. If they have to register their protest, there are other ways to do so without hampering public business. The argument may go on. In a democracy every citizen can voice their dissent and every civil servant is a citizen. On their part, the employees have argued that their protests do not form part of the narrow agenda of any political party but relate to the struggle for democracy. Thus they contend that while the people are coming out on the strees to demonstrate for democracy, they cannot remain mere spectators as they get their salaries from the public exchequer.

It is a matter of interpretation. However, the secretary at the Ministry of General Administration, Tikadutta Niraula, has said that the security forces are not authorised to arrest government employees taking part in peaceful marches. According to him, the government could, however, initiate action against them, including the withholding of promotions and salary increment, and even for these, proposals must come from the ministries concerned, specifying the charges. It does not mean, however, that civil servants cannot be arrested at all. For example, if they turn violent, immediate steps may have to be taken. But the persons in question have not been accused of violence. Therefore, the government appears to be at fault for their arrest and detention. It may legitimately be debated whether, and under what circumstances, employees can take out protest rallies.