A worrying signal from the Secretariat

Amid spike in COVID-19 infections, employees want to work in rotation

An increase in COVID-19 cases among the employees of the Secretariat has become a cause for concern. A section of them wonders why the government has not deployed the staff in rotation as it did during the first wave last year.

“Last year, when there was a spurt in the cases, the government decided to allow only 50% of the staff to go to offices. This year, a huge number of cases are reported every other day, but the government is yet to decide [on the rotation],” said G. Venkatesan, former secretary of Tamil Nadu Secretariat Association.

Fresh cases among employees should be reported daily, he said. “The Health Department is issuing a bulletin [on the number of cases] every evening. Should not that be sufficient? The government should act before it is too late.” Mr. Venkatesan has submitted a representation to the government for deployment of the staff in rotation.

An officer of the rank of Deputy Secretary at the Namakkal Kavignar Maaligai died of COVID-19 on Monday. This added to the employees’ anxiety. An official said: “About half of the fresh cases reported daily are from Chennai and neighbouring districts from where most of our employees commute to work.”

Some of the departments at the Secretariat are cramped, and it will be a challenge to enforce physical distancing norms. “The Finance Department is a great example wherein one cannot reach his/her seat without coming in contact with others,” another official said. An Under-Secretary says that unlike other government offices, those at the Secretariat are important and wonders what will happen if a majority of the employees of a department test positive.

In a communication sent on Monday to the authorities, Chief Secretary Rajeev Ranjan insisted that the standard operating procedure for offices would have to be followed strictly.

“The SOP is only on paper. The government should implement it by opting for rotation of workers…,” an employee said. Public Department officials were not available for comment.

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