Stay safe on Facebook, criticise a chief minister at your own risk
On October 6, K Chandrasekhar Rao had warned action against social media posts that make baseless allegations. "We will file cases against those people who tarnish the image of the government," the Telangana chief minister had said.
Within days, D Sanjeev, a conductor at Nizamabad bus depot was served notice by the management for posting material critical of the Telangana CM and other ministers on Facebook. This week, he was suspended for an indefinite period after the inquiry found that Sanjeev had violated the conduct rules of the organisation. The letter sent to him on 30 October says disciplinary action will now be initiated against him.
Those who complained against Sanjeev claim he had posted a Whatsapp message which used derogatory and objectionable language. 40-year-old Sanjeev, who is also the state secretary of the Staff and Workers Federation of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC), denies he abused anyone.
"On the contrary, I addressed the CM respectfully, calling him Anna and Ayya," says Sanjeev. "I am also a poet so I also used poetry to talk about the problems the TSRTC workers face."
Sanjeev who has been working as a conductor for 8 years, says he only highlighted the fact that there has been no supply of uniform since 2013. "The existing uniform is in pathetic condition and it is embarrassing to wear it. I highlighted the working conditions and said our health is being put to risk while the TSRTC is only concerned about profits and not the welfare of employees. I have written letters to both the CM and the Transport minister about the problems on behalf of the Federation. Only after getting no response, I posted the issues on Facebook," says Sanjeev.
Sanjeev also points out that the salaries drawn by class IV employees in TSRTC are 34 per cent less than other employees in the Telangana government. RTC unions are standing by Sanjeev, sporting black badges in protest against the action taken against the bus conductor. The Congress has slammed the decision of the RTC management to crush the voice of the employees.
"You criticise the CM and you get a suspension notice. I thought KCR promised to provide jobs,'' says Adithya Reddy, Congress leader.
``If during the Telangana struggle, the then Kiran Kumar Reddy government had taken action against all government employees who took part in the agitation, would KCR have reacted in the same manner? Today many of those employees are part of the TRS and occupying constitutional posts like Swamy Goud who is Chairman of the Telangana Legislative Council,'' says D Sravan, Spokesperson of the Telangana Congress.
Defending the decision, the TRS argues that Sanjeev should have taken his complaints to the depot manager, using the right grievance mechanism.
"Loose talk will send the wrong message to other employees. Facebook is not the forum for it,'' says Kishore Goud, senior leader of the TRS.
If Sanjeev goes to court, the government is likely to highlight the code of conduct rules, under which every employee is bound. ``We have to see if code of conduct rules say in clear terms that even constructive criticism is not allowed over social media,'' says Ravishankar Jandhyala, senior lawyer. ``Two, it has to be examined if the criticism is affecting the working of the government. It looks like an example is being made of this conductor to send across a message to every employee.''
In the manner in which it has dealt with the Sanjeev case, the Telangana government has taken a leaf out of its neighbour Andhra's book. The Chandrababu Naidu government in Amaravati removed former chief secretary IYR Krishna Rao from the post of the chairman of the AP Brahmin Welfare Corporation in June because he had commented on and shared posts on his Facebook account that were deemed to be critical of the state government.
Though the Congress in Telangana is critical of the KCR government's decision, it does the same in Karnataka where the party is in power. On Wednesday, a police constable Raja Shivappa Benne was suspended in Dakshina Kannada district for reportedly sharing a message on chief minister Siddaramaiah's decision to enter a temple after consuming non-vegetarian food. In September, another police constable in Karnataka was suspended for sharing a Facebook post that took a swipe at the Prime Minister.
The Tamil Nadu government has been one step ahead when dealing with any criticism of the government. In 2015, folk singer Kovan was arrested and sedition charges slapped on him for singing songs that criticised the liquor policy of the then Jayalalithaa government. Cases were booked against over 50 citizens merely for discussing Jayalalithaa's health on social media, when she was hospitalised last year.