Home arrow Archives arrow Political Diary arrow Political Diary 2006 arrow Kaam Haraam Hai:INDIA ON HOLIDAY, ENJOY!, by Poonam I. Kaushish, 18 August 2006
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Kaam Haraam Hai:INDIA ON HOLIDAY, ENJOY!, by Poonam I. Kaushish, 18 August 2006 Print E-mail


NEW DELHI, 18 August 2006

Kaam Haraam Hai


By Poonam I. Kaushish

Enjoy! It’s party time folks. Put it down to mid-monsoon madness. India is on a holiday. The country has come a full circle from the Nehruvian dictum of aaraam haraam hai to today’s maxim kaam haraam hai!

What else can one say about a country where work has largely become a dirty four letter word that has been erased from our collective psyche. All one needs is an excuse and before one can blink a holiday is ours for the asking. It comes in various forms: national, restricted, religious, regional, birth and death anniversaries et al. Perhaps, it has something to do with our laid back attitude dictated by a don’t-care-a-damn thinking and chalta hai outlook!

Consider this month. The Government will be shut for 9 of the 25 working days. The holiday season began on Friday afternoon, 11August. It was a working day. But then nobody was in a mood for work. Followed by the weekly two-day sabbatical Saturday-Sunday. Monday was also a working day. However, with heightened security arrangements for the Independence Day, offices were shut at lunch. Tuesday, 15 August was, of course, Freedom Day and Wednesday Janmashtmi. Thursday and Friday were officially supposed to be working days. But babudom, more or less, decided to take chhutti en block. Casual leave zindabad! And another weekly off on Saturday and Sunday. Work resumed only on Monday 21 August. Asserted a senior Babu: “The Gods seem to have joined hands to give us this bonanza!”

If the bureaucracy can do it, our Parliamentarians can do one better! In their collective wisdom, our Right Honourables of both the Houses have been giving themselves a break virtually every second day during the on-going monsoon session. Over a ‘mole’ in the PMO, leak of the Pathak report, ‘sense of the House’ resolution on the Indo-US nuclear deal, ‘tainted’ ministers et al. Never mind that these “adjournments” have virtually washed out the session. Who cares if crores of the tax payer’s money goes down the drain. Nevertheless, rued an MP: “My wallet will be lighter by some thousands of rupees, which I would have got as daily allowance.”

Questionably, can a poor nation afford this luxury of aaraam, aaraam and more aaraam?  Can one live life king-size while fighting for survival? Don’t holidays eat into our national productivity and sap economic strength? Play havoc with the timetables of schools and colleges? What about the crores lost in trading when banks and markets shut down? Yet another day off means a slow-down in policy implementation. Each of these nibble away at the legislative, educational, economic and executive fabric of the nation.    

Tragically, the general attitude is best reflected in the Punjabi saying: ki pharak penda hai. (What difference does it make?) If the powers-that-be cared, we wouldn’t be working less than half a year. Out of 365 days, the Government works a five-day week. This translates into 104 week-end holidays. Earned leave 30 days, medical leave 56, casual leave 12, gazetted holidays 17 and restricted ones 30. A grand total of 249 days of relaxation or recuperation, leaving just 116 working days! For women there is an additional 90 days of maternity leave.

Should we simply shrug our secular shoulders and pin our endless holidays down to an occupational hazard of a multicultural heritage? No. The culprit is none other than our bankrupt politicians who, in a burst of competitive populism announce holidays as a sop to their vote-banks. Remember, V.P. Singh as the Prime Minister went overboard and announced Prophet Mohammed’s birthday a holiday from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the Independence Day. Never mind that in no Muslim country is it listed as a holiday. What to say of former Prime Minister Vajpayee. To prove his pro-Dalit credentials, he declared Ambedkar’s birth centenary on  April 14, 2000 as a national holiday.

Not only that. When national leaders die, the Government promptly turns these grave occasions into a farce by declaring a holiday. People gladly take off. Work is suspended and gaiety, not gloom, takes over. Not for them the fact that on such occasions sombre reflections would be more appropriate. And considering the surfeit of so-called national leaders, this has become a rule, rather than an exception. More. Different regions have still more holidays — the South, for example, shuts down for Pongal and Onam, Bengal closes five days for Durga Puja and Maharashtra for Ganesh Chaturthi.

True, none can fault the desire to break free from the rough and tumble of contemporary existence. However, as the saying goes there are no free lunches in life. Every holiday costs the exchequer around Rs 200 crore by way of industrial loss and  business transactions.  Which works out to over Rs 6000 crore a year. Why is it that nobody seems to think about this problem and come up with a solution? Why, for instance, can’t the Government and banks adopt the principle most private companies follow, of instituting sectional holidays or allowing compensatory offs? Simply because work is at the bottom of the priority list.

Several efforts have been made in the past. But all came to naught. In fact, the Fifth Pay Commission suggested just two holidays against the list of 17 gazetted and 30 restricted holidays. However, its recommendations were rubbished. The same treatment was meted out to the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) in 1971. It recommended even deleting Independence Day from the list of holidays. Its observation? “It appears to be unnecessary to declare holidays on both Republic Day and Independency Day.  Since both of them have more or less similar significance, an extra holiday means an extra outlay of the order of Rs 11 crore for the purpose of maintaining the level of output.” The amount has snow balled.

The ARC was shocked to note that the system of two restricted holidays in a year to suit the convenience of small religious groups had been converted into two extra holidays for all. A distressed ARC noted: “We must not forget that the factors that build up motivation in a social system as a whole are also the same that build up motivation in a small sub-system of that social system such as a government department or a business firm. A sub-system cannot escape the influence of the larger social system.”

This is not the only instance of non-work trend. The normal working day in Government offices is of eight hours, with a one-hour lunch break. But from the moment the employees leisurely drift into their offices (mostly late) enter their offices, tea time begins and continues every hour before lunch and again thereafter till the clock strikes pack-up time. They have ‘work’ in other offices. The commuter has his plea of arriving late and leaving early. And yet, there is no dearth of overtime, hogs trying to put in work beyond normal hours for a little money. French leave apart, there are Roman holidays---long lunch sojourns with pretty PAs or other woman colleagues. Extending over two long hours.

Britain has a five-day week and eight and a half days of public and ‘privilege’ holidays. The annual leave is a minimum of three weeks to a maximum of six weeks. In  Germany, government offices observe 14 holidays a year, besides the week-end. A government official is entitled to a holiday varying from three to six weeks a year depending on his age.  Japan has 12 public holidays. Government employees are entitled to 20 days earned leave a year. And in China it is a mere five. But a five-day week everywhere means five days of hard work and not work with thick layers of leisure and absenteeism, as in India.

Alas, we Indians yearn for el Dorado. Everyone wants to get rich quick---in a jiffy. But we are not prepared to lift a finger for it. Should a government or an organisation give itself a long week-end, if the five-day week fails to deliver or ensure punctuality and regular attendance?  It is time once more to decide whether or not we mean business--- and cry a halt to the holiday scandal.---INFA

  (Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


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