IT WAS THE YEAR 2005. IT WAS SUDDENLY ANNOUNCED THAT
Monday, 18 April would be a holiday. Since the coming Friday, 22 April was also a holiday, the prospect of a three-day working week brought smiles to many official faces. The majority f government servants do their calculations well in advance so as to avail of a ten days absence by taking what can truthfully be claimed to be just four days ‘casual leave’. Take a look at what happened in March that year. Eighth March was Maha Shivratri which fell on a Tuesday. By requesting for four days casual leave it was possible to be away from the office from the 4th to the 14th of March. The same thing was repeated during the week of Good Friday and Holi when scores of government servants merrily stayed at home from the 18th to the 28th of March by availing of just three innocuous casual leaves. A couple of days of in August 2006 give a bonanza of full 9 days “chutti.”
Some years ago my mother needed to get her only house back. I used to personally brief the lawyer every Saturday afternoon, drink coffee with him in his ‘khoka’ in the Tis Hazari Courts on the court day and accompany him to the courtroom, where more often than not, dates were given. During the seven long years that it took for my mother’s case to be decided, I sat in court on countless dates waiting for the case to be called, always apprehensive that the opposite party’s lawyer would manipulate another date. From my seat in the last row of the packed courtroom, I watched helpless litigants as they milled around their lawyers to keep track of what was happening. Holidays gazetted or manmade were the worst misfortune that could befall this lot of people for whom every date lost meant an adjournment of the case by anything from two to six months. In much the same vein when I saw crowds milling outside a specialist’s door in a government hospital I empathized with patients who were told to come the week after because the next OPD or surgery date fell on a holiday. It was painful to see a baby who had a hole in the lung, a patient with a stone in the kidney turned away because of public holidays.
The whole trouble starts with government servants who constitute a powerful and volatile vote bank. Any talk about productivity and international commerce will cut no ice either with their mentors or with them. They will merrily continue their intricate plans of pre -fixing and suffixing holidays interspersed with gazetted leave, restricted leave and casual leave.
Keeping a record of all this leave is just not possible. The application for leave is just a formality. No boss in the government system dare refuse the leave, much less maintain a record of it. Added to this there are umpteen french leaves which both higher and lower staff constantly avail of — just not turn up and hope no one has noticed. In Mumbai Maharashtrians call it taking a ‘butti’ and in north Indian government offices it is officially called ‘furlough’!
In the financial calendar of the world, working on averages, India is shown to have the highest number of holidays. .The US has an average of nine holidays per annum, the UK eight and Japan fourteen holidays. India has the dubious distinction of being at the top of the ladder with twenty-two holidays! If one looks at productivity I have no idea where we would stand. One has only to look at hundreds of employees playing cards and
sleeping on the roundabouts to know where time is spent. As I see it, it would be far more meaningful to forego the Saturday
holiday if three holidays come in succession. It would benefit litigants and patients the most. It would also make monetary sense in the vast world of trade and commerce where the smooth and uninterrupted working of financial institutions is a prerequisite to be part of an integrated global economy. To be world class we need to give up our casual approach to casual leave and holy holidays.