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Public holidays in India – A bane on the economy

Government organisations in India, unlike in the developed countries, play a vital role in the lives of the people. The large number of public holidays is a great impedance to India’s progress and must be reduced.

By Anubhav Srivastava

October 01, 2009

One of the reasons why India fares poorly on the development and socio-economic indicators is the large number of public holidays enjoyed by the employees of the government sector in India. The sheer number of government holidays proves to be a stumbling block for India’s progress. 

Corporations all across the world have a system of five working days per week. What complicates matters in case of India is the large number of festivals celebrated due to the multi-cultural and multi-religious nature of the populace. According to the notification issued by the government of India, there are as many as 38 public holidays in 2009. 

The list includes the three national holidays – Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti. Apart from these, there are 8 days of casual leave, 30 days of earned leave and 20 days of half pay leave for every central government employee. 

Besides, government employees can avail some other types of leaves like the 135 days maternity leave for women employees and 15 days paternity leave for men. They are also entitled to special leave of six to 21 days for any of the family planning surgeries they opt to undergo. 

Hence if all the leaves are taken into consideration, any government employee would have only about 180 working days every year. Moreover, the usual practice of government employees availing casual and earned leave on the days preceding or succeeding a public holiday or a weekend / between two public holidays / between a public holiday and a weekend leads to work in government offices coming to a grinding halt. 

All these holidays, coupled with the rampant absenteeism, unpunctuality and employees going on a strike once in a while, has led to a situation where every government employee is getting salary for 356 days while working for only about one-third of the period. 

The situation is undesirable considering the huge monetary losses for the country. Even the fifth and the sixth pay commissions have recommended a reduction in the number of government holidays. However successive governments have failed to initiate any action on the issue. This is mainly because most of the holidays are religious in nature and the political parties fear losing the support of the religious groups. 

Similarly, the fear of losing support of people in the rough and tumble of vote-bank politics leads to the governments making no efforts in reducing the number of holidays observed on the birth and death anniversaries of political leaders. 

Considering the above situation where the government is working for just fifty per cent of the total number of days in a year, the best alternative would be to switch from five days a week work schedule, which was introduced to save the expenditure on fuel, to the old system of six days a week work schedule. 

This move provides the distinct advantage of adding about 52 working days in the government functioning without hurting the sentiments of any religious group. Another move that can prove helpful in this regard is to put a blanket ban on any holidays on the birth and death anniversaries of political leaders. 

This could be replaced by the practice of observing two-minute silence in the government offices to show respect and then resuming normal working. Government can also reduce the number of earned leaves by 10 days and instead increase the number of days of half pay leave by 20 days. 

In this case, a government employee should have the option of coming to the office either in the first half of the day or in the second half after lunch and working for a minimum of four hours. If this practice gains popularity, it will help a great deal to prevent the government work from coming to a standstill. 

This would be beneficial for the employees too as they will now take half day leave to attend to their personal work, which could be completed within 3-4 hours rather than taking a full day earned leave. 

The above measures will help the government in bringing up the number of working days of its office to around 260 and at the same time prevent the paralysis in government functioning. Reducing the number of holidays is imperative to make it more accessible to the people. 

It must be remembered that unlike in the developed countries, the central and state governments in India still play a vital role almost every aspect in the lives of the people. Since we are still faring poorly on most of the socio-economic indicators, the government needs to work more in order to bridge the widening chasm between the expectations of the people and its capacity to deliver. 

The author is Editor, Policy Proposals For India. 

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