Monday, January 3, 2011

What we need is a 365-day government

Indians love holidays. Secularism may be under threat, but not in respect of religious holidays. I have never heard people complain about holidays for the festivals of their co-religionists. In addition, an occasional bonanza comes in the shape of holidays to mourn the deaths of VIPs, local religious festivals, forced closures during hartals, etc. In Kerala, liquor sales shoot up on the eve of holidays. Since the government is the monopoly vendor of liquor, it is the biggest beneficiary of holidays as its coffers get filled up.

We love official policies — tomes of verbose and jargonistic government literature. But we have no holiday policy. Many commissions and committees have suggested reforms to prevent long shutdowns of the government machinery. But certain things never seem to change. It appears nobody has the guts to take on unionised bureaucracy. Status quo is the preferred option. For the politician, giving offence to anybody would mean less number of votes during elections.

So government offices are shut down continuously for four days for Onam in Kerala, for Pongal in Tamil Nadu, for Puja in West Bengal. Is it not time to rethink on this wasteful closure of the governmental system that denies basic services to the citizens, especially to the poor? Why should courts have holidays when crores of cases are pending disposal?

I am not advocating that people should be denied holidays to celebrate festivals. I don't want to enter into a statistical debate about the number of holidays. But when we envisage a greater role for the government in social and economic development of the nation, the services of the government should be available in an uninterrupted manner.

The government is already doing it in respect of essential services such as hospitals, electricity, water, railways, road, shipping and air transport. Are not the administrative wings of the government also essential in the sense that they deliver vital services?

Is it so complicated that a suitable mechanism cannot be evolved to provide at least skeleton services on holidays? What is lacking is the willingness to change and adapt to the growing expectations of the people for speedier services.

There will be practical difficulties in the beginning as is the case with any kind of reform. But these problems can be surmounted over a period of time. I am sure many employees will be willing to work on holidays provided they are compensated either monetarily or by other incentives. I know many government employees are committed to helping the public in letter and in spirit.

A governmental system that works on all days will help to improve the work culture of the employees and transform governance into a people friendly exercise. People's trust in their government will be enhanced and the politicians will be the ultimate beneficiaries during elections. But, our leaders should lead the way by setting an example of hard work. Frequent disruptions of Parliament and legislatures send a wrong signal to the people.

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