Indian civil servants could lose right to take 200 days a year off

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 12:00am


India's 20 million federal and state government employees are entitled to as many as 200 days of paid leave a year, at a cost to the national exchequer of 150 billion rupees (HK$25 billion).

Their prolonged holidays could soon be a thing of the past. The Indian government has ordered a long-overdue review of its leave entitlement policy for the vast army of state employees who get more time off than their counterparts in any other country.

The review, announced in parliament last week, has been welcomed by everybody except the government employees who have become a byword for shirkers.

At present, apart from weekends (about 100 days), and privileged, medical and casual leave (roughly 70 days), they are entitled to 30 national holidays marking various religious festivals of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.

In contrast, France and Singapore both have 11 national holidays, Malaysia and South Africa 12 and China only 10.

Over the years, successive governments in New Delhi have declared new national holidays to win over Indians practising various religious faiths and regional groups.

'Everybody gets 30 holidays on religious and regional grounds, but any single community - Hindus - needs only 10 holidays,' said Vijay Kalantri, president of the All India Association of Industries.

Besides too many holidays, rampant corruption and a poor work culture are the main reasons for low productivity and an unimpressive rate of growth, according to leading economist Bibek Debroy of New Delhi's Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies.

India's vast public sector includes nationalised banks and financial institutions. And there have been several occasions when banks have remained shut for five days at a stretch when weekends have merged with national holidays.

'Nowhere in the world are banks closed for more than 48 hours. But India is a rather painful exception, ' Mr Kalantri said.

Mr Debroy said that national holidays must be drastically reduced to keep pace with the new highly competitive global order.

Senior civil servants belonging to the elite Indian Administrative Service claim that they rarely go on leave.

They blame junior and middle-level officials for the bureaucracy's notorious work culture.