Punjab govt slashes gazetted holidays by almost half amidst strong opposition
On Thursday evening, the Punjab government came out with a list of 18 gazetted holidays and 39 restricted holidays for the calendar year 2018. With this move, the state government has decided to slash the number of gazetted holidays for the calender year 2018 by almost half.
While this is a step in the right direction, there are still a number of anomalies that need to be rationalised keeping in view the demographic profile of the state. Predictably, the move has drawn political opposition. However, if the government sticks to its decision on rationalising the lists of the holidays placed under the categories of 'gazetted' and 'restricted', it will go a long way in serving the people.
Better public service
The Punjab government has previously come under criticism for the state's high number of government holidays. Government employees, with their other routine entitlement of casual and paid leaves, were on holiday for two and a half to three months every year. For example, in 2017 the Punjab government had declared 37 gazetted holidays and 20 restricted holidays.
A government spokesperson said the Punjab government decided to reduce the number of gazetted holidays so as to enable better public service to the citizens, and also to ensure more teaching days in educational institutions.
“With this reform, the state government offices will remain open for 21 more days in 2018 as compared to the previous year 2017. At the same time, government employees will be able to avail of more restricted holidays than previously, in keeping with their preferences,” he said. In keeping with this, Punjab government employees will now be eligible to avail five restricted holidays, whereas earlier they could avail only two.
“Now the number of gazetted holidays in Punjab (18) are comparable to the number of holidays by government of India that has declared 17 gazetted holidays for the calendar year 2018,” he added.
The move by the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government has, however, been met by opposition from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The SAD termed the Congress government's decision to slash the list of government holidays as ‘totally dictatorial, irrational and insensitive.’Demanding its immediate rollback, the Akalis have claimed it was decided without taking other stakeholders into confidence.
Senior Vice President of SAD Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema accused the Congress government of resorting to gimmicks since its formation to divert the people’s attention away from its failure to fulfill its election promises. “Now it has suddenly slashed the list of government holidays, arrogantly ignoring the peoples’ cultural and religious attachments to those important days," he said.
Castigating the state government for deleting important occasions like birth and martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh, Baisakhi, Mahashivratri, Parshuram Jayanti, May Day, martyrdom day of Udham Singh, Eid-Ul-Adha, martyrdom day of Guru Tegh Bahadur and installation of Guru Granth Sahib, the Akali leader said nobody can argue about the importance of these days as they help establish the common fabric of brotherhood that keep all united despite differences of faith, creed and caste.
He warned the government about repeating its history of playing with the sentiments of people which could push the state into the communal disharmony.
Rejecting the state government's 'lame excuse' of providing better governance by slashing of government holidays, Cheema said the Amarinder government could not even find time to complete its cabinet strength by executing much needed expansion for the last nine months, let alone finding time for the welfare of people. “The secretariat always wears a deserted look as the ministers don’t bother to visit their offices. There has been no governance at all in the state for the last nine months," he alleged.
Need to do more
Politics apart, there is a need to curtail the number of holidays. There is a strong view that, with regard to the important days and anniversaries that are observed to remember those who have contributed towards the making of modern India and strengthening the social fabric, special events like assemblies and lectures can be organized at offices and educational institutions remembering them and their contributions. However, government functioning should not come to a halt on such a large number of days.
But the only thing that needs to be done is rationalising the list of holidays under the gazetted and restricted holidays. An example being given is that holidays like Mahavir Jayanti can be placed under the latter category as there is a miniscule Jain population in the state, while occasions like May Day and the birthdays of Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh should be in the former as they are observed by the masses.
“In the West, the number of government holidays do not go beyond eight to 10, including the bank holidays. People do avail their quota of entitled leaves, but the government functioning does not come to a halt for so many days,” points out a senior media person who has worked n Britain for several years.
The number of public holidays announced in Britain for 2018 is just eight days. Even in Canada, where a large number of Punjabis are settled, the number of national holidays is just around the same with some states having a few more holidays than others. The number of national holidays in Australia too does not go beyond 14 days, with some changes at state level.
However, employee leaders like Yash Pal have a different take on the issue. Having led the teaching community in the state for a long time, he points out that, while there is a definite need to rationalise the holidays list, it also needs to be taken into account how the teachers and students are compelled to waste entire days attending and organising political programmes.
“It is the government that announces holidays in the first place keeping in view its political motives to woo various communities. Now, when it is talking of curtailing the list to improve work efficiency it should first answer for its own delays in disbursing employee salaries, social security benefits like pensions and provident fund etc. Merely reducing the number of holidays alone will not yield results. An over all rational approach is required for the purpose,” he said.