In the first flush of New Year, when many people resolve to make a new beginning, it appears that a sizeable number of Assam government employees are hell-bent not to turn over a new leaf. As per a State government order issued in the last week of December 2017, they had to report to office at 9.30 am on New Year Day. Many failed to do so, some coming in at their ‘normal’ time at 10.30 am while a few black sheep deigned to make an appearance at noontime. The changed office timings was an initiative of Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal, who had recently made a renewed appeal to State employees to help improve work culture in the offices. Yet at Sonowal’s constituency Majuli, show cause notices have been issued to 79 officials for reporting late to office on 1st January. In the heart of State administration at Dispur Jata Bhawan itself, there were quite a few latecomers. Many State employees are reportedly miffed that the government did not talk to their associations before changing the office timings. Meanwhile, the Sadou Asom Karmachari Parishad has raised a few caveats against Dispur’s notification, reminding the powers-be that a sizeable number of employees come to work at offices in capital city Guwahati by taking trains from faraway places. Before advancing the office timing, the government should have taken up the matter with the NF Railway authority to make the trains run correspondingly earlier — the SAKP has argued. It has pointed out that since Central government employees enjoy Saturdays as holiday, the same should be done for State employees who presently have to make do with only second and fourth Saturdays. It is an indication of the State’s degradation in terms of productivity that government employee associations quibble over advancing office timing by just half an hour. As per cabinet decision, office timings have been revised from 10am—5pm to 9.30am—5pm. This in a State where the sun rises early and valuable daylight time is wasted by 10 am. Even then, rare is the government employee who reports to office sharp at this timing.
It is very well to complain about large distances from home to office and transport hassles — but such excuses do not wash for employees who work for private concerns, or even Central government employees who are more punctilious. As for the 5-day working week Central employees enjoy, things have been changing in the country’s capital for quite some time. The Modi dispensation has made it clear, at least in Delhi, that it will not put up with an administrative machinery that goes completely off the radar for two days every week. It has become a common sight to see top bureaucrats in Delhi hot-footing it to ministries and departments on Saturdays and even Sundays for stock-taking and key meetings. While weekends are important for attending to persol work and family responsibilities, we are also living in a fast-changing 24x7, networked environment. Assam government employee associations vociferously seek parity with their Central counterparts when it comes to pay hikes and better perks, but are noticeably timorous in talking about improving work ethic and office productivity. Chief Minister Sonowal has made the point that people should not be kept waiting in government offices to get their work done, which is the reason State office time is being increased from 7 hours to 7-and-half hours. When employees complain that the government did not consult their associations beforehand, it simply does not hold water. The government is not obliged to do so, rather it can seek heightened performance from its employees in various situations. A careful reading of employment terms and conditions as well as service rules will make this clear to any diligent employee. It is a fact that people desperately seek government employment (many are ready to fork out hefty bribes) for the job security it provides, besides pension, various leaves, housing allowance, loans on easy terms and other benefits. When it comes to delivering on performance though, many employees refuse to step up and be counted. Assam has been stuck with the malaise of government employees’ irresponsibility for long. As for corrupt employees using the official machinery to feather their nest, that is another story altogether. The Sonowal government needs to crack the whip on errant employees in terms of punctuality, but it also has to hold them responsible for failure to move files.