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Work culture: All talk, no action

With the BJP-led NDA storming into power at the Centre in 2014, there was so much talk on instilling work culture in government offices. A workaholic Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call to all babus to be attentive towards their respective works or to get ready to face the axe. Initially, the call did have some positive effects. Modi also ordered a massive cleanup, demanding bureaucrats reorganizing their desks and throwing out unwanted files away. Much of the problem stems from shortsighted policies and outdated laws that entangle people in reams of red tape.

Taking the Prime Minister’s cue, in Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal laid emphasis on work culture in the State Government offices. The State Government has recently changed its office timing – from 9:30 am to 5 pm with half-an-hour lunch break. The previous working hours in the State Government offices were from 10 am to 5 pm. The Chief Minister advocated the need for such a step with a view to advancing government offices in the State by at least 30 minutes as the sunrise in the Northeast precedes the rest of India by half-an-hour. However, even as the new office timing was maintained initially, now everything is back to square one with majority of employees coming between 10.30 am and 11 am – be it in the State Secretariat, various directorates or offices in the districts. What is even more pathetic is that there is none to check such a lack of punctuality among a section of employees in the State. The Chief Minister, in his wisdom, initiated the move to ensure punctuality. He, however, did precious little to put in place a mechanism for monitoring late arrival in offices. Citizens still complain of the lackluster attitude on the part of government employees while dealing with files. Corruption and nepotism still rule the roost in major offices which otherwise should have been citizen-centric ones.
Chief Minister Sonowal feels that files in government departments are not moving at the desired pace. Sometime back, he asked officers at all levels to make efforts to ensure speedy disposal of files. “The people want files related to their various applications and demands move fast. When files move fast, common people get a lot of relief. I’m telling you on the basis of feedback from what common people are talking about,” Sonowal said while reviewing the government’s functioning at a meeting of senior officers at Guwahati recently.

A section of people alleges that the speed of the government works has slowed down, pushing work culture back where it was earlier. In such a backdrop, all government departments have to take the responsibility to restore the trust of the people on governance. But the desired changes in real sense of the term will be a reality only when the fruits of governance are delivered at a proper time. As to how a change in the system can be brought about is nothing but adhering to the set of rules meant for officials. There is time stipulation as to how many days a file should stay on a particular table. If a file stays on a table longer than the stipulated time, the employee in particular should be held accountable. However, this is not followed in the State for reasons best known to them.

The former Congress Government did introduce a system of tracking file movement with mobile handset. The system worked well for a certain period. However, after that the system reverted back to square one.

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Ankur Kalita