Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly 6 January 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 28, 2012

One billion to win or lose

Last year ended with a forceful request from the public service unions to the government to grant civil servants an extra holiday on January 3 rd . This year could have begun with the prime minister enhancing his speech to the nation by officially acquiescing as a sop to the unions. He chose not to. Good on him. Good on the country. That could have put an end to an unhealthy tradition. Except that some officious guys in some ministries decided to grant a half day off to some employees. The issue will, therefore, crop up again with the same virulence and with threats ranging from the benign to the fashionable.

The tendency to regard holidays as a gift which the government can give is widespread. And rather disconcerting. The arguments vary.

This year, we didn’t find a better argument than the fact that one of the two public holidays was a Sunday and, since many private companies decided as usual to close during that period, an extra holiday on Monday was in order.

First, let’s get rid of the fallacy that the workers in the private sector get a better deal than those of the civil service. To begin with, the comparison itself is incongruous. Anyone who wants to claim the entitlements of the private sector should get off their hammocks and experience the nightmare of the lack of job security the private sector lives with, the performance evaluation, working on Saturdays and at odd hours and delivering the goods. But even without going into that, when a firm closes for New Year, for any length of time, the employees are using their own holidays. What this means, in fact, is a loss of holiday choice.

But more important perhaps is the alacrity with which such requests are made: asking the government to grant an extra public holiday is suggesting that they have the right and the legitimacy to do so. It is almost suggesting that the implications of an extra holiday are irrelevant. Now if you consider that the Annual GDP is around Rs350 billion and that there are 324 working days in a year, the cost of one single working day is about Rs1 billion! Can anyone seriously put a cogent case for allowing such waste? Quite how we’re going to work off the national debt at this rate, I’ve no idea.

This is not to say that we are anti- holiday. What we are saying is that government does not make the calendar. It does not decide on which day a public holiday falls. In fact, we would like to suggest that government should have no business even telling us when to take our holidays. In a country where there are so many religions and different cultures, public holidays are sometimes needed to express our national identity but they should be scaled back and citizens given more choice as to when they would like to take their holidays. Some may choose to take them for Easter, some for Eid ul Adha or other festivals meaningful to them. And those who have not recovered from their hangover by January 3 rd or have a tradition of visiting relatives can always take a holiday from the pool they have. There is no such thing as a free dinner.

Someone has to pay either through loss of choice or, worse, through footing the bill. And that someone is consistently the tax- payer.

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