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AAP finds common cause with BJP on holidays

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-04-2017 Nikita Doval

New Delhi: As far as political scenarios go, this was definitely one of the most unexpected ones: the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi not just praising a move of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister but also emulating it.

Days after the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government announced that it will be cancelling 15 public holidays, all of them marking the birth or death anniversary of eminent people, AAP has followed suit.

Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia announced on Twitter, “The Delhi government will cancel holidays on birth or death anniversary of eminent personalities. I have issued instructions to the chief secretary in this regard.” In UP, there are 42 public holidays out of which at least 17 are related to the birth or death anniversaries of eminent personalities. In Delhi, as per a government notification issued on 7 December, there are 13 holidays marking birth/death anniversaries in 2017.

In UP, the list of cancelled holidays include the birth/death anniversaries of personalities as varied as former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar and Rajput king Maharana Pratap. Religious occasions like Parashu Ram Jayanti, Jamat-Ul-Vida and Chaatt Puja had been added the banned holidays list.

Most of these holidays were introduced by Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party governments. “A lot of holidays were declared which were simply not needed. They were declared with the purpose of appeasement of different castes and communities. This intention was not correct. If there were celebrations, commemorations, a coming together of people, one would have understood the intent but this was not the case with most of the holidays,” said former UP Lokayukta N.K. Mehrotra. The concern that seemed to have motivated the new UP government is that academic sessions in school were getting affected.

“There should be no holidays in schools on birth anniversaries of great personalities…the 220-day academic session has been reduced to only 120 days due to such holidays,” the new CM had said in an address on the occasion of Dr. BR Ambedkar’s 126th birth anniversary.

In India, the concern is not that holidays affect economic performance.

“During my stint with the Public Grievances Commission we found that a lot of the complaints people had were to do with municipal services, police, court work, water supply etc. These were issues that took them to government offices where they would spend hours waiting and then be told that the next day is a holiday so their work can’t happen,” recalled Shailaja Chandra, former chief secretary Delhi.

Indians enjoy some of the highest number of public holidays in the world. In a report released in 2014 by Mercer, India and Colombia were identified as the countries with the most public holidays (18 each) while Mexico had the least (7), just after the US with 8. In 2015, a travel portal placed India at the top of the heap, even ahead of Colombia with 21 public holidays.

Yogi is not the first politician to raise the problem of non-performance allegedly owing to holidays in India. Back in 2003, the then defence minister George Fernandes considered the number of holidays in India as an impediment to economic growth. When the Mercer report was released, Ellyn Karetnick, leader of Mercer’s Global Mobility Practice in the UK, said countries believe a productive and available work force leads to investment. “Portugal, for example, has taken the drastic measure of suspending four of the country’s 14 public holidays in a bid to increase productivity and send a message to investors.”

In India, holidays range from days of national importance (Republic Day, Independence Day, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) to public holidays that owing to the country’s multi-cultural fabric cover the big festivals of all the major religions. There are 11 of these. However the list doesn’t end here as states have their own holidays ranging from labour day to Ganesh Chaturthi. At the start of every year states issue a list their holidays. Then there is the concept of restricted holidays in which government offices work but employees are free to take the day off if they so desire.

And then there are times when holidays fall near weekends leading to a huge chunk of the work week being rendered unproductive. In March 2015, Ram Navami, Mahavir Jayanti and Good Friday fell in the same week as the bank’s annual closing for the financial year, leading to a warning from the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry about disruptions in financial transaction, export, shipments etc.

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