Adityanath’s slashing of public holidays in UP puts spotlight on larger malaise
The new Uttar Pradesh administration is keen to establish from the word go that it means business. First came the reports about chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s working style, modelled closely it seemed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, then came the decision (before the cabinet’s) to remove all red beacons from official cars in a bid to reduce VIP culture and now the cancellation of 15 public holidays, all of them marking the birth or death anniversary of eminent personalities ranging from former prime minister Chandrashekhar to Maharana Pratap.
Religious occasions like Parashu Ram Jayanti, Jamat Ul Vida and even Chhath puja had been added to the list. Most of these holidays were introduced by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) when they were in power. According to a PTI report, there are 42 public holidays in Uttar Pradesh out of which at least 17 are related to the birth anniversaries of eminent personalities.
“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 said in his address on the occasion of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s 126th birth anniversary.
It is a truth, universally acknowledged and backed by data, that Indians enjoy among 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 maximum public holidays (18 each), while Mexico had the least (7). The US with 8 came in just before Mexico. In 2015, a travel portal Hotels.com placed India at the top of the heap, even ahead of Colombia with 21 public holidays.
In India holidays range from days of national importance (Republic Day, Independence Day and Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) to public holidays which, owing to the country’s multi-cultural fabric, cover the big festivals of all the major religions. There are 11 of these. However, states have their own list of holidays ranging from Labour Day to Ganesh Chaturthi. At the beginning of every year, states issue a list of 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.
Yogi is not the first politician to raise the issue of non-performance due to the increasing number of holidays in India. Way back in 2003, then defence minister George Fernandes considered the number of holidays in India as an impediment to overall economic growth (http://www.financialexpress.com/archive/holiday-syndrome-a-major-hurdle-towards-economic-growth-george/78279/). When the 2014 Mercer report was released, Ellyn Karetnick, leader of Mercer’s Global Mobility Practice in the UK, had 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.”
The issue of public holidays impeding work rarely ever comes up in India, save for when they fall near weekends, leading to a huge chunk of the work week being rendered unproductive. In March 2015, holidays like 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, exports, shipments etc. In a statement issued on their website, (https://assocham.org/newsdetail.php?id=4907), secretary general D.S. Rawat was quoted as saying, “We would urge the Reserve Bank of India to step in and advise the banks to make some arrangements. With the government being the majority owners of the public sector banks, the finance ministry should also prevail on the banks managements to avoid this kind of huge customer inconvenience….”
The impact of India’s public holidays on its productivity has not been analyzed till now but perhaps states could look at their roster of holidays again. If more politicians questioned the logic of a bloated holiday calendar as opposed to putting vote bank considerations first, maybe a more responsible work culture could be created