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One of the ills plaguing government offices across the country is an unrestrained number of public holidays, causing inconvenience to the public. The list of public holidays for 2023 released by the Tamil Nadu government recently has even led to an unnecessary conundrum.

The list has September 17 marked as a public holiday for the Hindu festival of Vinayaga Chathurti. But one school of thought upholding the ‘Tirukanitha Panchang’ of Hindu astrology says the festival actually falls on September 19. Another which follows the ‘Vaakkiya Panchang’ says that as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, it is the pre-eminent system for measuring the traditional units of time-keeping, and it has declared 18 as Vinayaga Chaturthi. This has put the government in a quandary.

Similarly, the Muslim festival of Ramadan, which is celebrated based on when the crescent moon is sighted, also tends to fall one day before or after the day declared as a public holiday in calendars.

As these concern religious issues, let us not poke our noses into them. Rather, let us consider the need to reduce the number of public holidays.

India has among the highest number of public holidays in the world. The union government has declared 23 public holidays, apart from which the states have their own. Tamil Nadu has 24 holidays in all. In some states, the total number of holidays can go up to 30.

In most other countries, the number of holidays in a year is around just five.

So what?
Let’s look at the scenario when employees go on strike. The government or management says it will incur heavy losses running into crores of rupees over the strikes. How is that different from the government itself declaring public holidays when there is a temporary halt of service?

Government employees may constitute just one per cent of the population, followed by private sector employees and then by comparatively well-off merchants. Apart from them, most other people are farmers and labourers who can only celebrate festivals on borrowed money. They have to sweat it out even on public holidays. So, it boils down to this: Public holidays are meant only for government employees and those in white collar jobs.

India has among the highest number of public holidays in the world. The union government has declared 23 public holidays, apart from which the states have their own. Tamil Nadu has 24 holidays in all. In some states, the total number of holidays can go up to 30. In most other countries, the number of holidays in a year is around just five

Let them take rest
Of course, there’s no denying that rest is mandatory for health. But it must be regulated.

The general public, the 99 per cent, depend on the government employees, who are the one per cent, for various needs. On public holidays, people are unable to obtain vital government services even online. People have to visit government offices in person for various services, including receiving pension.

Applications for patta, building approval, power connection, pension and jobs on humanitarian grounds are pending for years on end in several government offices. Public holidays hamper the speedy processing of these applications.

Another problem is that on public holidays, banks could remain shut for days in a row, and even ATMs say ‘Sorry, unable to dispense cash,’ putting customers in need of liquid cash in a fix.

Also Read: In India, May Day was celebrated first in Chennai

Is it okay to declare holidays for religious festivals?
Both union and state governments declare a public holiday for the Jain festival Mahaveer Jayanthi. According to the 2011 census, the Jains are just 0.37 per cent of the population; just 50 lakh. Does it make sense to declare a holiday for all 140 crore population for a festival celebrated by just 50 lakh Jains?

In fact, a majority of people are ignorant about Mahaveer Jayanthi or about Jains. Similar is the case with festivals of other minority religions.

Holidays are declared for non-religious festivals too, right?
May 1, marking Workers’ Day, is a public holiday. It is ironic that May Day is still celebrated at a time when workers, covering the wide spectrum from labourers to techies, are forced to sweat it out for hours extending beyond the mandatory eight, and in India, which is more capitalist than communist.

What about holidays on birthdays of freedom fighters?
Take for instance October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. All liquor shops are closed in deference to the Gandhian ideal of prohibition. But the irony is that the day before, sales of liquor peak. Gandhi Jayanthi feels more like a holiday for private enjoyment rather than a day inspired by the Mahatma.

Some time ago, John Brittas, a member of the Rajya Sabha, demanded that the birthday of the architect of the Constitution B R Ambedkar on April 14 be declared a national holiday. A resolution was passed successfully in this regard. Similarly, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has urged the union government to declare Nethaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birthday as a national holiday.

Thus the number of holidays will go up if birthdays of all great leaders are declared national holidays. If it is to pay homage to the leaders, what better way than to follow in their footsteps, imbibing their spirit, ideologies and sterling qualities — instead of wasting a day doing nothing.

Applications for patta, building approval, power connection, pension and jobs on humanitarian grounds are pending for years on end in several government offices. Public holidays hamper the speedy processing of these applications

What’s the solution?
It is enough to celebrate August 15 alone as a public holiday to mark our glorious liberation from British rule. On that one day, celebrations can be organised across the country, propagating our past leaders’ ideals and talking about their lives of sweat, blood and tears so that the young get to know about them. Separate days to celebrate freedom fighters can thus be avoided.

Likewise, states too must pick a single occasion for a public holiday, depending on the significance of the day for them. As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the day of Pongal captures the essence of Tamil culture and ethos and can be declared a public day and celebrated.

Also Read: Who celebrated Onam first? Answer: The Pandyas

So, instead of declaring sweeping holidays for festivals of all religions, government employees can be allowed to take leave with pay on the days of their own religious festivals such as Deepavali, Christmas, Ramzan and so on. Thus, government offices can function with available staff even on festival days. A notice board can be put up announcing the number of staff working in a government office on festival days. Inconvenience caused to the public will thus be reduced to just 2 days instead of 23 to 30 days. This will also ensure that casual leave that employees are entitled to are not curtailed.

I have long been writing about the issue of the unwarranted number of public holidays, and these same recommendations had also been made by the union government’s pay commission report as far back as March 24, 2008.

Will the government heed the call to cut down on unnecessary holidays?


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