It may be rather glib to say, but 2010 Anno Domini is indeed the year of mourning – for all those who live off holidays. At the beginning of the year I overheard few young smart-alecs of the post-liberalized era commiserating with one another about most holidays falling on Saturdays and Sundays – what they called the wasted weekends! “Do you know,” chirruped one, trying to outsmart others in his electric wit, “so bad this year has gotten that even the damned Good Friday falls on a weekend!” It took others some talking to explain the wise owl the impossibility of his wisecrack!
See the goodies a government job offers. Look at the freebies its employees enjoy apropos of holidays and leave. Apart from 104 days of holidays (Saturdays/Sundays), there are 17 public holidays plus 2 restricted holidays plus 30 days earned leave and 8 days casual leave granted annually. These are all fully-paid leaves. There are also 20 days of half-pay leave granted every year open to accumulation. I’m still trying but am yet to know of any more altruistic nation than ours. Never mind if governance goes to seed!
Women are twice blessed. In the wake of the acceptance of Sixth Central Pay Commission recommendations, the Department of Personnel & Training (DOPT), Government of India vide its OM dated 11th September 2008 communicated two important decisions. One was enhancement of the quantum of Maternity Leave from 135 days to 180 days with the added proviso that leave of the kind due and admissible can be granted in continuation with Maternity Leave up to 2 years.
The other was the introduction of Child Care Leave (CCL): “Women employees having minor children may be granted Child Care Leave for a maximum period of two years (i.e. 730 days) during their entire service for taking care of upto two children whether for rearing or to look after any of their needs like examination, sickness etc. During the period of such leave, the women employees shall be paid leave salary equal to the pay drawn immediately before proceeding on leave. It may be availed of in more than one spell. Child Care Leave may also be allowed for the third year as leave not due. It may be combined with leave of the kind due and admissible.”
Soon applications poured in from women employees to avail CCL threatening paralysis of government offices. DOPT realized its folly and tried to make the most of a bad situation through another OM dated 29th September 2008 clarifying that CCL shall be admissible for two eldest surviving children only. That could hardly retrieve the impossible situation it was plunging the offices into. Thus came the DOPT’s third OM dated 18th November, 2008 that clarified that the intention of Child Care Leave for women employees was to facilitate women employees to take care of their children at the time of need. However, this does not mean that CCL should disrupt the functioning of Central Government offices. The nature of this leave was envisaged to be the same as that of earned leave. Accordingly, CCL cannot be demanded as a matter of right, and it can be availed only if the employee concerned has no Earned Leave at her credit.
The three orders read together make CCL sui generis vis-à-vis other leaves. Unlike Study Leave, it is an open-ended leave with no strings attached; there is no obligation to return to work. In effect, it means women employees are free to resign after two years of fully-paid CCL availed with all perks. Look at another largesse: EL earned during CCL!
No other order issued in post-independent India has perhaps been so insanely bountiful and so infuriatingly generous to its employees, and so unabashedly blasé about the organization it serves. With women constituting 30-40% of the total strength in most offices, how on earth are offices to function? How do schools already reeling under shortage of trained teachers teach when teachers – mostly women – decide to avail CCL since their minor children – more than their students – need looking after? How are hospitals to run when doctors/nurses avail CCL? I’m tempted to draw upon a folksy analogy to convey the brutality of the order on the incubator of public service: women parliamentarians availing CCL for their children’s sake!
Any dispassionate observer would say that this is an order that could only happen in an organization that has no concern for its and/or its customers’ good but views the organization as maternalistic with altruistic mammaries that can be milked interminably. Corporates world over grant maternity and childcare leaves but without emoluments – there is no cost-to-company (CTC) that the shareholders can gripe. And the experience lost during years of absence on pregnancy and childcare doesn’t redound back upon for future promotions. Not here though. Because experience and merit matter little in a state that marvels at its own generosity, and who cares about this CTC (Cost-to-Country)the welfare state dishes out anyway so ungrudgingly and the silent, ignorant honest tax-payers uncomplainingly made to bear.
Let’s see the aspect of equity and commonsense. If childcare is the fulcrum, doesn’t the single-parent man – divorced or widower – deserve better not only for sake of equity but genuine need? That no such thought has attended this order I feel a tendril of joy begin to wind its way through me that I can’t be accused of male chauvinism.
We can’t play ducks and drakes with public money. The tax-payer (poor dear – ignorant of such wanton orders stashed in the minutiae of government files!) would be right to call this daylight heist. For you can’t eat the cake and have it too! I’ve no problems with women availing CCL (they need it and they must be facilitated) but such largesse can’t be bestowed with public money. Nor must it become a way to avoid office work – a tool to switch on and switch off as convenience warrants.
If there is still any sense left, the DOPT should revisit the order (as it has in the past)and make CCL without pay – availed after exhausting all leaves: Earned and Half-Pay. A happier phrasing of the order would shine through rather than sweeping up this hollow circle of excess – that would bring about a punctilio of a higher code, which today sadly looks long gone.