India logs on to check if public servants are at work
Australian Public Service still losing the war against sickies
Delhi: Feeling tied up by the red tape spooling from the silos housing Canberra’s public servants? Suspicious, even, that those bureaucrats are not working hard enough to clear your particular piece of paper?
Imagine a system, then, that allowed people not only to see what percentage of public servants were at work on any day, but also check whether a public servant was actually sitting at his or her desk.
Welcome to the world of India’s sprightly new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently launched a website that allows his country’s 1.2 billion citizens to see exactly how many of their notoriously work-shy civil servants are on the job.
Known colloquially as “babus”, once a term of respect that now leans towards the pejorative, membership of organisations such as the Indian Administrative Service is hard won – in 2012 more than 500,000 people applied and just 170 were chosen – but the rewards are generous.
A job for life that in time comes with a car, heavily subsidised housing and generous retirement pensions that all but guarantee a life of relative luxury in a country beleaguered by poverty.
Utilising a biometric identification system pioneered by Indian engineers, people can log on to the website attendance.gov.in at any time to check who among 56,000 registered employees across 149 departments are at work.
Under the new system, government employees must scan either their fingerprint or iris, preventing a friendly colleague from logging on someone and helping them “ghost” for the day.
With Mr Modi famous for his rigorous schedule – he reputedly puts in 18-plus hour days, working from 5.30am until 1am – India’s public servants have been ordered to turn up by 9am and not leave before 6pm.
“How dare you ask me such a question?,” said one unsettled official queried this week about why she had arrived at work at 11.27am. “I take public transport you know. It’s not so easy to come to work.”
Whether that explained why she left work 4.09pm, and not after 5.30pm as might be expectedat a minimum, we never got a chance to ask.
Other officials quizzed on their punctuality expressed similar indignation, complaining that the new system was a gross invasion of their privacy and that time spent sitting at a desk was not an accurate measure of how hard they worked.
The effectiveness of the new system is yet to be determined.
Statistics for the last five work days, not including the current Diwali holiday period, indicate an attendance level of 27,000 employees – less than half of those registered, with at least one-quarter not turning up to work until after 11am.
The measures are popular with the public, especially on the social media website Twitter, where users have not hesitated to express their glee that the “rule of the babus” is being challenged.
“Fantastic! These r the baby steps we need 2 #ChangeIndia. Govt employee attendance dashboard open to public,” noted Debi Senapati recently.
“Modi gives deadline to install biometric rolls for transparent attendance. Babus screwed! End to Inspector Raj,” tweeted Richa Mehta.
Others expressed some ambivalence about the measure.
“Good initiative, but reminds me of Orwell’s 1984,” said Arun Vishwanathan.
Out on the streets recently and armed with a straw broom as part of his initiative to clean up India, Mr Modi may have other changes in store for those on the public payroll; especially the system that allows recalcitrant employees who are suspended for repeated truancy to remain on near full-pay while their case is investigated – a process that usually takes several years – and then often found not guilty and allowed to return to work.
Whether Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott would be prepared to implement a similar scheme is unknown – but he will have time to ask for more details when Mr Modi addresses the Australian parliament next month.