A virus called bunking work

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director – CBI

While serving in the Home Ministry a few decades back, I noticed that any excuse was good enough to bunk work. During lunch breaks in winter, which would invariably extend to two hours from the permissible half-an- hour, the men would either munch groundnuts or play cards while women would be busy with their knitting or indulge in aimless chit-chat. This was apart from at least two informal tea breaks, one before lunch and the other after, of up to an hour.

It was futile to expect the case workers and helpers to be available before 3 pm, unless it was a dull day outside. Checking the presence of the staff would be done once in a blue moon by the administration. Late arrival and early departure was the standard norm.

Another common practice was to mark attendance and then disappear from one’s seat, leaving a shawl or a briefcase behind to indicate that the official was present in office and might have gone to the washroom or to the canteen for a cup of tea.

The Sixth Pay Commission, which has revised the payscales of Government employees retrospectively from January 1, 2006, also gave some suggestions about the introduction of a biometric system. It said, “For improving punctuality, new concepts like flexi time, biometric entry/exit, etc, needs to be introduced. But we would like to emphasise that punctuality should be maintained. To us, it is a question of ethics and morality.”

To ensure the punctuality of the staff, the Union Home Ministry has now introduced a biometric system. It is basically automatic identification of people through one or more of their physical characteristics. The use of biometric systems makes it difficult for an employee to clock in or out on behalf of his or her colleague, which happens quite often, as you have to physically sign your own attendance.

Nobody minds bunking. While undergoing training at the National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie after joining the Indian Police Service, I had noticed that bunking classes and marking attendance on behalf of the absentees had reached an all-time high. In a surprise check the director of the academy found only 40 out of 270 trainees present. Incidentally, everybody was present on record as some of us had signed in for our batchmates. As punishment a day’s pay was deducted from our salaries and donated to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.

Bunking duty or being unpunctual is not confined to any particular category or class. It is not considered a crime or a misdemeanour in any Government department. Delhi University’s teaching faculty is opposing the adoption of a fool-proof attendance monitoring system. The teachers have called for a strike and have given the queer logic that the biometic system is hazardous to health as it can spread swine flu and other contagious diseases to justify their demand. Theoretically this is possible, especially in the ‘high physical’ zone where physical frisking is done. But to the best of my knowledge no such practical case has been reported.

If we go by the teachers’ logic then nobody should visit any library or canteen or travel in public transport because there is a possibility of catching some infectious disease.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi has detected 22,583 ‘ghost’ employees with the help of its new biometric system. The truth is, given the security that comes with a Government job, most people do just about enough to keep their jobs.

According to a report, no Indian university figures in the list of top 100 universities in the world. While no formal report about absenteeism in higher education is available, there is a shocking Human Resource Development Ministry report about the state of education at the school level. It says that not just students but teachers bunk classes as well and that no State in the country has teachers with 100 per cent attendance. The States which have over 90 per cent teacher attendance include West Bengal, Delhi, and Haryana, whereas in other States the attendance percentage stands between 70 and 80 per cent. In Assam only 55.2 per cent of the teachers take classes regularly. The situation in higher education cannot be any better.

As it is teachers in Government or UGC-funded institutions draw salaries in the highest range as compared to their counterparts in private colleges. It is no secret that even in terms of discipline teachers are no role models. If anybody is performing his or her duty in the best possible manner, he or she won’t hesitate to mark his or her attendance. But the problem arises when they mark their presence but not their absence. In a biometric system somebody else will check whether a particular person has come for duty or not. Mind you, the system does not check the quality of work.

By going on strike the Delhi University teachers have not earned any empathy. On the contrary, the strike gives an impression that the protest is being carried out for the purpose of shirking work. The teachers should remember that if they do not discipline themselves, society will make them learn the hard way.