There have been a number of reports in the media of the deteriorating work culture in the Manipur government establishment. The allegation is, few employees work and fewer still work honestly or diligently. Most come to office late and leave early. They would without even giving another thought, walk out of office at their own sweet pleasure to attend social functions and ceremonies. On occasions, they would without any sense of guilt skip office to attend these functions, never mind if their work deadlines are delayed, and those whose businesses depend on the completion of the work they are paid for from the public exchequer are inconvenienced inordinately. In most offices, tea breaks can be at any time of the day and any number of times during office hours. Lunch breaks of course are meaningless, for the notion of midday lunch does not exist here, for people generally have two meals, one in the morning (call this heavy breakfast or early lunch) and another in the evening, which of course corresponds with the popular understanding of a supper. Nonetheless those who frequent government offices for official works would vouch extended lunch breaks are common in these offices, and visitors at these times are more than likely to find empty offices or else employees who had switched off and would not spare any moment to attend their queries. These same employees however would fly into a fiery strike mood if there are any moves to bring in some kind of work norms to ensure service perk sizes are commensurate to work inputs.
This culture exists at the mid and lower level government work forces, comprising basically of local employees. The top echelon is a lot different, in community composition as well as attitude. At this level, the staff mix is much more cosmopolitan, and enlightened too. However, even if they are free of the pettiness of the work culture just described, they have their own indulgence which affects the work atmosphere in the government offices in a different way. Even without having to do another hair splitting exercise, this indulgence was evident in two recent government orders. One pertained to outstation travels by government officers on government expense, and supposedly on duty therefore with no effect to their attendance records either. The new norm now calls for a more stringent adherence to rules that require prior sanction of such travels by the general administration department. There is no point in dodging the real explanation for these travels. They are in most cases paid leaves to be home, availed by these officers, many of whom are from outside the state, by manipulating office rules. Visitors at the government secretariat would also take no time to realise that at any given point a good percentage of the top officers would be out of station. The pull of home and family is understandable, and this being the case, a holiday regime like that of the Army, who are also by the very nature of their work, seldom on a home posting, may be what is called for.
The second government order which put a stricture on government departments against their worsening habit of employing the services of private lawyers to fight court cases they get dragged into, is also significant from the point of view of the overall work culture. The departments have now been asked to get prior sanction from the government law department before going ahead and employing private lawyers. Two things relevant to the issue of work culture come foremost to mind in considering this. One, how is it that these government departments get into so many court cases? Surely these court cases did not come out of thin air, and would have to do with some sense of perceived injustice. In most cases, if not all, the litigants would be their own employees. Again, they would all be, with perhaps a few exceptions, service related emanating from fuzzy departmental recruitment rules, RRs, such as on promotions etc. These RRs would have become fuzzy precisely because corruption and nepotism ensured they had been tampered repeatedly by those in power to fit in their cronies and bribe clients. The court cases, in this way had been invited by the department heads in the first place. The second thought is, since there is a full-fledged government law department, along with the government’s own lawyers, legal advisors, advocate general etc, why should the departments be allowed to rush for private legal services for even routine litigations? On the other hand, if this becomes an accepted culture, why keep the law department at all, or at least not sized down to the bare minimum?