There are many reasons why the Manipur government`™s move to streamline attendance in government office, marked by the kick-start initiative of installing biometrics attendance recorders in all government offices and institutions, cannot be standardised across the board without first introducing suitable variations. This will be especially so when it comes to offices which are away from major townships. During the mid and late 1990s, the then Manipur Governor, Lt. Gen (retd) V.K. Nayar, was wont to take out long tours of the districts, some of them for a few days at a stretch, requiring overnight halts at different points. During a particular spell of Presidents Rule when the then elected Assembly remained in `suspended animation` on account of a Constitutional crisis brought about by MLAs switching allegiance constantly, these tours actually became a defining style of governance that he introduced. He was also in the habit of taking along his friends in the media, not with any intent of having his tours covered, but so that those in the media can also have a feel of these remote places more intimately.
Among other administrative realities that became evident during those tours was that the almost nil attendance of government employees in many government institutions located away from major population centres. Contrary to widely held beliefs however, and probably also taken advantage of by vested interests to hide their own wrongdoings, these absentees did not always fit into the popularly understood matrix of conflict of interest between the Hills and Valley. In a government high school at Phungyar for instance, the head master who was among the staff who showed up in the school premises only occasionally, was from Tolloi village. But the school also had virtually no students, and those enlisted were either non-existent or else were studying elsewhere in private schools in Ukhrul or Imphal. The staff, probably cooling their heels in Imphal and other townships, however continued to draw salaries regularly. Schools in valley districts, including the two capital districts were hardly better. However, it was the explanation given by a teacher in Tamenglong district, posted in a village school in the Tousem sub division which was interesting. Enlisting his difficulties, he said he had to manage his own accommodation in the village. But his woes did not end there. He had to fetch his own water from the brook at the base of the hill, occasionally make a trip to Tamenglong town to get his daily ration and so on.
The moot point is, many of the complaints of the employees are genuine. In outlying places when the government decides to set up institutions, which it has no choice but to, it must include in the projects, constructing necessary infrastructures such as accommodation and other basic essentials of daily living of the staff likely to be posted there. If it cannot do this, it will be of no use trying to enforce the same attendance norms applicable in townships where at least the bare essential living condition is available. For these outlying areas, staff recruitment must be to the extent possible done from amongst the locals or else people living not too far off from the area so that the burden of also assuring secondary infrastructure related to board and lodging is minimised. Wherever this is not possible, the attendance norms must be adjusted to align closer with the hard physical realities which would make keeping strict routines impossible. As for instance, this could be done by introducing longer weekends, more leave facilities etc. Once these basic conditions have been met, like everywhere else the government can then enforce the rule of law strictly without further compromises.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam