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State’s Rotten Apples

Firm action against a few might prepare the ground for deterrence

Labour and Employment Minister Rohan Khaunte says over 30 per cent of the state government employees are running side-businesses. He has urged Chief Minister Pramod Sawant to initiate action against such employees and terminate their services. Khaunte’s statement did not come as a surprise as it is widely known that many government servants, like politicians, are involved in legal and illegal businesses. Most of the illegal activities are carried out from their houses, sometimes offices, in the name of their parents or spouses. Some of them own businesses that supply materials and accessories to government departments in which they work. In several cases they enjoy political patronage. Despite the knowledge that government employees have been running side-businesses those involved in the illegalities have gone unpunished for reasons best known to the authorities.

We do not know what drove Khaunte to raise the demand that all the government employees involved in side-businesses be sacked. He has said that such a step will help government create thousands of vacancies and reduce youth unemployment. The state government has nearly 60,000 employees, so if all those involved in side-businesses are removed about 18,000 posts will fall vacant (though we are not sure how Khaunte has arrived at the figure of 30 per cent.) Of course, he is not the first minister to urge action against such government employees. The late Manohar Parrikar in his first tenure had warned such government servants of stern action and even come up with a voluntary retirement scheme for them. A number of employees availed of the VRS but most managed to continue in their jobs and continue with their side activities. It is highly unlikely that Chief Minister Pramod Sawant would initiate inquiries with the intention of getting rid of such government employees. It will mean 18,000 cases and the cases will go to courts and be never-ending.

As far as unemployment figures are concerned, it has to be noted that a number of the unemployed on the live register of the employment exchange are already engaged in business activities. They seek government employment as it provides better pay and security and also gives them time beyond office hours to engage in business activities. They manage to continue their businesses even after getting government jobs. Khaunte would know better than outsiders how politicians facilitate employment in government of persons from their constituencies who are their political workers or are useful to them in other ways. They work for them during elections. The heads of departments are compelled by politicians in power to give jobs to the ones they want. Merit is given a go-by in such cases. The politicians and heads of departments do not deny such persons jobs if they are engaged in side-businesses. At that time, the interest of politician is in getting the person in government for earning his obligation and gratitude to be useful for political work for them. The interest of the state government, which Khaunte is talking about, is the last of his concerns.

Side-businesses are not the only unethical activities in which government employees are engaged. They are also undisciplined. Though every government has warned of stern action against employees for unethical activities, none has actually taken any action. One reason is that the government will have to make up its mind to take action. It cannot summarily dismiss such employees; rules and procedures have to be followed. The minister should know that taking action against employees is a cumbersome and tedious process which generally goes in favour of employees. Rather than demanding termination of their services, Khaunte should get the government to take measures to force the employees follow rules. The aim should be increase integrity and efficiency in the government by improving the work culture. Khaunte can get the government to identify a few most rotten elements among employees, who are engaged in multiple illegal activities, such as side-business and corruption, and compulsorily retire them. A few examples in which the government is likely to succeed would usher in a healthy deterrence.

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