Thursday, June 19, 2008

Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme

The peon had his finger way up his nose when he told me that the clerk I had to see was not on his seat. It was as clear as the nose on his face, finger and all, that the clerk was not on his seat. Where is he, I asked. Out he said. When is he coming back? He did not know. There were three other frustrated looking members of the public who had come to the government department. They asked the other staff members who looked at the desk as though for an answer and shrugged, come in half an hours’ time, said one. Can anyone else do his work? No, they said, half an hour’s time. Half an hour’s time would be lunchtime, so I timed my arrival for 2.00 pm. No luck. The peon too had gone for a walk and the others were picking remnants of lunch from their teeth. Many desks were empty.

Went to pay my electricity bill. The window was open but the individual who took the cheque and stamped the bill was not around. Another bill-payer came in and stood at the side of me. We both looked sadly and silently at the empty chair. Five long minutes later I approached one of the clerks in the department behind the chair. I have come to pay my bill, I said. You have to stand outside that window, he said. I said, I know, I have been standing outside that window but there is no one there. Where is the person who takes the payment? He’s there, he said, gesturing to a man who was entertaining some other clerks with what must have been a very witty anecdote. They were all laughing. I went to a desk on the periphery of his adoring audience and asked a female employee to call him. She did and he looked impatiently at her, at me and then continued with his story. I have come to pay my bill, I said in clear, carrying tones, the window is open but there is no one here. Who is supposed to be taking payments? Wait five minutes, he said shortly. I said it is 3.15, I have already waited more than five minutes. He muttered something under his breath which embarrassed his colleagues and he walked with what looked like a classic case of creeping paralysis, to his station. He moodily took my bill, checked the cheque, moodily stamped the receipt while the other bill payer behind me, said, only they have to work, we don’t have anything to do. Except pay their salaries, I said.

Years ago sitting in the Administrative Tribunal, there was a power breakdown and the fans stopped whirring, the lights went off. That was all the use the court had for electricity, but the judge in his black robes, felt the heat and retired to his chamber until such time as the electricity would be restored. I decided to go out for a cup of tea because my case would come up for hearing in an hour’s time. I returned in less than an hour, the power had only just returned, but fresh dates were being given. Why? I don’t know if the lawyer was joking, but he said the judge had removed his robes and court was adjourned. As easy as that. Many litigants had come from out of town.

With so many urban poor committing suicide due to unemployment, and members of the public contemplating either suicide or murder because of work not being done, here’s an idea. Many government servants sign the register in the morning and then like grasshoppers they hop in and out of the office as and when they like. With an Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme, the grasshoppers’ jobs could easily be given to someone else for 100 days with the unemployed person getting 50 percent of the hopper’s gross salary while he could sit at home with half pay. This would serve many purposes. He will make sure he works diligently in the future, the unemployed person earns good money and work experience. If he is good at his work, the department can call him again, or place him elsewhere. The common man gets his work done and everyone is happy. All round it looks like a win-win situation.

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