India to Promote Punctuality Among Government Employees

01 September 2009

India's bureaucrats have long had a reputation for not sticking to time - but old habits may have to change. Biometric scanners have been installed in an effort to promote punctuality at the offices of the Home Ministry.

The message to government employees that they must report to work on time came from none other than one of the government's most senior ministers.

Indian Home Minister P.Chidambaram in New Delhi, 12 Aug 2009<br />
Indian Home Minister P.Chidambaram in New Delhi, 12 Aug 2009
Home Minister P. Chidambaram arrived at his office in New Delhi at 9 Tuesday morning, and marked his attendance by placing his index finger on a biometric scanner.

Like the minister, from now on thousands of Home Ministry employees will do the same to register the time they arrive at and leave from work. A ten-minute delay three times a month will count as one day of leave.

This marks the beginning of a drive to change the decades-old work culture of government employees, who have a reputation for arriving late and leaving early.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram hopes the message will be heard not just by civil servants - but by others as well.

"I hope that people absorb the spirit and the purpose behind which this system has been introduced. But this is a message to the whole country that everybody must do his work for the allotted time," he said. "I understand flexi time, we will introduce some flexibility, but the flexibility is if you come ten or fifteen minutes late, you have to work another ten or fifteen minutes."

The punctuality drive at the Home Ministry is music to the ears of thousands of people who have become accustomed to patiently waiting for government employees to turn up for duty, and endless delays in processing public documents such as passports. They are hoping other employees of the federal government, a staggering three million, will also have to fall in line.

However sociologists point out that it is not fair to blame just bureaucrats for slack time keeping. Punctuality is not an Indian virtue - whether at the official or social level. It is quite common for trains to run behind time, or for people to turn up late for official meetings. Guests seldom worry if they are hours late for lunch and dinner invitations, and marriage parties are often inordinately delayed. 

Among the pieces of advise commonly handed out to foreign businessmen heading to India is not to pack too many appointments in a day, because several could run late.