Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu (file photo: PTI)
It comes as no surprise that government jobs are much sought after in India, with a government employee A.K. Verma hanging on to his job for 24 years despite last appearing for work in December 1990. Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu has finally fired Verma, an assistant executive engineer at the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), for unauthorized absence.
Verma went on leave in December 1990 and did not report to work thereafter, according to a government press release on Thursday.
"He went on seeking extension of leave, which was not sanctioned, and defied directions to report to work," the government said.
Even after an inquiry was instituted against Verma for "wilful absence from duty" in 1992, it took another 22 years and the intervention of a cabinet minister to remove him.
The Urban Development minister ordered Verma’s dismissal in order to "streamline the functioning of CPWD and to ensure accountability".
According to Reuters, India's labour laws, which the World Bank says are the most restrictive anywhere, make it hard for firms to sack staff for any reason other than criminal misconduct.
States such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have recently changed the law to make it easier to hire and fire staff, in a move welcomed by industry leaders but opposed by labour unions.
A 2012 survey by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk consultancy rated India's bureaucracy as the worst among major Asian countries.
Since taking over in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cracked down on rampant absenteeism by making bureaucrats in New Delhi sign in at work using a fingerprint scanner. This has dramatically improved attendance records in central ministries, with the results available online at www.attendance.gov.in.
The Urban Development ministry has been at the forefront of these changes. In July, Naidu had asked senior officials to ensure latecomers are marked absent for the day if they reached more than 15 minutes late.
Perhaps the dismissal of an assistant engineer will finally convince other missing bureaucrats that the system may not be so easily manipulated in the future.