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Late habit jumps back on rails

New Delhi, Aug. 16: While Laloo Prasad Yadav was busy checking a goods train back in Bihar, at Rail Bhavan here the staff were streaming in as usual, late.

Only a week ago, the railway minister had turned up at Rail Bhavan for a surprise check to find over 400 employees coming to office late and issued a severe reprimand, threatening to cut a day’s salary as punishment.

Not only has he had to revoke the penalty — agreeing to treat the day as a day of legitimate leave — the minister’s sudden swoop has had little effect on the habits of the babus who inhabit Rail Bhavan.

Today, the stragglers kept strolling in long after the stipulated time of 9 am and the extended deadline of 9.30 am had passed.

Between 9.30 am and 10.30 am, at least 127 railway employees reached office. A warning here, since it might be presumed that the number is a great deal less than the 400-odd latecomers Laloo Prasad had caught a week ago.

The number 127 represents only those slackers who The Telegraph could count, which leaves open the possibility that there could be more.

Amid bonhomie and exchange of banter with Railway Protection Force personnel manning the gates, the employees entered unmindful of the time. The guards stopped only those they did not recognise to check the identity cards or bags.

“It takes one hour for me to reach office but I do not have any control over the traffic. I come from Noida (15 km from Rail Bhavan). I have tried starting 90 minutes in advance but the traffic and DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) ensure that I do not reach on time,” said an employee who entered Rail Bhavan at 10.10 am.

Laloo Prasad’s punctuality drive seems to have had an effect only on the peons who trooped in at 9 am. Senior officers, stenographers and personal secretaries came in between 9.30 and 9.45 am.

Some 17 senior officers (ranging from section officers to executive directors) arrived between 9.45 and 10.00 am.

A senior Railway Board official complained: “We are not against a punctuality drive in a government office. However, the output of the railway ministry should be benchmarked against the performance of other government departments and ministries. There are people who stay till late in the evening and also come to office on Saturdays. Why are not those issues taken into account'”

The official felt the question of punctuality had been “trivialised” by politicians and the media and the minister was right in allowing the latecomers he caught himself a day’s leave.

“We (according to railway leave allocation) are allowed to come late three days in a month,” the official said.

Last week, the day Laloo Prasad made his surprise check, an employee who has been around for some time at Rail Bhavan had responded sceptically, saying he had seen such inspections before — every time a new minister took charge, for instance.

He said he had also seen how quickly Rail Bhavan settled back to normal.

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