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Showcause? Don’t spoil this festival

Calcutta, Jan. 28: A state government department decided to question 92 employees who took a day’s leave to fill the missing link in a five-day chain of holidays but put the showcause notice on hold for fear of a backlash from a Trinamul-backed union, sources said.

Leave on January 24 meant a five-day break because January 23 was Netaji’s birthday, January 25 was Milad un-Nabi, January 26 was Republic Day and January 27 was a Sunday.

In the land and land reforms department under chief minister Mamata Banerjee, 92 of 350 employees took leave on January 24 — not an uncommon strategy that complements the work culture the new government had vowed to change.

The absence of a large number of employees had drawn the attention of senior officials and instructions were issued to the joint secretaries to seek explanation from those who took leave.

Sources in the department told The Telegraph that the file had moved from the desk of the secretary of the department, Debasish Bandopadhyay, to the administrative section this afternoon.

“Within a few hours, the notice had been put on hold as murmurs of discontent grew in the corridors of Writers’ Buildings,” said a senior land department official, explaining how a rare disciplinary move was aborted mid-way.

Bandopadhyay, who had issued the order initially, said: “I won’t comment on this.”

All officials of the department declined to speak on record. On the condition of anonymity, one official said: “The order was put on hold as R.D. Meena, the principal secretary of the department, directed to hold it for a few days till his return from Delhi.”

Asked, Meena said: “I am busy in a meeting in Delhi. I won’t be able to talk.”

Another official said: “While some people may have missed office for genuine reasons, there is little doubt that a majority had taken leave to enjoy a long weekend, which started on January 23.”

The impact of the absenteeism could not be independently ascertained but officials said mass casual leave was one of the main factors that gave the state’s work culture a bad name.

The chief minister had initially made it a point to address the issue. She had issued an order that no leave would be granted on bandh days, following which 85 per cent attendance was recorded in government offices on February 28 last year when the Left Front had called a general strike.

In order to improve the work culture, the chief minister had started visiting government hospitals and offices after taking charge. She had said several times that she would not allow people to report late or leave early.

“So, when we learnt about the showcause notice in the land department, we thought that the chief minister was trying to send a strong message by trying to discipline employees,” an official said today.

The sources said the pause button was pushed after word spread that the notice would create severe discontent among the employees.

Following the change of guard, most employees at Writers’ have become supporters of Trinamul unions. The CPM-backed co-ordination committee has been cut to size by the transfer of some of its key leaders.

“The new government may have the intention but it doesn’t have the will as no one wants to antagonise employees. Besides, the panchayat elections are nearing,” an official said.

Other officials pointed out that it was tough for the state to initiate any action against the absentees. All of them had already applied for casual leave on January 24 and the state had not banned any leave on that day like it had done for a few bandh days.

“But this would have sent a message to the employees as I cannot recollect any instance of employees being served a showcause notice for being absent on a particular day,” said a senior official.