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In Japan, you can be fined for leaving your seat early for lunch. In India, the work ethic is so lax that thousands of government staff are neither present nor active on their devices despite biometric attendance

Japan is known for its work ethic. Where people sleeping off on the train due to tiredness is a common sight and revered, but also where overwork has caused deaths and with it a birth of the word Karōshi.

Created in 1978, and literally meaning ‘death by overwork’, its latest fatality was reported in 2017. The victim: a 31-year-old journalist who had logged in overtime of 159 hours with only two days of leave in the month. This raised questions again of Japan’s work culture.

And now, they’ve done it again. A worker in the waterworks bureau of the city of Kobe was reprimanded and fined for going to lunch three minutes before start of the “official” lunch hour. Three minutes! The public were enraged by the treatment meted out to him, and also the officials calling a press conference to apologise on air for his “misconduct”.

In the footage, available online, one of the four officials first read out the apology from a paper before bowing, joined by the other three, profusely apologising for the worker’s actions. The man, 64 years old — although the government’s official age for retirement is 60 — also had half a day’s pay cut as penalty.

After facing criticism for their actions, an official was quoted as saying that they had taken action because “we were bound by the duty of a public servant to spend our time working.”

Come to a country some 5,800 km away. Here, matters are very different. In India, parents tell their kids to join government service for the perks it gives, to the cushy life which ensures you don’t lose your job because of silly mistakes – certainly not for coming late or leaving early. The most that may happen is a transfer if the boss is a tyrant.

Many people in Delhi wondered if its bureaucrats understand the concept of public service when they duck work. For four months, bureaucrats in the Delhi government refused to work with the elected representatives. Why? Because of an ongoing feud stemmed by one bureaucrat being allegedly thrashed, that too in the presence of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The CM declared with his usual bombast that this strike was a “dereliction of duty and open rebellion on part of the bureaucracy”. If so, perhaps a press conference in which the rebels apologise would be a good idea. In Japan, this would have perhaps have seen them all resigning, or at least being made to. But then again, this wouldn’t have happened in Japan.

Increasingly, states in India have been introducing biometric systems in government offices, as officials and elected leaders realise that staff absenteeism is a real problem.

Biometric Attendance System (BAS) — Delhi Central, brought about by the Narendra Modi government after he took office in 2014, shows interesting and revealing numbers. While the number of registered organisations under the system is now at 716, the organisation yet to start marking attendance stands at 86.

With registered government employees at 2,23,922 and non-government employees at 45,245, the numbers present on July 2 by noon were a mere 1,19,964. On July 3, attendance was thinner with 1,18,502 present.

They can also track Total Active Devices. Here the number was a shockingly low 592; from a total of 3,584 desktops only 36 were active, and of 2,972 tablets only 556 were active on Monday. One could explain it as a classic case of the Monday blues which, after all, is a real phenomenon. Perhaps the Tuesday’s slightly better numbers also backs that theory. More people were on their desktops and tablets that day. Of the 3,611 total active devices, 1,321 desktops were active (of the 3,584 total) and 2,290 tablets active (out of the 2,972) when we checked at 1 pm.

Sometimes even with biometrics in place, many seniors deem it beyond their stature to push their fingers into the device to mark attendance. Data shows that there are 45,439 employees who have never marked their attendance. To counter this very phenomenon, of defiant non-marking of attendance, the Railway Board office at Rafi Marg installed seven more biometric machines.

Railway sources disclosed that the decision came after authorities found in June that 435 senior officers still don’t bother to register their presence through these machines. There are nearly 3,000 employees in the building. Most of them have fallen in line now. These 435 officers are also expected to register their attendance after being served a reminder.

Other states of the country have also implemented such systems, Kerala being the latest to join the bandwagon. Biometric attendance system will be in place in government offices in the state by October-end.

What’s more, government schools are introducing these systems. And the situation is grave when you hear cases like that from Ghaziabad where 59 teachers were found missing (or let’s say absent) during a surprise inspection carried out in October of last year. But the district administration has taken it a step further and asked teachers to take selfies at the school grounds and upload it to the ‘e-shiksha Ghaziabad’ app.

If teachers have to be monitored so tightly, then students’ inclination to land up at work — many may end up in government jobs themselves — is anyone’s guess.