Two years after shortening public holiday list, government starts adding to it againOfficials are calculating potential political benefits while taking decisions on holidays, critics say.
The government in March 2018 reduced the number of national public holidays by 15 days saying that it was necessary to increase the number of working days to help the government serve the people better and attain the government’s goal of high economic growth.
The Oli government slashed the number of holidays to 89 from 104 based on recommendations from the Administrative Reform Advice Committee led by Kashi Raj Dahal, former chairperson of the Administrative Court. As per the government decision, all civil servants would get 67 days of public holidays in a year. A total of 22 more days was reserved for special occasions celebrated by various ethnic and religious groups.
However, two years later, the government has revoked its own decision to reduce the number of holidays as it has started granting public holidays on one occasion after another. Unlike in the previous years, it granted a public holiday on January 14 for Maghi or Makar Sakranti festival observed by the Tharu community and the Hindus. Similarly, the government announced a national holiday on Friday on the occasion of Gyalbo and Sonam Loshar.
Arguing that Nepal is among the countries with the most number of public holidays, the Dahal committee in 2013 had suggested cutting down the number of public holidays. “We had suggested correcting the practice of giving unnecessary holidays. It was necessary to improve the delivery of public services,” said Dahal. “The government began implementing our recommendations partially from 2018.”
In 2018, the government axed the national public holiday on the occasion of Loshar and said only those who celebrate the festival will get the holiday.
The committee suggested that the number of national holidays be limited after concluding that as the country was adopting federalism, the provinces or the local governments concerned can announce holidays for festivals or cultural events observed locally, according to its members.
“The decision on national public holidays should be taken based on a proper study,” Shanta Raj Subedi, a former government secretary and a member of the Dahal-led committee, told the Post. “However, holidays are being announced on an ad-hoc basis without furnishing any explanation.”
People from various communities that received a national holiday to celebrate their festivals have also objected to the government’s ad hoc decision. Nepal Federation of the Indigenous Nationalities, in a statement on the occasion of Gyalbo and Sonam Loshar, said they are closely watching the arbitrary decision of the government to axe or add holidays during festivals celebrated by indigenous communities. “The government is taking immature decisions regarding public holidays for festivals celebrated by members of the indigenous communities,” reads the statement. “We would like to draw the attention of the government towards the contribution and sacrifice of the indigenous people in the attainment of republicanism, secularism, federalism, and proportional representation.”
Meanwhile, the government has announced that all the holidays axed in 2018 will now be incorporated back into the calendar. Speaking at a programme to mark Sonam Loshar in the Capital on Friday, Minister for Home Affairs Ram Bahadur Thapa said the Cabinet will soon pass a decision to announce this. “We will reinstate all holidays removed from the calendar earlier,” he said.
Subedi said that governments are calculating potential political benefits while taking a call on issues related to holidays. Every year, the government prepares a list of national public holidays a few months before the beginning of the Nepali New Year. However, there is a tendency among officials to not stick to it.
“The government may be announcing national holidays to appease people from certain communities,” he said. “While making such decisions, the government answers why a certain day qualifies for a public holiday, and another doesn’t.”