New Delhi: The Union Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has reprimanded some of its employees who continued to work from home during the latter half of the lockdown, and has stated that action will be taken against them.
In an email dated 26 June, the MSDE sought an “explanation for absence from duty during the roster period from 20-04-2020 (20 April) to 07-06-2020 (7 June)”. The email signed by an under secretary was sent out to employees who were absent from duty without prior permission.
According to the letter, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint, the ministry employees will be liable for action under FR 17-A, a provision under the Department of Personnel Training guidelines that permits action to be taken against government staff who take leave without authorisation. The letter adds that action will also be taken against consultants according to directives mentioned in their contracts.
This includes employees who live in containment zones, Noida and Gurugram, besides some who returned to their native places in states like Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh after the lockdown was announced.
“This mail has been sent to around 20-30 officials who were put on the roster to come to office. All of those who are not in quarantine are supposed to be in the roster for coming to office,” a senior official in the ministry, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint. “There are protocols and rules. Those who are not permitted to work from home cannot take liberties.”
The official added that the ministry was only ensuring that all DoPT guidelines are being followed. “Officials cannot work from home without prior notification,” the official said. “The government is insistent that those who are supposed to come to office should come to office; this is not a laissez-faire system.”
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‘No conveyance, too many Covid cases in ministry building’
Some of the ministry staffers who received the mail have told ThePrint that they were working from home during the lockdown period, and also pointed to the rising number of cases in the building housing the ministry.
One employee said he got the mail despite living in a containment zone in Delhi. “No vehicles could come to our societies. All employees do not own vehicles,” he said. “I had no means to reach the office and come back.”
Another such employee pointed to the number of cases in the ministry building to explain why he stayed home. “The Shram Shakti Bhavan has way too many positive cases of Covid-19.”
This was seconded by a staff member who has been going to work. “Work from home should be encouraged. It is effective,” he said. “Given the high number of cases in Shram Shakti Bhawan, working from office can be avoided. Due to not taking it seriously, cases have emerged in the nearby PTI building as well.”
Another employee, who lives in the NCR, added, “We worked seven days a week while working from home. The work hasn’t stopped. Why is coming to office every day in large numbers mandatory?”
A building under scanner
In the last few months, the Shram Shakti Bhawan, which houses the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Department of Science and Technology, Ministry of Power and a PTI office, has reported several cases of Covid.
The building was declared shut on several occasions, including on June 3 after two employees of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, tested positive for Covid-19. It was shut for two days for sanitisation.
According to another order seen by ThePrint, MDSE had also been shut for a day on the 16 June for sanitisation after a deputy secretary tested positive for Covid-19.
The ministries have been working with reduced staff in line with the Department of Personnel Training (DoPT) guidelines. In the first set dated 18 May, the DoPT had mandated that all staff at the deputy secretary level and above were required to attend office. In addition, offices were required to call in 50 per cent of staff on a rotational basis.
In a fresh order issued on 5 June, the DoPT ordered that only 20 staffers can be present in an office at a time. It also added that under secretaries and deputy secretaries sharing cabins need to be present on alternate days.
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