Never before has the inkdot on the index finger been accorded such significance as it is being done in this year’s Lok Sabha elections — both in letter and spirit.
In an unprecedented move, a majority of large corporates based out of Mumbai, including Tata, Aditya Birla, Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M), and JSW groups, among others, have given the day off to their employees for casting their vote even as a few others such as the RPG Group, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), and Essar Group have chosen to give a half-day off to their employees.
For the financial sector in Maximum City, it was a holiday as banks and markets remained shut. Most small and medium enterprises, too, were closed for business on Monday.
Officials at companies that have declared a holiday said the move was to ensure compliance with the government circular, which mandates that an employee be granted a holiday to cast his/her vote. The move, they said, also encourages employees to not lose an opportunity to vote.
“Till the last elections (Lok Sabha 2014), employees would either show up at work after voting or leave early to vote. Owing to a specific request from the government that it should be a day off for people, we have given the day off this year,” said Prince Augustin, executive vice-president, group human capital and leadership development at M&M. “We also wanted to encourage people to vote. We sent messages across the group companies that people must exercise their franchise,” said Augustin.
An official at Reliance Industries said the oil-to-telecom conglomerate has always followed the practice of giving the day off on voting day. In a departure from the previous election, the Tata group companies also declared the day off for its employees. Some like JSW have compensated for the holiday with a working Saturday. “The company has a holiday on Monday, but has been compensated for with a working Saturday. This is the first time the group has given leave; the last time employees were allowed to come late or leave early,” said an employee at the firm.
The holiday declared by the corporates is in compliance with a March 22 notification of the Election Commission (EC) of India. The notification pertained to Section 135B of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The Act says, “Every person employed in any business, trade industrial undertaking or any other establishment and entitled to vote at an election to the Lok Sabha or the Legislative Assembly of a State shall be granted a paid holiday on the day of the poll.” It made an exception for those “elector(s)” whose absence may cause danger or substantial loss in respect of the employment in which he or she is engaged.
“While the idea is to encourage voting and be contributory to parliamentary democracy, for large corporates, this circular brings some ambiguity. If the staff (voter base) is from across constituencies where polling is on different dates, management of corporates is uncertain if it is to declare holidays on multiple dates. Some companies have declared an off, based on majority employee base, while giving optional off to the rest,” said Sumit Agrawal, partner, RegStreet Law Advisors.
Companies which continued the practice of giving only a partial day or few hours off had to seek special permission from the EC for the same, said an official at a large corporate, which offered employees an option to show up at work after casting their vote. Engineering and construction major L&T was one of the few firms that chose to give half the day off. “There are certain companies which are required to function to support continuous running operations. These companies are offering flexible working hours to ensure employees vote,” said an analyst, adding these firms would have sought special permission from the EC.
With inputs from Romita Majumdar