It is perfectly possible for an establishment to remain open all seven days, as long as each worker gets a day off
This is an old chestnut, but I want to use the peg to make a different point. How and why did Sunday become a holiday in India? The best answer is the DoPT response (in 2012) to a RTI filed in Jammu by Raman Sharma, asking the same question. Sunday has never directly been declared a holiday, not officially. At least, DoPT said, “There is no information regarding declaration of Sunday as holiday.” However, in 1985, DoPT issued an order. “The Government of India are pleased to introduce 5-day week in the civil administration offices of the Government of India with effect from 3rd June, 1985. Such Government offices would now work for five days a week from Monday to Friday, with all Saturdays as closed.” By implication, Sunday would be a holiday. The complete answer, as with many of our labour laws, lies in the labour movement and factory legislation, replicated in India after such legislation was passed in Britain. We may now be familiar with the Factories Act of 1948. Here is a quote from a piece Raja Kulkarni wrote in Economic Weekly in June 1949 on this new legislation.
“The first Factory Act passed by the Indian Government in 1881 was enacted, as is well known, at the instance of the Lancashire mill-owners who brought pressure upon the Government to fight the menace of competition from the Indian Mills who could produce at cheap rates because of cheap labour, lack of stay (sic) regulation of working hours or restriction on the employment of women and children, etc. The Lancashire mill-owners were interested in getting the hours of work and employment of women and children regulated in order to enhance the cost of production of the Indian mills which had become their competitors.” This is a slightly different take from the standard one of protecting worker rights. That 1881 Act was replaced by a second Factory Act in 1891, after Bombay Factory Commission of 1884 and Factory Labour Commission of 1890. The Sunday holiday story has to do with these two Commissions. You may mention the explanation of “public holiday” in the Negotiable Instruments Act, which mentions Sunday. But remember the Negotiable Instruments Act is also from 1881.
Before the Factory Commission, the manager of the Empress Mill testified in 1884, “My own opinion is that mills should close every Sunday and give the hands a rest, but when a native holiday occurs then I would work on the Sunday.” The manager of the Sewlal Motilal Spinning Mill testified, “I would not give holidays on Sundays always, but if a native holiday came during the week I would work on the following Sunday…The operatives would object to have their holidays fixed for any special day by law; they would prefer their own holidays to Sundays.” There is more such evidence from others. Through the Mill Owners’ Association, mill-owners didn’t object to a weekly holiday and Narayan Meghaji Lokhande had a role to play in this through the trade union movement. Lokhande is credited with having helped improved working conditions of mill-workers. That’s true. He is also given credit for the Sunday holiday. If a distinction is drawn between a weekly holiday and that day being necessarily Sunday, I haven’t found any evidence to establish that proposition as true.
The Commission concluded the following. “If one day of rest in seven is granted, the operatives in all the Provinces visited by us desire that it shall be one fixed day in the week, that all the factories shall be closed on the same day, and that the law shall fix Sunday as the day of rest. We observe that in the Bill before the Legislative Council, no mention is made of Sunday, and we suppose that a reference to a Sunday holiday was omitted in consideration of the fact that that intentions of the British Government might be mistaken in appointing the Christian Sabbath as the day of rest. After a careful enquiry on this point from all the operatives we have examined, we have come to the conclusion that they ask that Sunday should be the day fixed for the holiday, because it is the most convenient day for meeting their friends who are employed in other mercantile establishments and Government offices, where a Sunday holiday, has always been the rule.” There are shops and establishments outside the purview of factory-related labour legislation. These have to be closed on one day of the week, but that doesn’t have to be Sunday. In Delhi for instance, “different days may be specified for different classes of shops or commercial establishments or for different areas”. I don’t see why this flexibility shouldn’t be extended across the board, getting away from the Sunday syndrome.
Indeed, there is a difference between an establishment mandatorily remaining closed on a fixed day of the week and each individual worker getting a day off once a week. It is perfectly possible for an establishment to remain open all seven days, as long as each worker gets a day off. This is a matter of choice by the establishment. Why must law mandate this? Unfortunately, that equation exists in shops and establishments legislation. De facto, it also exists in the Weekly Holidays Act of 1942. As long as there is a weekly holiday for a worker, any establishment should have the 24X7 option. We should get away from factory mindsets.
The author is member, NITI Aayog. Views are personal