Seventh pay commission, like those before it, manages to bloat India’s privileged bureaucracy further
Why has the government chosen to shoot itself in the foot by deferring the implementation of Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendation on allowances for further scrutiny? A litany of absurdity, myriad allowances – many of them anachronistic and laughable – deserved to be scrapped forthwith. Did you hear of a panoply of allowances, for condiments, funeral, flag station, haircut, robe, assisting cashier, flying squad, hutting, out-turn, rajbhasha, shoe, soap and toilet, spectacle, vigilance, and so on!
After due diligence on all of 196 allowances, the pay panel itself decided to subsume 36 and abolish 52 of them, and recommended substantial increase in HRA, from Rs 12,400 crore to Rs 29,600 crore annually, besides an increase from Rs 34,200 crore to Rs 46,300 crore for many other allowances. There is no plausible case for staff to squirm or unions to protest.
A peculiarly Indian institution, the pay commission has been viewed by governments at the Centre as a sop to get bureaucracy into their fold. Questions have been raised about decadal pay commissions being set up for almost an automatic progression in pay scales and pensions, unrelated to any yardstick of productive performance. Government of its own volition becomes a party to wage explosion and cost-push inflation.
The Fifth Central Pay Commission (CPC-V) specifically desired its report to be “implemented as an integral whole, in its entirety, as a complete package”. Instead, characteristically, deceitful cherry-picking ensued, leading to the quiet burial of its eminently appropriate recommendations, such as 30% reduction in government jobs over a period of 10 years; reducing the number of secretary level posts from the then 90 to 30; abolishing the then 350,000 vacant posts; pruning the current 5-6 administrative layers to not more than two; functional multi-skilling; reverting to a 6-day working week; and cutting the number of gazetted holidays from 17 to 3.
In the interest of equity and inclusiveness, salaries in government must be benchmarked vis à vis incomes of general population as also employees in the private sector. There is enormous asymmetry of power in Indian society. Nearly 90% of workers are in the unorganised sector; a large number of them depend on subsistence wages with no job security; while nearly two-thirds of the organised workers are employed directly by the state, with not only job security but assured pay rise, highly subsidised housing, inflation-indexed dearness allowance, generous lifelong pension for self/spouse, lifelong medical facilities for self and family, liberal leisure, leave and travel facilities, besides myriad allowances.
A disproportionately liberal remuneration package generates an unhealthy clamour for government jobs and distorts the labour market. Remember some 23 lakh people, including thousands of post-graduates and a score of PhDs applied for 368 posts of peon in UP! Even as the country’s citizens rue the gargantuan state apparatus, foreign investors and businesses find doing business in India a harrowing experience on account of babus distributed in layers of bizarre hierarchy.
About 89% of central government employees are in Group ‘C’, most in relatively unskilled areas. At the Centre as also in most states, almost three-fourths of all government civil employees are, anachronistically, parasitical support staff, such as peons, daftaries, chowkidars, drivers, clerks, while key public services such as education and healthcare are starved of people. The chaprasi, symbol of a feudal system, remains ubiquitous.
Pay panels cast no small burden on the country’s finances. The central fiscal deficit jumped from 2.5% in 2007-08 to 6.5% in 2009-10 under the impact of CPC-VI. Post CPC-VI, again, annual wage bill for central employees more than doubled during the period 2007-08 to 2013-14, to Rs 115,000 crore; wage bill for state governments’ staff ballooned to Rs 286,000 crore from Rs 136,000 crore. The CPC-VII recommendations would entail an additional expenditure of Rs 1.02 lakh crore in the current fiscal, recording an increase of 16% in salaries, 24% in pensions and 63% in allowances.
When the comrades and leaders of unions advocate the minimum entry level monthly pay to be almost double of what CPC-VII recommended, whose face in the country do they recall – the toiling peasant, the stone breaker, the daily wage earner whose tomorrow is uncertain? No one’s heart bleeds for the millions whose burdens are worsened by the recurring inflation-indexed dearness allowance installments for privileged government employees.