In June 2016, the Modi government took the central government employees head on by granting a niggardly hike in pay following the 7th Pay Commission recommendations - just 14 per cent or so as against the 6th Pay Commission’s egregious hike of 51 per cent a decade earlier in 2006.
This was hot on the heels of implementing its poll promise to armed forces' veterans - OROP, or one-rank-one-pension. To its credit, the Modi government did not go overboard even while honouring its OROP commitment.
Instead, it stood its ground and assured only a quinquennial (every five-year) exercise to bring parity in pension for same rank holders as against the annual parity demanded by the veterans.
If the Modi government could act tough with the armed forces' veterans, it could act tougher still with the central government employees. And act it did last year when it cleverly bought time for itself by separating pay revision from the allowances revision.
Pay revision, as said earlier, was jaw-dropping except for the employees at the lower levels. Having prepared them for the worst, the allowances part of the revision, separately considered by e-cos (empowered committee of secretaries led by former finance secretary Ashok Lavasa), would most probably be announced soon, may be in July 2017.
The 20 per cent reduction in house rent allowance across the board, resulting in HRA for example becoming 24 per cent of basic salary in X cities from the existing 30 per cent, is on the cards despite talks of the e-cos going soft on the 7th Pay Commission recommendations in this regard.
The 7th Pay Commission had also recommended axing of 52 of 196 allowances and merging of 36 allowances with the existing ones.
Though the Modi government has remained tight-lipped about its stand on the 7th Pay Commission recommendations in so far as allowance is concerned, it is unlikely to heed them if its record of acting tough is any indicator, especially when the one making demands is not a vote bank.
Modi and his finance minister Arun Jaitley know that central government employees do not matter at the hustings. Photo: India Today
Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan is a slogan which resonates across the nation. But at 257 per 1 lakh of population, central government employees are no vote bank, unlike jawans and kisans.
It seems the Modi government has decided to challenge the status quo and shibboleths. While Modi may not be an innovator (by the way, the term itself is a back-handed and grudging compliment for those who tweak or steal inventions) as he is sought to be hailed and feted with by his party, BJP, he is arguably the one who doesn’t hesitate to rock the boat and ruffle feathers.
He first showed this proclivity when he abolished the Planning Commission soon after being installed in office and more recently when he demonetised high denomination currency notes, even though the jury is still out on whether he cut the nose to spite the face by doing so.
It is this proclivity that should temper enthusiasm, if any, in the ranks of central government employees that the Modi government would make up in the 7th Pay Commission Part II (allowances) what it cruelly denied in Part I last year.
Modi and his finance minister Arun Jaitley not only know that central government employees do not matter at the hustings, except perhaps in the Delhi elections, but also know that indulging them would upset the tender finances of state governments, many of which emulate the Centre while granting pay hikes and many of which are BJP-ruled.
They also know that central government employees as a class are a pampered lot at Rs 18,000 a month income as opposed to the national average of Rs 7,700 (statistics borrowed from my previous article on the subject dated March 23, 2017), even though that admittedly is way below what some of our honchos help themselves to unconscionably when it comes to their salary vis-à-vis the garden variety employees.