The Union cabinet has cleared the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission with an average hike of 23.5 per cent.
The decision is going to be analysed threadbare for the various macro implications it may have. Will it boost the struggling consumer demand and improve growth?
Will the increased outgo of the government on salaries (amounting to 0.7 per cent of GDP) play havoc with fiscal discipline and in turn endanger investors' confidence in India?
Will it accelerate inflation owing to a demand push that will come into play with a sudden spurt in spending capacity of the government employees?
These are the questions which have acquired centrestage in light of the cabinet's approval of the pay hike.
But I would like to move beyond it, towards a different perspective, that of a civil servant, on the pay commission.
It's a perspective which barely gets registered in public discourse, and is marked by a strong perception of all the babus as a species of non-performers who don't deserve any more renumeration than the one they presently get.
It's the perspective of my father who belongs to the much maligned tribe of civil servants.
Nearly three decades ago, my father joined civil service after having been a gold medallist at two of India's top institutions - University of Roorkee and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
|The meagre salary hike following the 7th pay panel recommendations undermines the self-worth of a public servant.|
For a government employee, pay commission reports are much-awaited events. And so was this one. But today I can't but feel disappointed with the final report that has been approved.
As someone who has seen from close quarters the dedication with which my father had devoted the best years of his life to the public service, had foregone much more lucrative offers in the private sector, I am disheartened to say that this pay commission is a disservice to my father and many of his ilk who have opted for the path of civil service. This I say for the following reasons:
1. Lowest pay hike by any pay panel in the last seven decades
It undermines the dignity and self worth of a public servant and disincentivises the talented and honest bureaucrat.
The raise was structured around the pay commission's recommendation for a very modest 14.27 per cent hike in basic pay.
“The pay hike is a mere 15 per cent on the basic pay, compared to 23.5 per cent, which is being falsely claimed by the Central government," said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala. He further pointed out, "Also, when the Sixth Pay Commission was implemented by the Congress government, it recommended a hike of 20 per cent. But the Congress government had given unilaterally a hike of over 40 per cent."
Compared to the hike that the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission finally led to, the hike following the seventh pay panel recommendations turned out to be a dampener. The rise is the lowest among all the pay panels in past seven decades.
Moreover, a comparison with the corresponding practice in the private sector leaves one devastated. Unlike in public service, private sector has healthy annual pay hikes.
Hikes of more than 15 per cent on an annual basis is not unusual in private sector whereas the annual hike is only three per cent for government employees. So when the once-in-a-decade rise too is less than what the private sector gets annually, it surely makes one wonder if public service is a sin for which the government employees are being punished.
I remember distinctly how before the Sixth Pay Commission, our family used to live a life of untold sacrifice where every expenditure used to be carefully scrutinised and many less necessary ones postponed or scraped for the want of money. While my father's classmates from University of Roorkee and JNU in the private sector lived a life of luxury, we became accustomed to a life of unfulfilled aspirations and wants.
But after the Sixth Pay Commission's recommendations were implemented, such an existence became a thing of the past. The Sixth Pay Commission restored the dignity of public service. Most of the ordinary wants like eating out could be easily fulfilled.
Yet there was still no comparison with private sector employees. Even an average, mid-level private sector executive earned more than what my father and many other top public servants did, in spite of their talent. This inequality between the private and public sector officers is what this pay panel could have remedied. But sadly, it has failed the public servants by giving the lowest raise of all the pay panels in seven decades.
My father stuck with the government through thick and thin. Even when the going was bad he stood with the government. But today when government finances are in a much better shape, is this how the government should repay those who loyally stood by it?
After passing from University of Roorkee, my father could have joined Schlumberger Limited, the world's largest oilfield services company, and today would have been earning a salary in crores. Instead, he chose public service and has done over three decades of service.
Hence his salary is what the those graduating from his alma mater, IIT-Roorkee, earn in their initial years of a private sector job itself. With such a difference in salary, how do we expect talented people to opt for public service?
It leads to demotivation among those who remain in government service; they are not inspired to give their best to the important responsibilities entrusted to them. Also, an unsatisfied bureaucracy whose self-worth is hurt by meagre pay is likely to be dishonest too.
2. Fails to prioritise merit over seniority
Usually, pay commissions are not only looked up to for the pay hikes they bring, but they also have an equally important responsibility which seldom gets the same attention. It is the role to suggest steps to improve productivity and performance.
Again, the Seventh Pay Commission, like many before it, has not done justice to this role. It has not paid enough attention to the problem of seniority being the be-all and end-all in government promotions.
Today, a government officer's career path is largely determined by seniority making merit a casualty. It creates a perverse system where performers suffer, and which non-performers relish.
This leads to sub-optimal performance of the government and undermines India's growth story. My father has been an outstanding performer but still, in the system where seniority is sacrosanct, his promotions gets dictated by seniority, whereas in a private sector role, he could have reached the top of the hierarchy by now.
The pay panel had an unique opportunity to address this, but again it was found lacking with nothing noticeable being done in the area.
All in all, the pay panel proved to be a case of great expectations and greater disappointments. Achhe din for the talented and performers among public servants still seem to be a elusive and distant dream.