The Pay Commission Doesn't Solve Any Problems, And Neither Does It Try To

by Jay Bhattacharjee - Nov 22, 2015 05:28 PM +05:30 IST
The Pay Commission Doesn't Solve Any Problems, And Neither Does It Try To

The capital’s grapevine had been speculating for some time that the 7th Pay Commission’s Report would bring glad tidings for the Indian bureaucracy. Various figures were being mentioned by the corridor-gossip specialists in the country’s Fourth Estate, about the possible hike in the emoluments of Central Government employees.

However, for the babus, the actual recommendations of the Commission turned out to be better than what was being bandied about by Delhi’s Santa Claus brigade.  The voluminous (900 page) report of the Commission, presided over by a retired Supreme Court judge, A.K. Mathur, was presented to the Finance Minister on Thursday.

While the complete ramifications of the report’s recommendations will take some time to be worked out in order to arrive at an accurate assessment, the broad terms of the report can be summarised. The date of implementation of the recommendations is the 1st of January 2016 and the financial pay-outs will commence from that date. Thankfully, for the taxpayers, there won’t be any retrospective payments. The benefits of the Commission’s largesse will be available to approximately 48 lakh serving employees of the Union Government and about 55 lakh pensioners who have worked for it earlier.

In money terms, the additional payout by Raisina Hill would be as follows:  (1) In Financial year 2016 -17: Rs.1.02 lakh crore (2) For the Railway Budget: Rs.28,450 crores.

The pay structure recommended can be summarised simply. The Minimum Monthly Pay will be Rs.18,000 and the  Maximum Monthly Pay will be Rs.225,000 (apex scale), with the highest level  of Rs.250,000 for the Cabinet Secretary, the 3 Service Chiefs and the CAG. In addition to these pay figures, the babus will, of course, be entitled to an array of other allowances, too complicated and intricate for most people to understand. To give just one example, the total emoluments of a “general helper”, the lowest sarkari functionary, will amount to around Rs 22,600, which is more than double that of his counterpart in the private sector, according to the Commission’s own studies.

The basic purpose of this article is not to do the sort of number-crunching that accountants and munimjis do in our shores. What I would like to focus on are other issues that have been thrown up by the Commission’s report. Sadly, in my view, this exercise has not even touched the critical issues that need to be addressed by a body like this. These are the following, not necessarily in any order of priority:

(1) How does the country’s administration ensure effective and good governance?

(2) What are the best ways to “incentivise” public servants?

(3) How does India eliminate the institutional and legal mechanism that provides government employees with a lifetime sinecure, without demanding either performance or accountability?

(4) How will the Government of India at the central / union level bring in technocratic and specialised talent and how will the stranglehold of the IAS / IFS / IPS lobbies be controlled or minimised?  

(5) How can the remuneration structure of the military forces be designed so as to preserve the morale of the nation’s defenders and have an equitable balance between the armed forces and their civilian counterparts?

This analyst is convinced that the 7th Pay Commission, like its predecessors, has not even scratched the surface of the major issues listed here. The first reading of the report (admittedly a quick effort) shows that this is another laborious and pedestrian effort by a judicial person and his colleagues who have displayed no eagerness to tackle the core problems. The Pay Commission has functioned like eager bean-counters, rather than presenting a blueprint and a vision-statement for the nation’s administrative apparatus.

To the best of this commentator’s knowledge, the Report has not seriously discussed how government employees can be held accountable for performance and delivery of results, while being adequately rewarded for  efficient work beyond the prescribed norms. When it came to recommending a system of Performance-Related Pay (PRP), the Commission could not or did not venture beyond the banal statement that:

the Commission is of the view that prescribing any particular model for PRP may not be sustainable. Ministries and departments should be given enough flexibility to design individual models suiting to their requirements.”

Of course, there is little light that has been shed on how to attract the best talent into government service through lateral entry of specialists and experts, particularly at senior levels. This would have involved diluting the stranglehold of the IAS and its sister services and was something quite beyond what the august body would dare to do. In this ambience, I hardly expected them to talk of bringing government servants truly under the ambit of the country’s legal system, by doing away with the notorious Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). For the benefit of the readers, it is necessary to elaborate this point further.

This provision from 1898 was re-enacted in the present law in 1973 and is a colonial legacy that no self-respecting Republic must tolerate. It simply states that no public servant can be prosecuted for any offence alleged to have been committed “while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of official duty”, without the “prior sanction” of the government. The aberration clearly lies in the three words, “purporting to act”, in carrying out an official duty.

As a result of this, the nation’s babus are allowed to lord over  millions of citizens. The procedure for booking errant bureaucrats and police personnel is so convoluted and agonising that ordinary persons do not have the slightest chance of success. The courts have also made the situation more complicated with illogical and conflicting decisions on this subject, as far as clearly defining what constitutes “action” and “purported action” in carrying out official duty.   

For me, what is particularly egregious is how the Commission has short-changed the armed forces. When it came to the issue of extending the benefits of the “Non-Functional Upgradation’ (NFU) scheme, which the senior babus had managed to extend to themselves a few years ago, the Commission refused to do so, thereby increasing the disparity between the civilians and the nation’s defenders. To be fair, the Chairman wanted to give NFU to services officers, but the two other Members (a retired babu and an economist) opposed it, and wanted NFU to be done away with altogether. The short-changing of the armed forces is, of course, the likely outcome when the armed forces have had no representation in the Commission.

To wrap it up, A.K. Mathur and his team-members have produced a voluminous tome but not a landmark document that would have been a valuable contribution to the subject of Indian governance. The babus, at every level of seniority, will be laughing all the way to their banks, until their next Diwali bonanza a few years down the line.

Jay Bhattacharjee is a policy and corporate affairs analyst based in Delhi.
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