Debating India

A raise, by all means

Saturday 4 February 2006

Government staff have pathetic salaries, few rewards for merit. Sixth Pay Commission should change both

Sniggers about babu culture are the wrong responses to a sixth pay commission, the setting up of which is now virtually certain after the idea received prime ministerial blessings in public. It is illogical and unfair to argue that government employees do not deserve a compensation review even nine years after the fifth pay commission awards. But it would be equally illogical and unfair were a pay review not to be accompanied by fundamental structural changes in government employment. The fifth pay commission had recommended accountability and fast-tracking merit, both ignored. The next award must keep as its goal the creation of a well-compensated meritocracy.

At all levels, government salaries are pathetically low, even after monetising sarkari perquisites. Be it a Secretary or a PSU chairman, their salaries today would make private sector management trainees squirm with guilt. Be it a jawan guarding our borders or the police constable our neighbourhood, they take home as much, sometimes even less, than an office peon. This is ridiculous at a time when the Government has to push economic reforms in every sector. This is also why government jobs do not attract the best and the brightest, why they become mired in the politics of mass patronage.

So, the sixth pay commission for Central employees, whose awards will be the benchmark for all other government services, must keep the market in mind. And with that must come implementable suggestions on making government service work. Lateral entry at senior positions, compulsory retirement for non-performing senior-middle level officers and terminations for gross misconduct, should all be part of the final report. The sticks are non-negotiable because the carrot will be big: expenditure on wages and salaries increased by 99 per cent and 74 per cent, respectively, for the Centre and states after the fifth pay commission. The next awards won’t be small. The message should be that in government, a job will be well paid and will be a commitment to a job well done.

See online : The Indian Express

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