The Centre has opted for the right way to hike the salaries of its employees. On average the hike has been 2.5 times, by merging the dearness allowance with the basic salary. The basic salary of the cabinet secretary has been raised from Rs 90,000 to Rs 2,50,000 a month. This is justified because salaries at lower levels in government compare well with private sector peers while at upper levels they don’t. Referring to this, finance minister Arun Jaitley said that after the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations government salaries “are distinctly higher than market salaries and private sector salaries”. When seen in the light of the fact that government services have facilities such as official residence, phone and vehicle, the statement is correct.
But there are many issues that remain and hopefully they will be touched upon in due course. The Commission had been mandated to look at the “best global practices” and see if they applied to conditions prevailing in India. However, this brings into train things such as officials’ expertise and domain knowledge, rationalising the government workforce, and making wages linked to productivity, which the Commission has recommended. To put these through the labyrinthine processes of administration would require heeding the suggestions of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, set up in 2005. A group of ministers was indeed formed to look at its recommendations, which are now said to be ‘at various stages of implementation’. We have too much governance where little is necessary and a bit of shortage where it is needed. For example, a city like Delhi needs more police persons and the country as a whole more IPS officers, while there is a clear case for reducing the number of entrants to the IAS, which, of all the class I central government services, is the only generalist one. And yet it is the premier service and the posts of virtually all the regulators — whether they are in telecom or capital markets — are manned by serving or retired IAS persons. And the posts that they occupy presuppose high-level knowledge of banking, taxation, finance, law, etc.
The Commission has also recommended retiring people after 20 years of service. However, even if that is not possible now, the government should look at ways of retraining its staff after every five years, and the promotion of a government servant, at any level, should depend on his or her adaptability to new situations. And since the job of a Commission is not just of balancing the books but taking a holistic view of administration, which the present one has done, the onus is now on the government to do the execution part. Only then can we have ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.