After having taken the right step by hiking the salaries of its employees, by 2.5 times on average, it is heartening that the government has initiated another positive measure by introducing the system of differentiating between performers and those who lag behind. The notification of the new salary structure mentions that only a “very good” certification will earn a government employee an annual increment or a promotion. The Seventh Pay Commission, in accordance with whose suggestions the hikes have been effected, had the mandate of looking at the “best global practices” and seeing if those applied to conditions prevailing in the country. This measure, which squares with the recommendations of the commission, will make a career in government service more oriented towards productivity. The government’s claim has been that government salaries “are distinctly higher than market salaries and private sector salaries”. This being the case, it is a hopeful sign that the private sector practice of aligning salary hikes with performance has been introduced. Starting the practice of giving salary hikes in two stages — on July 1 and January 1 — is another positive.
However, along with this comes the apprehension of whether there will be resistance to it. The government personnel are a 4.7-million-strong force. If the three defence services were to be excluded, the number would be 3.4 million. Their disgruntlement can have an impact that a ruling party may be apprehensive of. Second, at the higher levels of government, particularly in the IAS and IPS, postings and transfers are often politicised. This politicisation could derail the merit system that the government is seeking to introduce. Hence all political parties must agree to guard against this.
The challenge will be in the evaluation process. Since those in the services like the IAS look after a host of portfolios, it will be difficult to find those with domain knowledge to ascertain the competence of the officer in question. In the private sector, appraisals are done by immediate superiors in most cases. In order to lessen the risk of discontent, it is essential that the process is transparent and the officer or employee being evaluated is given a fair hearing. It would be better that the government put the systems in place first to execute this very welcome move.