Friday, April 25, 2008

Bonanza backfires

Any political mileage the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had hoped to gain out of announcing the Sixth Central Pay Commission recommendations as a pre-poll bonanza has been neutralised, at least for the time being. Almost all sections of Central government employees are up in arms against the recommendations, which are apparently skewed in favour of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The government has now been forced to constitute a high-level committee to look into them and suggest corrective measures.

The committee, led by the Cabinet Secretary, will have as members Secretaries of Home, Defence, Revenue, Expenditure and the Department of Posts, the Secretary (Security), the Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General, the Financial Commissioner and the Member Secretary of the Railway Board.

The committee was announced following opposition from non-IAS Central government employees, including defence personnel and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, to the recommendations. The discontent among the defence personnel was so grave that the Chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force intervened on behalf of their staff.

IPS officers – even chiefs of the police in the States – apparently planned a protest march from Vijay Chowk to North Block, the seat of the Home Ministry, in New Delhi. The discontent is simmering; officers up to the rank of Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) are said to be contemplating surrendering their medals if they do not get justice.

The "pro-IAS" stance of the Commission has left over 14 lakh railway employees, nearly five lakh defence personnel and over 12 lakh other Central government employees seething with rage. A joint consultative machinery (JCM) of these employees will meet in New Delhi on April 25 to chalk out a plan of protest action.

Significantly, defence personnel were among the first to voice their discontent. Though the Justice Srikrishna Commission has been generous with the three services chiefs – their salaries have been trebled and brought on a par with the topmost civilian salary of Rs.90,000 a month – its recommendations for middle-level officers and jawans have been inadequate. For instance, the increase in the salary for middle-level officers would only be 15-20 per cent as against 40 per cent, which they expected.

The special military pay recommended for jawans is Rs.1,000 a month whereas a junior officer would get six times that though both work in similar conditions on the border or in areas affected by terrorism and insurgency. To cite another instance, an Army havildar who draws Rs.11,000 after 15 years of service would get only Rs.13,000 to 14,000 a month after the revision.

At a time when joining the defence forces is not a preferred option for youngsters, it is feared that the Pay Commission recommendations will make it more unattractive. The Army is short of nearly 1,200 officers. The Navy and the Air Force, too, are beginning to feel the heat as many officers have applied for premature retirement. The three service chiefs, who met Defence Minister A.K. Antony shortly after the Pay Commission recommendations were announced, told the media that "there are some anomalies that need to be corrected".

Officers of the IPS are demanding parity with IAS officers at all levels in terms of pay, promotion, pension and service conditions; transparency in the implementation of the recommendations; and a Group of Ministers (GoM) to look into their grievances. Their fight is for "rightful respect and dignity" in view of their role in national security and development.

At a meeting of the IPS Association in New Delhi recently, where a resolution voicing these demands was adopted unanimously, it was also decided to constitute a media committee, a review committee and a legal committee to follow up the demands. "The legal recourse is open to us if nothing else will work. The report comes at a time when the police forces are already demotivated," said O.P. Singh, Inspector-General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and a former secretary of the IPS (Central) Association.

According to him, what angers IPS officers most is the short shrift given to State Director Generals of Police (DGPs) and officers of the DIG rank.

While chiefs of paramilitary forces such as the CRPF, the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Sasashtra Sena Bal (SSB) have been given Rs.80,000 a month (fixed), State DGPs have been put in the pay band of Rs.39,200-Rs.67,000. In a memorandum submitted to Home Minister Shivraj Patil, the IPS Association says the "responsibilities and problems faced by Director-Generals of States are in no way less than those faced by the Central paramilitary forces" and hence the Pay Commission recommendations are "unfair and likely to violate the principle of equity and equitability between the services".

The IPS Association has also taken exception to the fact that its long-standing demand to upgrade the level of the post of DIG has not just been ignored, but the post has actually been downgraded from the previous pay scale of Rs.16,400-20,000 to Rs.15,600-39,100. The association has demanded that the DIGs' pay band be merged with the Rs.39,200-67,000 pay band.

The association also points out anomalies in grade pay allotted to IAS and IPS officers. For instance, the grade pay for senior time-scale for IPS officers has been fixed at Rs.6,100 as against Rs.6,500 for IAS officers, and the grade pay for junior administrative scale has been fixed at Rs.6,600 for IPS officers and Rs.7,500 for IAS officers. The selection grade scale for IPS officers is Rs.7,600; it is Rs.8,300 for IAS officers.

The Pay Commission has justified this discrimination in these words: "As the initial postings of IAS officers are generally in small places, they face frequent transfers, and the pulls and pressures they have to stand up to early in their career are much more intense. The slight edge in the initial stages of their career would, to an extent, neutralise these problems."

The IPS Association counters this argument by saying that "if the principle of postings in remote places, frequent transfers and pulls and pressures applies most to any service, it is the IPS. IPS officers need to be given the same grade pay exactly similar to the recommendations made for the IAS."

The IPS association has also demanded a hardship or risk allowance for the entire police force as it is more often engaged in arduous and difficult duties on internal security. It has also demanded a police service pay similar to the military service pay.

According to a senior police officer, at a time when the police forces are facing newer and harsher challenges on the internal security front, the government cannot afford to ignore them because a demotivated force can hardly "become a partner in development", as the Prime Minister would want it to be. "A force of 2.2 million, led by 3,200 IPS officers, cannot be sidelined by any government. It can do so at its own peril," said another officer.

Other sections of Central government employees, except defence personnel and railway employees, are also annoyed that two-thirds of them have been given a pittance by the Pay Commission. "Barring the top-level bureaucracy, that is Joint Secretary above, nobody has been given a fair deal," says K.K.N. Kutty, general secretary of the Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers. According to him, the Fifth Pay Commission had recommended a better minimum pay in 1997 as it had taken the net national product into consideration, which this Pay Commission has ignored.

Kutty says the Sixth Pay Commission has given a 181 per cent hike to Grade A officers and just 28 per cent for the rest. "The disparity between Grade A officers and the rest has gone up tremendously. For example, there is no change in our transport allowance even though we travel in our own vehicles or by bus. But the transport allowance to an IAS officer has been hiked to Rs.7,000 a month, which is even higher than the minimum wage of an employee," he says.

Railway employees are particularly miffed at the lower-level staff being totally ignored by the Pay Commission. According to a spokesperson of the railway employees' union, the hike in the pay scales for Group D and Group C staff was only Rs.997 and Rs.1,537 respectively, while it is Rs.6,575 for Group B and Rs.6,160 for Group A employees. Officers at the level of Secretary and Cabinet Secretary would get a hike of Rs.31,640 and Rs.32,040 respectively.

With the joint consultative machinery planning direct action, the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations are turning out to be the proverbial albatross around the UPA government's neck. If the government implements them in their present form, it would antagonise a whole section of its employees. A review of the recommendations, on the other hand, will have massive financial implications.

The Pay Commission's liabilities are already estimated at Rs.12,561 crore in 2008-09. The net financial burden for the year would be Rs.7,975 crore after taking into consideration the savings of Rs.4,586 crore that are likely to accrue on account of the various measures suggested in the report. In addition to this will be the Rs.18,060 crore to be paid as arrears.

While the government may have worked out ways to meet this expenditure, as the Finance Minister announced in his Budget speech to the thumping of desks, it is doubtful whether it will be able to mobilise the additional resources if the Pay Commission recommendations are revised. No wonder, the high-level committee has been given no time frame to submit its report.

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