FOR seven months, after the fifth Pay Commission submitted its copious recommendations on Central government salaries to the Finance Ministry, nearly 40 lakh employees waited with bated breath. But last fortnight when the government announced its schemewhich would cost the exchequer a whopping Rs 10,300 crorethere was hardly any euphoria.
Central government employees unionsthe Joint Consultative Machinery (JCM), the National Telecom Staff Federation, the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the Hind Mazdoor Sabharallied in protest against the proposed pay structure. In fact, so vehement was the reaction that within days the government was forced to set up a three-member committee of secretaries to examine the anomalies in the report. "The necessary mechanisms for resolving this have been put into motion," says Arvind Verma, secretary, Department of Personnel & Training.
But the trade unions, unappeased by the bureaucratese, have called a nationwide strike in September soon after the monsoon session of Parliament. "Theres no question of waiting for a government response. We have been taken for a ride," spouts S.K. Vyas, secretary-general, National Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers. Concurs U.L. Purohit, general secretary, Hind Mazdoor Sabha: "The government will have to bear the consequences. We feel totally let down." Curiously, these sentiments are not limited to unionists alone. Almost the entire bureaucratic framework, barring the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) which retains its superiority in payscales and promotions over other central services, has raised an outcry over the proposals, not entirely without reason. Consider these facts:
Allegations that the fifth Pay Commission, which had M.K. Kaw, secretary, Civil Aviation, as a member secretary, was dominated by the IAS lobby have gained ground. "The whole concept is shocking. By these proposals, a brigadier with 30 years of service will draw less pay than an IAS officer with 15 years of service," says Brig. S.P. Sibal, former advisor to the armed forces pay commission cell.
Heading the uniformed brigade is the Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands Police Service, which is lobbying for Group A status and a fourth payscale of Rs 4,500. "It is blatantly unfair to deny us a Group A status since the other Central police organisations like the CRPF and CBI have it," says Azimul Haq, general secretary of the association. Despite the brouhaha, the non-IAS lobby is not too optimistic about a reversal of policy. "As long as the cabinet secretary continues to be an IAS officer, theres no way the others are going to become equal to the IAS," says a senior officer of the Indian Audit & Accounts Service. But the committee of secretaries has been forced to reconsider certain issues like upgrading payscales of motormen and diesel assistants in the Railway Ministry; the demand of the Central Secretariat Service to scrap intermediate payscales in the Rs 2,500-4,000 grade and also the call to hike salaries of engineering assistants in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.
WHAT is likely to dominate the government agenda is the discontent among Group C and D employees, who constitute 34 lakh of the total work-force. "The percentage increase in salaries of the lowest level is only 18 per cent, while at the secretary-level, the hike has been as much as 59 per cent," says Purohit. For peons, cleaners and kalashis, the Pay Commission recommendations are flawed. For instance, the minimum starting salary of Group D employees has been decided by fixing a percentage on the per capita net national product (NNP) for the period 1986-95. While the Commission fixed the NNP increase for this period at 30.9 per cent, the correct fig-ure is actually 38.6 per cent.
"The minimum salary for lower employees was decided according to the NNP, but at the top, they justified the hike by comparing it with the private sector," says Dilip Chaube, secretary, JCM. There are other contentious issues: the staff is also demanding wage-parity with employees in public sector undertakings who get increments after every three yearsCentral government employees benefit only when the Pay Commission is set up every 10 years.
Given the present fiscal scenario, it appears unlikely that the government will add more toppings to the package. Says Suresh Tendulkar, director, Delhi School of Economics, who was also a member of the Pay Commission: "All this is merely muscle-flexing. It is just a question of who has how much bargaining power." Considering the IAS lobbys unchallenged position, the statement couldnt be more blatant.