Soon after coming to power in 1984, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi changed the education ministry’s bland name to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, in an apparent recognition of the importance of nurturing talent beyond the simple goal of bookish education.
The ministry seems to have changed little except in name: most of its programmes are related to education or research. What’s more, it doesn’t cover government employees even in name.
The simple fact is that India’s 17.6 million government employees could do with a real human resource department that goes beyond bureaucratic lip service – because a crisis seems nigh.
Earlier this month, a Delhi court ruled that government officials convicted of wrongdoing can be made to pay compensation from their own salaries. In the simple idioms of crime and punishment, this may seem justified, but government servants, notorious for fearing the wrath of superiors, are only going to become even more cautious in taking steps that might suggest more pro-active behaviour.
Government servants are facing increasing public scrutiny – through everything from public interest litigation (PIL) and right to information (RTI) to supervision by parliamentary panels and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (not to speak of rabid TV news channels).
These may be democratically desirable things but consider the plight of the average government officer babu or clerk.
While central government employees await manna from the 7th Pay Commission, whose recommendations are expected to be implemented by the finance ministry from January 2016, there is more to their lives than pay packets – and that needs to be recognised.
Time was when the “sarkari” job offered plenty of goodies: secure jobs, premium pay packets, pensions, government accommodation, cheaper education for children and freedom to do good work.
The pay commissions and pensions are still kind, but increasing congestion in urban areas and political interference have made government jobs less glamorous. A slew of alternate career options await aspirants in the corporate sector as the economy expands.
UP cadre IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal suffered a controversial suspension order (since revoked) for allegedly demolishing a mosque wall, which in turn was allegedly illegal. Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka has suffered political scrutiny for cracking down on land deals linked to Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Now, consider the plight of senior officers who have to worry about doing what they think is good for the country and then facing pressures at work that tell on the home.
The Delhi high court recently quashed reservation in admissions to the high-profile Sanskriti School for children of Group A officers of the central government. The school is run by spouses of top government officers and 60% of seats were historically reserved for wards of Group A officers.
While the court, frowning on elitism, said wards could be taken in an extra branch of Kendriya Vidyalayas (set up to help educational needs of transferable government employees), things are not that easy.
Surely, top-of-the-rung government employees would want a higher quality of education for their children in a world where competition is hot? While government servants awarding themselves premium land to build a schools maybe questionable, the government as an employer needs to worry about how to attract and retain good, clean, high quality talent.
Worried bureaucrats have said that they cannot pay the kind of donations demanded by well-known private schools. Why should they be an exception while corporate counterparts get paid more – with loads of perks?
The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions stands as a testimony to an outdated approach to managing government officials. It has a “Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances” that promotes good governance and another “Department of Personnel & Training” that proudly says that it looks after the welfare of employees as the “largest single employer in the country”, what it does for problems such as those faced by government officers in the court cases seems a mystery.
A study said in 2012 that relative to the population, India has only one-fifth of the number of public servants as the United States. At 1,623 for every 100,000 residents, it compared with 7,681 in the US, said a newspaper’s research-based report. This flies in the face of those who complain of a “bloated bureaucracy”.
Another study attributed to the Indian Staffing Federation with Indicus Analytics said last year that nearly 43 percent of all government employees in India are holding a temporary post, with no long-term benefits such as a provident fund to help their retirement. Clearly, there’s more to government service in an age where a huge corporate sector sponges off talent even as the judiciary, legislature and media hold them to intense scrutiny? Government employees need an HR department that stands up for them, understands their needs and woos them – just like enlightened private sector companies do.