The Rise and Fall of Babu-dom

babudom.jpgThe Sixth Pay Commission has sparked off an interesting debate- do the Babus deserve it or not? One reason very vehemently cited by our middle class is that their money will be siphoned to undeserving pockets. Whether their tax liabilities have reduced or remained unchanged as a result of the revision of tax brackets, as announced by the budget, is another matter altogether. What this debate fails to take into account is that corruption and favouritism prevails at the very grass root levels in our country. India very comfortably nestles in the lower ranks of corruption indices. Thus, rampant corruption in the bureaucracy is hardly surprising, nor a justified instance. Innumerable arguments about the Sixth Pay Commission and its provisions have ensued ever since the report has been made public. Such talks are rather futile since no concrete measures can now be added to the report, based on widespread public opinion. What we need is not a year long debate that will be put to rest till the Seventh Pay Commission comes up, a decade from now, but a more constructive approach to the corruption, favoritism and perks in the bureaucracy.Corruption within the bureaucracy is not absolute in itself. Where we have bribe takers, we have bribe givers who come from all walks of life. Anointing the non-governmental citizens with virtue, and hence deserving their money, is pure hypocrisy. Besides, given its close proximity to political circles corruption is bound to follow. As pointed out in a recent talk show, 20% of the officers are incorruptible. 20% will accept bribes irrespective of their financial position. The middle 60% tend to be corrupt to meet the rising standards of living in the country; this is the most impressionable group. In the 1990s boom when the middle class earned a lot of money for themselves and everyone was laughing their way to the banks, the bureaucracy had little to gain. No one seemed to complain then, but when a recommendation to improve the standards of living of government employees comes up, the middle class are up in arms against it. Besides employees cannot be blamed for lack of motivation if their hard work will not pay off. Talking about fairness and equity, anyone?Another grievance is that the people do not benefit from the services offered by the bureaucracy. Only about 10% of the central government employees contribute positively to the working of the system. Such lazy work ethics can, as stated above, be attributed to the absolute lack of motivation in the form of promotions or bonuses. Though on no account should laxity on part of employees be tolerated, there are no remedial policies in place to check shirkers. The Army is facing a severe personnel shortage since the private sector offers better opportunities to individuals, both in terms of accommodation for family and better salaries. Instances of corruption in the army, though very less, have also increased. Are we also now compromising on security as a result? Given the status of our neighbouring countries and also a disputed state, Jammu and Kashmir, the role of the army in our country is very important. Serious reforms will have to be employed to make the Army a lucrative career option, not to mention provide job satisfaction to anyone willing to serve the nation. Lack of efficient employees, and consequently work quality, is not the direct result of corrupt officials but the discrepancy in the recruiting policy the government, not to mention, the inadequacy of performance related benefits (which is a mere single digit percent). Enumerating certain characteristics, firstly, the pay commission does not fully compensate for the rising living standards. The perks offered, thus, in part contribute to equal the imbalance between the public and private sector. Secondly, salary recommendations are made after the government’s financial position has been taken into account.Thus, the argument must not be about the reasonableness or credibility of the report but a long term solution to counter corruption, the deteriorating work force quality and commitment levels.Young people from well educated families and educational institutions see no benefit in enlisting either in the army or the central government services on account of its financial offering, working conditions and minimal encouragement.The government cannot seem to attract the better qualified crowd of the country for the services. From unattractive salaries to an unsatisfactory career trajectory, political hurdles and almost nil performance bonuses and accountability, the policies need a serious dekho.Talking in terms of solutions, in the age of minimum wages, it is unfair to deny a government employee a minimum wage- rather a level of basic salary for different levels of work. This basic salary can further be augmented by a system based on performance, commitment level, productivity and credible recommendations from seniors. Besides, to further clean the system of its various handicaps employees known to have a record of bribery must be blacklisted. This system of self correction is however more utopian (and will face a lot of opposition for implementation) as against a direct benefit based system. Provisions must be made to promote exceptional employees on a regular basis, in accordance to their performance and working capacity. With the current trend of disinvestment, ingraining certain characteristics of private companies will only prove beneficial to the government and help in reducing unnecessary costs, payments made to unproductive employees.Another important reform that should be undertaken should be increased accountability and transparency in the workings of the system along with a provision for action against violators. In the long run, this will attract more responsible, efficient, honest and confident prospective employees. Also, some people do not enroll because of an unhealthy amount of political consequences and pressures. Adequate steps to reduce this would work towards improving the system.The solutions suggested have their respective inherent loopholes since implementation of the same is another serious handicap altogether.Besides, what is generally neglected is that the Babus form a very small percentage of the central governments financial burden. Most of the pay commission estimates will be required to pay the salaries of the employees at the lower levels.Another important pointer here is that apart from the majority, the minority (which forms a large absolute number) of deserving employees are getting their due in the form of the pay commission. The work that does get done is by these same individuals. So depriving them of a salary revision through the pay commission is justified or criminal?Thus, a myopic debate about the financial burden to the government exchequer will bear no fruit nor reach a satisfactory consensus unless the shortcomings of the system are taken into account and reforms taken to improve the current status of the bureaucracy. The goal should a long term sustaining one, which will have positive side effects in the over working of the country.Charulata Somal

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