Walkie Talkie

Updated: May 31 2002, 05:30am hrs
Six million government jobs out of a total work force of almost 400 million is insignificant. If attention focuses on downsizing government, the compulsions at the state government-level is primarily fiscal. Anything between 75 to 85 per cent of revenue expenditures is on wages, salaries and pensions. At the central government-level, downsizing is more important as a signal. After all, compared to interest payments, subsidies and defence expenditure, the wage and pension bill constitutes a trickle, especially if one takes away posts and railways. However, the signal is also important, since at least 10 per cent of the 3.3 million central government jobs are believed to be redundant. The Fifth Pay Commission recommended abolition of 3.5 lakh jobs. As is well-known, the government accepted the Pay Commissions recommendations about salary hikes, but ignored the ones on downsizing. There were more recommendations in ten reports of the Expenditure Reforms Commission. In two successive budgets, union finance minister Yashwant Sinha also talked about implementing ERCs recommendations. The Action Taken Report on budget promises of 2001-02 is indicative in this regard. In the union budget speech for 2002-03, he mentioned a figure of 42,200 surplus staff in 36 ministries and departments identified by ERC. 12,200 posts were to be abolished by March 2002. But March 2002 has come and gone. Have these jobs actually been abolished

Not that nothing has happened on downsizing. First, a contributory pension scheme has been introduced for new appointees and this will reduce pension outgo in the future. It remains to be seen if someone will take this to court as violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. Second, fresh recruitment has been restricted to 1 per cent of civilian staff strength. Given natural attrition of 3 per cent, this should lead to a reduction of 10 per cent in government jobs over five years. Third, there has been talk of identifying surplus staff and transferring them to a pool. If these cannot be re-deployed, there is supposed to be voluntary retirement schemes. The operative word is talk, because barring employees of the Department of Telecommunications who were shown as employees of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd from October 2000 and hence no longer part of the government there has been no significant reduction in number of government jobs. In fact, Mr Sinhas Expenditure Budget shows an increase in number of central government employees from 3.32 million in March 2002 to 3.34 million in March 2003. Therefore, North Block doesnt believe its talk will ever be walked. Reports have now appeared about 17,200 jobs identified for pruning and concerned ministries and departments have apparently agreed. Clearly, this 17,200 figure includes the 12,200 jobs that were to be scrapped by March 2002. Those jobs havent gone. Instead, 5,000 more have been identified for downsizing. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Since North Block has gone to town about having finally been able to persuade other ministries and departments, the ATR for 2002-03 should be different. If not, the finance minister should stop talking.