Will it really help improve their performance

Updated: Nov 27 2006, 06:00am hrs
This is one of those questions where there can be neither a `yes' or a `no' but a contextual one, `depends'. Depends on what Depends on who is asking the question. Is it a socialist or a liberal An advocate of big government or of minimum government

Such a philosophical positioning is necessary because the Liberals firmly believe that the business of the State is not business but government. A corollary of this belief would be that it is not the business of the State to provide employment but to create conditions that would provide more job opportunities. Such a belief would lead to a lean government. With the number of civil servants required being fewer, the State could afford higher levels of pay at all levels.

Secondly, it is not within the purview of a Pay Commission to deal with methods of recruitment. This pertains to administrative reforms. Moreover, by its very nature and as the experience of the Fifth Pay Commission shows, the percentage of salary increases are across the board and cannot be isolated to senior civil servants alone. Nevertheless, for this debate we will take a clinical view of the subject.

The idea of putting senior civil servants on contract has occurred to the Sixth Pay Commission essentially to improve performance. Will it really lead to an improvement in performance It is at the senior level that the bureaucracy-political master interface occurs. Will the political master allow efficiency if it conflicts with his interests Perhaps at the level of the senior civil servants, i.e., at the secretary/deputy secretary level, there are around 500 or 600 of them) the US arrangement (where those trusted by the party to which the President belongs are appointed to senior positions in government e.g. the secretary of state, or the secretary of defence, treasury, etc on a contract basis) can be copied. In India , political appointees already head many public sector enterprises or para-state organisations. These appointments change with the change in the complexion of governments.

It will simply be extending this practice to head government departments. Moreover, this will also be in consonance with Indira Gandhi's concept of a committed bureaucracycommitted to the philosophy of the party in power and not to the values of good governance.

Then there is the feeling that the pay and perks of senior civil servants lag behind those of their counterparts in the private sector and this leads to poor quality of work. This is true only at this level. Emoluments of employees in the private sector below the corporate level are sometimes lower than what is paid to their counterparts in the government or public sector. And yet, one does not see any appreciable improvement in efficiency at these levels.

Those in the civil service at the senior level are in the 50-55 age group. Those who are not competent in their jobs at this level cannot be thrown out nor superseded easily to bring in younger and more competent persons who can inject dynamism particularly in the current context of economic reforms. Hence, this fishing expedition mooting the contract idea. There was another way that this problem of having dynamic officers at the top was solved without much fuss.

When VP Singh was Prime Minister and Vinod Pande was revenue secretary, some 40 not so competent senior officers in the revenue department were quietly transferred to the Training Centre for tax officials in Nagpur. They were put out of harm's way by being given a table and chair but not given any work! This could be an alternative to the contract idea, which could run into severe difficulties considering the coalition environment prevailing at the Centre and in most states!

The writer is the national coordinator of the Indian Liberal Group