The Report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission has received a mixed response, as expected. All eyes are now on the Government’s decisions regarding the acceptance, or otherwise, of its recommendations which will be taken after observing a due process.
Among the responses that have found traction are that Pay Commissions should be institutionalized and they should submit their recommendations on a regular basis, in tandem with Administrative Reforms Commissions. The present practice of having two separate exercises, with no link between them, takes away, substantially, the potential of their improving governance in a truly meaningful sense. The experience of the Sixth Pay Commission and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission underscores the point. It is hoped that cognizance will be taken of this basic imperative.
In this context, the more widely discussed aspects of policy change have been associated with restructuring and rightsizing the administrative apparatus, building incentives for good performance, disincentives for under-performance and non-performance and ensuring top-notch service delivery to citizens imbued with transparency, integrity and accountability. Their intrinsic importance cannot be gainsaid.
Having said that, it may be useful to retrain the analytic lens for a bit and move our attention to a barely acknowledged resource embodied in pensioners and how they can be taken on board as partners in the Government’s development and governance enhancement endeavours. Here it is important to note that the resource cuts across different Services and different levels and is not confined to the creamy layers, which have, over a period of time, taken care of their interests reasonably well. In fact, this was alluded to recently in Parliament during discussions on amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The silver edge, now in focus, which the Government can gainfully endow itself with has to do with the “aam” pensioner as distinct from the “khaas” pensioner alluded to above.
To fit it into an appropriate framework , the relevant Chapter 10 of the Seventh Pay Commission Report may be referred to. According to the figures available, there were, on 1.1.2014, 51.96 lakh pensioners, including all categories of civil and defence pensioners. This figure is higher than that of serving employees. According to an age analysis, pensioners in the age group of 60-70 years are 37.21%. The percentage figures for 70-80 years, 80-90 years and 90-100 years pensioners are 25.48%, 8.88% and 2.25%, respectively. Among the defence pensioners 57% are below 60 years of age.
There are robust policies in place for the defence personnel, who may be discharged from service at a younger age , compared to their civilian counterparts. The existing structure we have is the Department of Pension and Pensioners Welfare which was set up in 1985.
It is this Department which is best placed to take the lead in initiating policy changes for civilian pensioners who are in the age bracket of 60-70 years, who are deemed fit and who may be willing to continue a meaningful association with the Government. To clarify, the objective would be to get the best from this group for the Government itself and not serve as a mere stepping stone or placement agency to cater to the corporate and non- governmental sectors.
For starters, a thorough needs and gap analysis may be taken up, Ministry-wise, to delineate the areas where it may be fruitful to tie up with pensioners. With so many posts lying vacant and the delays of fresh recruitment, it makes eminent sense to have pensioners do some hand holding.
It would be strategically important, at this juncture, to take up the task of a significant policy recast which may be time consuming but will pay rich dividends.