A GOVERNMENT FOR SALARIES

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As the lawmakers unanimously decided to double their wages for the second time in less than five years, the government employees have intensified their efforts to claim their dues from the Sixth Pay Commission. In anticipation of a possible confrontation between the government and the employees, R S Gull examines how the government invests half of its resources on five percent of state’s population.

Though the government intelligently managed them for a while at the peak of their April 2010 agitation, the employees still are restive over the breached implementation of the recommendations that the sixth pay commission had made. They have been holding protests, meeting authorities to get their dues. But when the lawmakers doubled their package in March, the employee leaders were seething in anger.

“In a democracy the government is for the people, of the people and by the people,” Abdul Majeed Bhat, leader of J&K Lower Grade Employees Union, Civil Secretariat said in a statement. “But in J&K it is working for the interests and welfare of ministers, legislators and bureaucrats.”
This, a senior leader of the employees said, speaks of the double standards. “They did not stop the IAS and IPS officers from claiming their dues and now they doubled their salaries,” the leader, keen to stay unnamed, said. “When it comes to our rights, they just pass the buck or simply claim the lack of resources.”

Regardless of the timing that the lawmakers choose for increasing their wages, the employees of the state have continuously remained a major resource guzzler for the state government.  In fact on the day chief minister Omar Abdullah finally permitted the passage of the law that doubled his salary, he told the house that state’s salary and pension bills have increased from Rs7,896 crore in 2008-2009 to Rs 14,740 crore in 2010-11. “While the salary bill 2001-2002 was of the order of about Rs 3,591 crore it jumped to Rs 7896 crore in 2008-2009 and is touching Rs 14,740 crore at present,” he informed the lawmakers.

Nobody knows if Omar was justifying the hike in the wages of lawmakers or offering an idea about the costs of running a huge establishment. But the budget speech that finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather delivered on March 7, offers a much detailed overview of the crisis that J&K is facing on account of making the government as the main, almost only, employer in the state. Interestingly, he delivered his speech at a time when police was busy preventing the employees of the government from surrounding the civil secretariat.

Rather pegged the costs of running crisis ridden J&K for the fiscal 2011-12 at Rs 31212 crore, an increase of 8.63 percent over last year’s requirements. Almost 73 percent of this whopping sum – short by only a few thousand crores to equal J&K’s state domestic product – is the revenue expenditure, which goes into non-productive heads like interest payment, salary, pensions, debt servicing leaving only 27 percent for capital (developmental) expenditure.

The revenue expenditure is surging, Rather told the house, because of requirements to fund the salaries and the pensions of its staff. For the fiscal starting April 1, 2011, the government is slated to spend Rs 15189 crore on the salary – (Rs 11360 cr in non plan and Rs 1178 cr in plan), and pensions (Rs 2651 crore) in addition to Rs 727 crore grant in aid to the PSUs and government undertakings that mostly gets consumed as salary.

“The total estimated revenue expenditure comes to Rs 22,752 crore,” Rather said in his speech. It includes Rs 15916 crore on its employees directly and indirectly, a resource outgo of Rs 1174 crore on account of repaying the loans and additional Rs 2363 crore as interest payment besides Rs 2400 crore that will go in purchasing energy for the year. “The capital expenditure both on account of Plan and Non-Plan has been estimated at Rs 8,460 crore,” he added. These includes a possible plan of Rs 6,600 crore, Rs 1200 crore outlay under Prime Minister’s reconstruction Plan (PMRP) and a possible expenditure of Rs 425 crore Centrally Sponsored Schemes.

Plans of all states are funded partly through debt and in certain cases the states like J&K, at the end of the financial year, skip lifting loans to reduce their indebtedness. Even if the state government spends every single penny of Rs 8460 crore in a year ending march31, 2012 it effectively means investing only 27 paisa on development of the state for every rupee that the government spends in 2011-12.

Using the demographic profile of the state, it means the government is spending 51 percent of its yearly resources on its employees. It spears only 27 percent to offer the basics and the development of more than 11 million individuals living in J&K.

Even spending this petty sum on development is not a better exercise. During the just concluded session of the state legislature, the lawmakers exposed some ministers for building their home segments by diverting facilities and funds, in certain cases, at the cost of the state.

 “I know that there is no justice for me,” Engineer Rashid cried in a choked voice when he started speaking on grants of education ministry. “I curse the day when I left the government job and joined politics.”

The engineer told the house that a student in his constituency was attacked by a leopard while returning from the school which was at a far off place. Till date his dead body is untraced. “This happened due to non-availability of proper schooling facilities in my segment but the minister opens and upgrades the schools in his constituency at the cost of the rest of the state,” he told the house.

Since 2009, various documents that the government tabled in the house revealed, as many as 14 high schools were upgraded to the higher secondary schools – six in Jammu and nine in Kashmir. Of the nine in Kashmir, six up-gradations took place in Kokernag –education minister’s home constituency and two in Chrar-e-Sharief that finance minister represents. Interestingly, of the 25 middle schools upgraded to high schools in Kashmir 15 were in Chrar-e-Shariefand 10 in Kokernag. During 2009-10, a total of 34 schools were upgraded across Kashmir. Of them 16 in Kokernag and 17 in Chrar-e-Sharief.

But it is not education alone. In the  last two years of coalition government of Omar Abdullah, the house was informed that 32 health institutions were either upgraded or opened afresh. Those, 16 went to the constituencies represented by Finance Minister (8), Irrigation Minister (3), Sr Health Minister (3) and Jr Health Minister (2). This left only 16 for the rest of the state!

After the entire opposition including BJP, Panthers Party and the PDP, walked out and announced to boycott of the house, the government agreed to set up the joint house committee on the working of health ministry.

The opposition alleges that even the allocations are being made on partisan basis. They cite the instance of Rural Infrastructure Development Fund in which finance minister’s constituency is getting whopping Rs 142 crore (Rs 90 crore under RIDF XV and Rs 52 crore under RIDF XVI). Of the 78 rural road projects for J&K under RIDF XV 18 projects are in Budgam district. Of the nine rural road projects (RIDF XV), seven are in Budgam district and from 35 roads (RIDF XVI), eight would be laid in Budgam alone. Budgam is the home district of finance minister who represents the Chrar-e-Sharief constituency for the fifth consecutive term.

PDP even accused ruling NC of actually giving huge amounts to their defeated candidate from the plan funds which is unprecedented. Their lawmakers sought explanation from the chief minister who is also the planning minister but Omar Abdullah skipped responding to the allegation. Former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig asked: “There are defeated candidates in all constituencies – as many as 18 in some of them. In whose favour the Government would release the funds?” He accused the government of subverting the institution of development that has evolved over the decades.

However the most sensational was the case of government diverting a whopping Rs 30 crores from R&B Srinagar to R&B Jammu. When the issue rocked the assembly, a senior minister admitted it and justified it.

Unlike development all political parties are perpetually interested in employments. Perhaps the only comparison they are always willing to draw is how many employees have they appointed when they were in power. This has created a situation that nobody knows how many employees are there on the rolls of the state government.

In the details of the establishment that finance minister placed on table of the house, the state government has 398805 employees in its 29 departments under non-plan alone. It is the home department – the police, the jails, the traffic police, security wing that is the real army with 89480 positions. Education ministry is playing second fiddle with 82475 posts.

In the mandatory statement that was also laid on table the same day under Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act 2006, the finance ministry said they actually have 4,04,597 employees –3,77,215 under non-plan and 27382 under central sponsored schemes and state plan. It put the actual previous year expenditure on salaries at Rs 6328 crore and foresees 2010-11 devouring Rs 8822 crore on salaries alone.

Besides, the statement said, the government has 16652 employees in 19 corporations, 7774 employees in aided institutions and another 11488 in local bodies. They cost the government Rs 337.60 crore, Rs 254.15 crore and Rs 164.58 crore in 2010-11, respectively. It makes the total employees of the state government an army of 440511.

May be this is not the exact number because it fluctuates. At any given moment, there are thousands of daily-wagers, contractual workers and on ad-hoc. In J&K, all the daily-wagers who put in seven years of “service” become employees of the state as per law. Responding to the query of Ajay Kumar Sadhotra, finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather told the house last month “as many as 59,023 daily wagers and 19,323 casual labourers are working in various departments, autonomous bodies and public service undertakings in the State. 55478 daily wagers and contractual labourers stand regularized leaving a balance of 3541.” Daily wagers are regularized in terms of SRO-64/94 and government is framing a policy for regularization of casual labours as well.

The government has already adopted J&K Civil Services (Special Provisions) Act, 2010 under which it considers regularization of ad-hoc, contractual and consolidated employees. With a cutoff date of January 31, 2011, the empowered committee has already received cases of 6,850 such employees. So far 52 applicants stand regularized.

Two politically correct statements have continually been emanating from Srinagar without any break – the tourism is mainstay of Kashmir economy and militancy is the outcome of the massive unemployment. Contribution of tourism to state economy never reached 15 percent and though having a registered unemployment of over 600 thousand right now, militancy never had a direct link with it. But the entire policy-making rested on these half truths.

The recent report came from Dr C Rangarajan. Though not a stranger to Kashmir, he offered his own prescription to the unemployment mess that he thinks could generate100 thousand jobs outside the government. He has leveraged almost everything that Kashmir has and gone to the extent of suggesting training youth “to act as Khadims / shrine guides – a potential employment generator.”

In absence of a sustained investment in the market, the central government has consistently encouraged the state government to emerge as the employer of last resort, reducing the government’s activity to manage and disburse the salaries of its employees.

The Eleventh Finance Commission linked reduction of the state’s revenue deficit to the release of various grants. This necessitated two MoUs that state government signed with the central government agreeing to bring down revenue deficit by five percent every year by not filling up vacancies barring in essential services. Yearly Rs 350 crore worth grants were linked to the MoUs. As the pressure mounted, the government pleaded for easing the restrictions and then it did not stop.

While the government continues to create scope for more jobs within the government and takes as many as possible, an oversized establishment is making it difficult to spare a few bucks for investment in the economy. The lack of accountability, no policy of punishment and failure in delivery of services puts a question mark over the way the system in J&K works.

Corruption in J&K’s public life is pervasive. Almost every day there is something about corruption that makes to the front pages of the newspapers. Even in the state legislature the political parties are accusing each other of corruption. During the last session one legislator came in the house with a CD showing a government officer accepting money (receiving bribe). Investigations led to the revelation that it was one lobby that funded the sting operation to get the official removed, take over and make money. The incidence of corruption and the government’s failure to check it made J&k among the most corrupt states in India.

In absence of a competitive employer or a vibrant public sector, government has the monopoly over jobs. It has triggered a rat race in the society of becoming a government employee. It has encouraged consumer market and triggered a new social stratification in which the population in J&K is divided into “employees of the government” and “not employed by the government”. The variation between the per capita income of the two sections actually explains the dichotomy on which J&K survives.

The major and apparently irreversible impact is the work culture. A private hospital owner revealed to Kashmir Life that the doctors coming to practice in the premises earn 10 to 20 times of what they get in government’s 10 to 4 job. “But they are unwilling to give up the government jobs,” the entrepreneur said, adding, “Because they say Kashmir is unpredictable.

If anything happens they will still get paid.” This culture is the main factor for limiting the growth of private sector in Kashmir. For any serious initiative, the market will have to manage its human resource, especially the skilled lot, from outside!
Off late, J&K is working to make employees accountable.

A law passed by the state legislature in March provides for a Rs 250 fine per day of delay or a Rs 5,000 fine — whichever is less, if the services sought are not delivered. Aggrieved citizen have right to part of the fine. A number of public services were brought under purview of the Public Services Guarantee Bill that was basically enacted by Shivraj Singh Chauhan in MP last year. The law works on the premise that red-tapeism and inordinate delays in basic delivery systems are a major contributor to the industry of corruption.  

The employee is not to be blamed for most of the mess in which J&K finds itself. They take salary for the work they do. If the employer is not interested in taking work from him or making him accountable for his or her mistakes, it is not employee who needs to be blamed. Says Nazir Ahmad, leader of the secretariat employees: “Employee has rights and if the government lacks resources to hire people it is her problem not ours.” The government, he said, is always telling the people that they go to Delhi with a begging bowl. “We are not wrong when we say, please go again and get us our dues,” he told media after Rather presented the budget.

Barring at peak of the crisis, the J&K’s policymakers and politicians have invariably been very kind and respectful to the employee leaders. They are always concerned over their well being. If any politician makes any statement about employees, he or she ensures it finds proper place in the media. Communist leader Yousuf Tarigami asked a question about the DA and other dues of the employees, his aides e-mailed the sheet to media thrice on that day. Is there a nexus between the employees and the politicians?

The two work with each other but there are no established cases in which one would conclude that they work for each other too. But there are statements of the employee leaders that pose questions. Like the one Khursheed Aalam recently stated while urging the government to fulfill their demands without any further delay. “Panchyat polls are approaching and we hope before that genuine demands of employees are fulfilled,” Aalam was quoted saying, “The Chief Minister should personally intervene in the matter.”

So is it correct to say that the successive governments in J&K have been the governments by the employees, of the employees and for the employees?

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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