Moving Backwards?

With fifty per cent of state’s budget already spent on salaries enhancing retirement age will only add to exchequers woes. Prompted by recent poll debacle NC is trying to keep everybody in good humour. Will it work? Syed Asma finds out

Employeed-Association-Omar-AbdullahAfter the ruling coalition faced a blunt defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and unexpectedly lost in all the six constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, it took cognizance of the situation and made some quick “important” decision. From lifting ban on SMS, to enhancing retirement age, to revising the job recruitment policy; all the decisions were taken after 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Though, the senior National Conference leader and finance minister, Abdul Rahim Rather representing the ruling coalition in a recent press conference asserted that it has nothing to do with the Lok Sabha poll debacle. The political experts are divided over the view.  Some say it is a “panicked” ruling coalition which is taking these decisions but others are of the view that they [ruling coalition] are making themselves “sellable” again to the voters.

Prof. Gul Wani, a political scientist of Kashmir, explains the decision as a “smart move” which will help the Omar Abdullah led government to reduce the anger among people – both youth and government employees. Prof Wani believes both these sections form a significant portion of the population.

As the chief of the state and as the working president of National Conference, Omar Abdullah wants to earn “goodwill” of at least a portion of the population. All these decisions are taken as the tactics which will help him and his party to get relevant in the political market again. “These decisions will obviously affect his party for good but the quantum of good will be seen in the times to come,” says Wani.

The decision of enhancing retirement age is not only criticized by the political scientists but by the economists of the Valley as well. They believe that this decision would affect the budget and expenditure on other productive sectors of the state.

Prof Bashir Ahmed Khan, Department of Economics in Central University – Kashmir, says the parties have taken a politically motivated decision and have not thought of the political stability of the Valley.

The Professor adds that it will surely affect the other productive sectors of the Valley like agriculture etc.

“It is a simple election stunt. The parties should have thought that the state’s financial condition is in doldrums and decisions like these will make the conditions worst.”

Rahim Rather dispelled the reports of less expenditure on developmental projects.  He said, “Salary and pension of the employees comes under ‘non plan expenditure’ while as the money that is being spent on developmental works comes under ‘plan budgets’.”

He further added that in last five years, the wage and pension bill of state employees has increased three times.

Besides, the official figures suggest that the state is spending at least half of the budget on its employees which makes only one-fourth of its population.

Of Rs 38,068 crore zero deficit budget passed for 2013-14 financial year in the Legislative Assembly, state will spend about Rs 18385 crores on 4 lakh government employees. The total population of the state is about 1.25 crores.

Besides, the finance minister, of late briefed the media, “in 2008-09 Rs 5925 crores were released as wage and pension bill of employees while it has increased to Rs 18385 crores in 2013-14 financial year.” Besides, revenue generation of the state has also increased three times in last five years.

The decision of enhancement of retirement age and revival of recruitment policy has come as a saviour for many. “In next two years about 16000 employees were due for retirement but state’s decision of age enhancement from 58 years to 60 years gave them extra two years of serving the state,” says Qayoom Wani, who is heading the employees association in the Valley.

Besides, the decision will bring a respite to the thousands of unemployed youth who were about to pass previously set upper-age limit for the recruitment of a government job. The upper age limit was increased from 37 to 40 years.

Wani says enhancement of retirement age will make no difference in the creating the opportunities for unemployed youth as there are already at least 1,20,000 vacancies in the different government departments. Government should on priority basis fill them.

Though, the government and the employees say the decision is in no way politically motivated, the opposition party member and former president of Joint Consultative Committee of employees, Khursheed Alam asks, “if the move is not politically motivated why did the government took six years to make it happen?”

Alam opines that this “cheap methodology” of the political parties to earn votes in the upcoming assembly elections will not fetch them anything.

The present members of the employees association praising Omar Abdullah and thanking his party say that this was their genuine right and will not in any way affect the political stance they have.

Besides, apart from criticizing the decision-politically and economically, many are of the opinion that state should have also framed a policy which would tighten the noose of its employee. Poor performance and immense corruption in government offices should also have been taken care of.

“A state employee who will be recruited at the age of 40 years will not satisfy all his economic needs in just 20 years of his service. This has high chances of increases the corruption in the government departments keeping in view the present scenario,” said an unemployed young man.

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