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Govt Should Hit 3 Policy Sixers in Same Way as 10% Quota Bill

JANUARY 19, 2019

By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor

WHEN amending the Constitution within 48 hours is likened to hitting a six in slog overs of cricket match, elect orate becomes spectators of political games.

You need not know the cricket's nuances to watch a live match. Similarly, one need not bother about whether the constitutional procedures have been hit for a six to create a slippery lollipop.

You also need not ponder much over rare political consensus on Modi Government's maiden sixer in slog overs - the 10% percent reservation for economically weaker sections/economically backward classes (EWS/EBCs).

It is a symbol of populism for which all parties compete. Mind you, reservation is an emotive issue for queues-tired public. Many citizens die waiting for their turn for some welfare sop or the other. Opposing a quota bill means risking loss of a potential vote bank. The unstated political logic is: If voters can be taken for a ride, so be it.

Even as spectators await more sixes promised by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, let them utilize strategic time-out on a serious note. They should understand and learn that the first sixer won't alleviate the miseries of EWS. It is nothing but a grand illusion.

Job Quotas for any section of the society have been shrinking in absolute size because the Government and its entities are slimming due to change in technologies, governance practices and fiscal compulsions. Both of them have embraced 'lean and mean' mantra to cut expenditure on hiring regular manpower.

The number of persons from EWS who would actually get jobs in a normal year would thus be far lesser than the number of Indians who get H1B visa from the US in a year. Even this conclusion would fall flat if EWS gambit fails judicial scrutiny as foreseen by many pundits.

Before elaborating on jobs reservations, recall what Mr. Prasad said in Rajya Sabha while participating in a discussion on EWS quota-centric Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 on 10th January 2019.

The translated version of his quote in Hindi as reported by a daily reads as: "In cricket, sixes are scored in the slog overs... when the match is drawing to a close, sixes are struck. If you have a problem with that, you must realise that this (the 10 per cent reservation quota) isn't the first of the sixes. Many more are on the way... these will be struck for development, for change, for transformation. The electorate will decide who wins and who loses."

The trouble with this logic is that it bypasses policies and procedures. The bypassed 'Pre-legislative Consultation Policy (PLCP)' says: "Every Department/Ministry shall proactively publish the proposed legislations both on the internet as also through other means; the detailed modalities of such publication may be worked out by the Department/Ministry concerned".

It adds: "The summary of pre-legislative process should also be placed before the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee by the Department /Ministry concerned when the proposed legislation is brought to Parliament and is referred to the Standing Committee".

Unveiled in February 2014, PLCP provides for relaxation. It says: "If the Department/Ministry concerned is of the view that it is not feasible or desirable to hold pre-legislative consultation as detailed above, it may record the reasons in the note for the Cabinet".

Did the Government explain the 15-years delay over EWS proposal, which was cleared by Vajpayee Cabinet during October 2003? Would additional delay by one month for seeking public comments have made any difference? And why the Report of Commission for EBCs, submitted in July 2010, has not been made public till now?

Should one conclude that both UPA and NDA are allergic to sharing sensitive information that impact citizens. By the way, Modi Government continues to keep secret the data on 46 lakh castes collected under Socio-economic and Caste Census (SECC)-2011.

While persisting with their demand for release of this data, vocal sections among scheduled castes and other backward classes (OBCs) have demanded hike in their respective reservation quotas on account of change in demographics.

Had there been PLC on EWS bill or had it been at least referred to a parliamentary panel, shocking facts about steep decline in job opportunities in the Government and public sector would have surfaced. One such fact is that total number of employees on Central Government's rolls has remained almost stagnant for two decades.

Latest available official data on civil staff strength is an eye-opener. The total number of regular employees has declined to 32.21 lakh as on 1st March 2016 from 32.90 lakh as on 1st March 2001. The sanctioned strength, however, increased marginally to 36.34 lakh posts from 36.33 lakh during the same period. The vacant posts thus increased to 11.36% from 9.44% during the same period.

The total expenditure on pay and allowances (excluding bonus, travelling Allowance, etc.) on regular civilian employees increased by whopping 481.11% to Rs. 182513.25 crore in 2016-17 from Rs. 31407.26 crore in 2001-02.

The Government has transformed itself as island of prosperity for regular staff and elected representatives. As put by the Seventh Central Pay Commission in November 2015, government employees are entitled to "a host of tangible and non tangible benefits - from job security, inflation indexed salary, assured prospects of financial progression- to name a few. It may be difficult to monetize some of these non-tangibles. That the government jobs retain their charm is evident from the increasing number of qualified candidates per advertised vacancy as well as from the low turnover rates among recent recruits".

The scramble for Government jobs is thus bound to become intense. So would be the demand for more quotas or higher quotas. The frustration of quota-seekers would rise gradually as the prospects of anyone getting an entry into an oasis called Government have dampened over the years.

This is because the Government relies heavily on outsourced and contracted employees. The Government also banks on retired employees hired as consultants. Deputation from one Ministry to another or any of the Government entity is another factor that is used to delay or thwart fresh recruitments.

The Government saves tonnes of money every year through these practices. It is cheaper to hire outsourced and retired hands on contract. The Government has even outsourced certain functions especially ones driven by information technology to private service providers on design, develop, implement, operate and maintain basis.

The Government, a very marginal player in Indian jobs market, has thus shifted millions of governmental jobs to the private sector. And this trend would continue. With these facts in view, it is for spectators to understand whether 10% quota plot can be a game-changer for EWS. Right now, Modi Government is basking in glory heaped by TV channels for its game-changer for 2019 polls.

What applies to the Central Government is equally relevant for its public sector undertakings (PSUs). Many of them have adopted lean business models by outsourcing sections of integrated process complexes such as refineries to private firms on build, own and operate model.

Look at the mining sector. Most newly licensed mines, be they in public or private sector fold, are contracted out to Mine Developer-cum-Operator (MDO), which are private firms.

Moreover, several PSUs expand their operations via joint venture route with 49% cap on combined equity of public sector/Govt. This helps them stay out of diverse government guidelines including reservation policies.

The Government would do anything and everything to reduce its expenditure on permanent recruitment of employees. With that being the case, the Government should unveil three long overdue policies that ease, if not wipe out, rush for quotas.

First, it should unveil a manpower outsourcing policy with equal pay for equal work as the uncompromising dogma. And such policy should be monitored effectively.

Unfortunately, the Government does not even care to maintain a centralized data base on employees outsourced from manpower supply companies. Why Digital India and Skill India have not been applied here to give a fair deal to exploited manpower is beyond comprehension.

Second, the Government should announce a national wage policy, which has been pending for decades. It has been advocated by at least two Finance Commissions.

The 11th Finance Commission in June 2000 stated: "In order to avoid the shocks to the Central and State budgets that emanate from periodic pay revisions, it is desirable to evolve a national policy for the salaries and emoluments of government employees across the country. Such a policy can be made acceptable and effective only if it is evolved through a consensus among the States and the Centre in the forum like the Inter-State Council. Only a forum like this can lay down the differentials in the pay scales of the Centre, States and local government employees keeping in view their capacity to pay from their own resources".

The 14th Finance Commission, in its report submitted in February 2015 stated: "we reiterate the views of the FC-XI for a consultative mechanism between the Union and States, through a forum such as the Inter-State Council, to evolve a national policy for salaries and emoluments".

Third, the Government should release National Employment Policy (NEP), which was drafted way back in 2008. NEP must give over-riding importance to jobs creation in all spheres of economic activity. Everything else can wait except the right to work for which jobs are the most crucial means.

Let NEP pave the way for amendment of the Constitution to incorporate right to work as a fundamental right. The Government must provide for compensation to persons if their right to work is compromised or violated.

Every student passing out from school or college can't become a start-up promoter. Everyone can't fry good pakodas or make good masala chai. Lastly, the Government should reboot itself as business promoter with the management being given a free hand. Let it promote a million enterprises, which can be privatized as they turn corner. Many of them can be seeded as joint ventures from the word go.

A good Government is one that is equally energetic as facilitator and as promoter of enterprises.