New Caste System

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The recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission for Central Government employees have been accepted with little or no modification by the Union cabinet. Many Central Government employees were optimistically expecting the Cabinet to enhance the entitlements even more than what the commission recommended. This has not happened, but there is little need for them to worry for the salary hike is good enough as it is. A 23 percent increment is excellent by any standard, especially those in the higher brackets. For instance, a lower rung employee who has been earning around Rs. 10,000 a month this may not amount to much, but for somebody who already has been earning close to a lakh a month, the jump is substantial. A view of the range of salary scales will suffice to convey this point. The salary for somebody at the bottom of the employee hierarchy, such as a sweeper, is Rs. 18,000 per month, while those at the very top, such as the Cabinet secretary, will be taking home Rs. 2.5 lakhs a month.

Quite obviously, the intended beneficiaries are the top rung employees, therefore even within this salary structure, it is discriminatory. The disturbing question is, how can a government allow such a wide salary chasm to not only exist, but increase after every decadal pay revision, without unconsciously endorsing the inherent memory of the reviled caste system the Indian psyche is so burdened with. This becomes very obvious when you consider a single professional chain and the difference in salary benefits structured into the chain itself. Consider this, why should there be such a vast difference in salary between a primary school teacher and a university teacher? A philosopher poet like Rabindranath Tagore would have been appalled by this. As the saying goes, a chain is as strong as the weakest link, and so you may build a chain from the toughest carbon steel which can withstand a 100 tonnes tension without snapping, but even if a single link of that chain is not built of the same material and cannot take more than 5 kg tension, the strength of the chain will be only 5kgs. So why is this immense disparity maintained? Isn’t this another form of caste system? These professions did not have to be put on exactly equal footings, but there ought to have been some parity maintained. This way, everybody need not be clamouring for the top jobs only, and as per their intuitive inclinations and talents, chose a job that suited him or her most at any level of the hierarchy of the same chain.

But the repercussion of this caste system would be felt even stronger when Central government employees are pitted against employees of poorer states like Manipur, and this will be close to disastrous when the plight of non-corporate private sector employees, which most in places like Manipur are, are also weighed in. Recall how Manipur almost collapsed at the time of the 5th Pay Commission because state Government employees too wanted a fair parity of pay maintained with their Central government counterparts. This was during the chief ministership of the late Wahengbam Nipamacha and the state coffers was almost always dry, RBI strictures against withdrawing more from this coffer had become endemic, all development funds had to be diverted to salary payment, and even then employees had to wait as much as six months at a time to receive their salaries. Who wouldn’t want salary parity too? You cannot have employees, often working in the same offices, as in the case of IAS and MCS, IPS and MPS etc, doing practically the same jobs, draw widely different salaries without expecting trouble – unless of course these classes of employees belong to different countries. Few would think of complaining if American employees working in India under the payroll of their own government take home bigger salary packs than Indian employees working in these same offices. So why this deliberate apartheid then?

But it is the private sector in places like Manipur which will get the worst battering. As it is, this sector is tottering, which is why there is a constant rise in the unemployment figure, for nobody, even those self-employed or working in small private undertakings, now considers himself employed if he has not managed a government job. The truth is, what these self-employed persons and those working in small and medium enterprises earn, are the actual market value of services in this state. If the salaries of the government employees were not shielded by the tax-payers’ money and were also directly linked to what their services were capable of earning from the market, they would not have been earning more than those in these same fledgling private sector enterprises. This problem incidentally is not confined to Manipur or the Northeast. Recent reports of how there is an increasing number of even Ph.D degree holders lining up for government jobs as lowly as that of police constables all over India is proof. The truth is, the value of such degrees in the real market is far lower than in the government’s job cocoon, where employees get paid fat salaries regardless of performance.

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