RUMOUR is the grist of bureaucracy. It breaks bureaucratic monotony and adds a little excitement in the otherwise drab world of contributing to policymaking and helping in implementing policies on the ground. It is hotly debated in the lunch clubs of government offices and then spreads out into the news-hungry media. Not to be left behind, the social media adds spice to the broth. Points are scored and conclusions arrived at. No one knows where these rumours originate, but they amuse or scare while they are alive.
Last year, there were rumours that the central government was planning to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 years. In fact, gfiles carried some articles on it in one of its issues. Another time, the retirement age issue made headlines was when it was said that the superannuation age was going to be reduced to 58 years. Both proved to be what they were: rumours.
A rumour that is currently doing the rounds in official circles relates to an allegedly imminent recommendation of the 7th Central Pay Commission that all central government employees should be retired from service on the completion of 33 years of service or the age of 60 years, whichever is earlier. The accuracy of the rumour is vouched for by people who claim to be privy to the yet to be submitted report of the Commission. According to them, the report has already been finalised but is being held back for political reasons. Personally, I do not subscribe to the veracity of the rumour because I believe the members of the Pay Commission are much too well-informed about the structure and dynamics of the civil services in India.
The main implication of the rumoured suggestion is that if an employee joins the central government services at the age of 27 or later, he will continue in government service till the age of 60 years. If, however, he had joined the services before the age of 27, his position becomes untenable. For instance, if someone joins the central government services soon after graduation, at the age of 20 years, he will be forced to retire at the age of 53 years.
If comments on social media are any guide, it appears that there is a vertical divide among the civil servants on this rumoured recommendation. The responses to the rumour about 33/60 years show that the opinion about its implementation is divided almost equally. Those who joined younger than 27 years oppose it, while those who joined later welcome it as it will increase their chances of moving to the top of the echelon. Perhaps the speculation about the recommendation has been fuelled by the need to provide a level playing field between the early versus the late entrants.
The other section of the population endorsing this move would be the educated youngsters looking for job opportunities. The implementation of the recommendation would probably open up employment opportunities in the immediate time-frame. It would, however, stabilise in a couple of years. Mass retirement of all types of employees may result in a vacuum in certain critical areas. Has the Pay Commission looked into this aspect? Or, is it moved by the assertion of the Prime Minister regarding ‘minimum government’? Another wild speculation going round in some circles is that the government is at the back of the recommendation. They want to get rid of people close to the earlier regime.
A natural consequence of the acceptance of the alleged suggestion would be to act as a disincentive for those joining the civil services immediately after leaving college. If they decide to enter the civil services at the age of 20-26 years, they face the spectre of going home in their early fifties when they are arguably at their most productive. The rationale of inviting youngsters to join the civil services at 20-21 years and then retiring them when they are still in the process of settling their families is unfathomable. In fact, if the intention is to discourage youth from joining early, then the minimum eligibility should also be raised to 27 years.
It is an admitted fact that, in the present dispensation, most of the people at the top of their respective disciplines in the government belong to the age group of 55-60 years. A further informed guess is that a majority of them would have done more than 33 years in government. Thus, if the rumoured recommendation is accepted, we can expect the highest echelons of almost all hierarchies in the central government to disappear at the midnight of December 31, 2015. It would be interesting to see how the government copes with this eventuality.
FURTHER, there would be an immediate de-synchronisation between the central and state government employees. The civil services in our country are a joint venture between the All India Services and state services. How the system of state service officers being promoted to All India Services will be affected by the new dispensation should also be carefully examined by the Pay Commission before making such a recommendation.
Finally, an accepted principle of any public bureaucracy is retirement at a fixed age. It is not determined by the length of service since the traditional doctrine of public service is based on the expectation of lifelong employment under government. The employees expect to fulfil their parental responsibilities to their children and make retirement plans accordingly. In this respect, the public sector differs from the private sector. In my view, therefore, the rumoured move would destabilise the ethos of the Indian civil services.
One will have to wait for the submission of the report of the Commission to set all speculation at rest.
The writer was the Cabinet Secretary and the first Governor of Jharkhand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org