The central government’s expenditure on the salaries of civilian employees increased three-fold in 10 years between 2006-07 and 2016-17, even as nearly 500,000 posts remained vacant, on average, every year, according to government data. “A poor country with weak state capacity like India, when confronted with the pressure to redistribute, had necessarily to redistribute inefficiently, using blunt and leaky instruments,” said the Economic Survey of 2016-17. State capacity refers to the government’s ability to utilise resources to deliver essential services, such as education and health. Concerns regarding the quality of government services being affected due to understaffing were raised in the 2015 report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission, the committee to review and revise central government employee pay packages. For every 100,000 people, India had 139 central government employees, compared to the US, which had 668, the report said. Understaffing is frequently manifest in protests and inefficiency. Overworked doctors at the Centre-run Safdarjung Hospital demanded an increase in staff to extend out-patient department (OPD) hours, the Hindu reported on July 14, 2018. Similarly, the quality of teaching and research in central universities was affected because a third of teaching posts were vacant, IndiaSpend reported on August 16, 2018. The central government has spent $160 billion, nearly twice Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 ($87 billion), on 3.2 million employees in 10 years to 2016-17; the expense rose 340 per cent, from Rs 416.76 billion in 2006-07 to Rs 1.82 trillion in 2016-17.
There were, on average, 500,000 vacancies in central government jobs over 10 years. In 2006, of 3.5 million sanctioned posts, only 88 per cent or 3.1 million positions were filled, a gap of 417,495 employees, the data show.
In 2016, 89 per cent or 3.2 million of 3.6 million were filled, a vacancy of around 412,752 employees.
Most vacancies were in group C (clerks and office aides) jobs, the data show. Of 3.2 million sanctioned posts in group C in 2016-17, 87 per cent or 2.8 million were filled. Vacancies of around 300,000-320,000 posts in group C alone are about three times the employees added (111,909) over 10 years. Increase in employee pay scale, increase in expenditure “To keep the salary structure of the employees viable, it has become necessary to improve the pay structure of their employees so that better, more competent and talented people could be attracted for governance,” said the report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission, which said government-employee salaries should be competitive with the private sector. The expenditure on base pay increased 331 per cent, from Rs 278.34 billion to Rs 1.2 trillion, over a decade to 2017. Employees received 157 per cent more in-hand cash, after the Seventh Central Pay Commission report and the hike in minimum wages (Rs 7,000 to Rs 18,000). Dearness allowance (DA)–additional compensation to cover cost-of-living increases–accounted for a larger share of the pay structure (42 per cent) than basic pay (36 per cent) between 2011-12 and 2015-16. The trend changed in 2016-17, after the revisions recommended by the Seventh Central Pay Commission. In 2016-17, basic salary formed 66 per cent of central-government salaries, followed by DA (16 per cent). House rent and other allowances made up the remaining 4 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively, according to the report on Pay and Allowance 2016-17. The department of science and technology, which funds research and development of science and technology associated with water, energy, health, environment, climate, agriculture and food, is running at less than half its capacity, from 37 per cent vacancy in 2014 to 55 per cent posts vacant in 2016. Up to 49 per cent posts are vacant in the civil aviation ministry, followed by the corporate affairs ministry with 44 per cent. The defence ministry had the most vacancies in 2016 with 187,054 posts (31 per cent). Overall, there appears to be a shortage of 25 per cent-35 per cent staff, on average, across 51 ministries, the data show.
(Chhetri, a graduate of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, is an intern with IndiaSpend.)