Despite the enormous budgetary expenditure involved, few would grudge the administrative services and Central government employees in general the pay increases recommended by the Seventh Central Pay Commission. As has been said on more than a few occasions in the past, those who pay peanuts will get only monkeys to do them service. Looking at the way India has been managed over past decades, there would appear to be a surfeit of simians at the policymaking and policy implementation levels. Desperation at such a state of affairs is what led tens of millions of voters to repose faith in Narendra Damodardas Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and it is expected that now that he is a Prime Minister enjoying a decisive majority in Parliament, especially should the Joint Session option get used, that the administrative machinery at both the states as well as the Centre will resemble 21st century levels of capacity and competence rather than those of the 19th century, which is the period when most of the existing laws and administrative practices still followed in this country had their origin. Now that levels of pay have moved closer to what is deserved by effective decision-makers, it is important to ensure much higher levels of transparency and accountability in governance than has been the case thus far. A good way to start would be to end the near-monopoly of retirees from the services on the various RTI panels, and to give these bodies more powers than has been allocated to them thus far. Since 2007, and at an accelerating pace since 2011, the Manmohan Singh government sought to drain the RTI of its efficacy as a tool of good governance, seeing the legislation as a hindrance to the conventional bureaucratic practice of functioning behind a thick curtain of secrecy. Team Modi needs to reverse such a reversal of the spirit of the RTI in order to ensure the transparency necessary for integrity and efficiency in the delivery of state services.
In such a context, it is impossible not to fault the Swachh Bharat cess on service tax as giving the signal that the Prime Minister’s revolutionary citizen initiative is in fact a government programme. Now that the citizen is being taxed in the name of Swachh Bharat, he or she will feel little motivation to bring personal time, resources and energy to bear on the vital mission of keeping India clean. The cess just announced is yet another example of the mindless way in which revenue is getting collected, much of which negatively impacts economic growth and citizen welfare. Hopefully, such approaches will give way to that articulated by Prime Minister Modi, who has proudly declared himself to be the “Pradhan Sevak” of the people, thereby indicating that the entire machinery of government ought to regard themselves as “sevaks” and not as masters in the colonial mould. The Pay Commission has done well in eliminating the unnatural and counter-productive distinction between the IAS and other services. There needs to be a level playing field so that it is performance at work and not marks in an examination taken decades back which determines promotion. Those who are less than effective in the delivery of services to the public they have been tasked to serve ought to be given marching orders, and a process of winnowing out of incompetent officers needs to get instituted in a manner that is very different from the present anaemic and deeply subjective appraisal systems. Greater reward must be balanced with greater punishment, especially in the case of those who betray their trust for personal enrichment or to help the undeserving. This newspaper welcomes the pay increase for government employees, but would like to see that the promise made by the NDA of providing an effective and honest administration be fulfilled.