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Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Finance Minister Arun Jaitley seems to be holding a view that minimum human resources means maximum governance. 

At least the Budget speech he delivered on February 29 could create such an impression as he talked, in the same breath, about IT-enabled process reforms and the need for human resource rationalisation. 

The "governance and ease of doing business" section of the Budget speech talks about NDA government's "unparalleled" emphasis to good governance with special focus on process reforms, IT-enabled government processes, etc. Stating that the whole idea is to remove the irritants for the public in their interface with government agencies, Jaitley explains that a task force has been constituted for rationalisation of human resources in various ministries. A comprehensive review and rationalisation of autonomous bodies is underway, he informs.

The message seems to be favouring automation and less job openings in the Central government services in future. While one can only appreciate the government's intention to provide quicker, transparent and efficient services to its citizens, reduction of human resources need not always achieve that goal. In some cases, even replenishment of human resources could be the need of the hour. 


The Central government is already functioning with less number of employees than what is supposed to be its sanctioned strength.

Of the total sanctioned posts of 37.16 lakh in various Central government services, over six lakh remain vacant today. A huge majority, 5.3 lakh vacancies, are at the clerical and support staff level. There are over 50,000 vacancies among Group B level positions and close to 18,000 at the Group-A officers' level. A year ago, 4,802 IAS officers were in position against a total sanctioned strength of 6,375.

The Seventh Central Pay Commission, in its report in November 2015, informs that the current sanctioned strength of the Central government is approximately the same as it used to be 10 years ago (37 lakh in 2006). In other words, rationalisation of human resources has been an on-going process because of which the total sanctioned strength of 38.9 lakh in 2014 has come down to 37.16 lakh. The effective employee strength, if one takes out the vacant posts, would be 31 lakh, a figure that is closer to 29.82 lakh of sanctioned strength forty five years ago (in 1971). 

The total number of sanctioned posts was perhaps the highest in 1994 (41.76 lakh) as India's economic liberalisaiton during that period saw disinvestments in sectors like telecom and resultant reduction in government jobs in the following years. 

There are more reasons to believe that we may not be able to do away with too many posts immediately. In a submission before the Pay Commission, the Joint Consultative Machinery (JCM)-Staff Side had pointed out that contrary to the common perception, 88 per cent of Central government employees are either industrial or operational staff or not administrative staff. It also points to the increasing trend of outsourcing human resources through contracts, another reason, perhaps, for less-optimal performance. 

Finally, this is not the first time BJP government is attempting to downsize the number of Central government employees. The first NDA government under A.B. Vajpayee had brought in a plan to optimise (not rationalise) the recruitment to Central government jobs in 2001. The government wanted to bring in 10 per cent reduction in total sanctioned strength in a phased manner over a period of time. As per the "Optimisation Scheme", all ministries and departments were mandated to prepare the Annual Direct Recruitment Plan for each year in order to prioritise the fresh intake of manpower. It continued for five years, and was extended for three more years, even after the change of regime at the Centre. 

It was the Sixth Central Pay Commission which recommended the scrapping of the scheme as it felt that while "multiskilling of the government employees would increase their operational efficiency while simultaneously optimizing the staff strength", a blanket ban on filling up of vacant posts across the board can impact effective functioning of the government.

While appreciating the government's intend to right size its human resources given the changes in the work process due to technology and consequent reduction of layers, the Commission suggested more flexibility for effective service delivery. "Care has to be taken that administrative delivery structures do not become hollow or thin in critical areas", it had stated. 

By explicitly announcing the government's decision to revise the pay structure of the Central government employees on the basis of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendation, Jaitley has committed to spend more on salaries. However, it should not result in the finance minister ignoring the warning given by the Sixth Pay Commission. 

Rationalisation of human resources is good, if it is purely to improve governance and efficiency. Cutting jobs with the sole objective of reducing the salary burden may not be advisable.

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