If the government wants its employees to feel motivated, the salaries will have to be made attractive.
As civil services probationers, when we joined the training academy in 1982, our take home salary was a lordly Rs 1,100. After deducting the mess, washing/ironing, newspaper, telephone and other charges, the amount in hand used to be significantly dented.
Some of us bachelors, who were given to drinking and eating out regularly (mostly because the mess used to close by the time we called it a day), saw their salary not only evaporate but move into the red. My father sent me a monthly pocket money of Rs 500 that helped me keep body and soul together.
When we were airlifted to Assam in 1983 for election duty at the height of the anti-immigrant movement, when all local government officers had refused to conduct the elections, the carrot that the government dangled before us was a month's salary as bonus.
Not that we had a choice to refuse the conscription, but the sweetener that was promised to us was most welcome. Some of us managed to retire our debts.
Of course, the cost of living was much lower those days. A glass of cold water from the roadside water vendor cost only five paise. The price of gold (10g) was about Rs 1,650.
But the salary nevertheless was ridiculously low. But hey, we had, of our own volition and against stiff competition, joined the civil services; so who were we to complain?
The salary saw a jump when we were confirmed and posted. But life was Spartan; frugality the norm, and simple living and high thinking the credo. We had joined up to serve the nation with our eyes open and such privations were the price of public service.
Staying in the government house at a token licence fee, free access to medical facilities and, most importantly, the prestige associated with the job, mitigated the financial discomfiture somewhat.
In many places, however, there was no government housing available and officers had to stay in rented premises; these didn't come cheap.
Some officers whose spouses also worked led life with less financial strain. My wife worked in the private sector, with a much higher salary than mine, so things were relatively manageable.
Till the children came. Then their schooling. And other responsibilities. Making ends meet was a frustrating exercise and there were times when there was literally no money at the end of the month.
Adding to the exasperation was the huge gulf between us and our batch mates from school and college who, rather than the UPSC, headed towards management schools.
Even factoring in the perks and status, the chasm was unconscionably too wide. It was leading to demoralisation; some officers were succumbing to temptation. It did not bode well.
It wasn't always like this. At the time of Independence, the salaries and perks of government servants were attractive, allowing them to lead a life of comfort, and ensuring honesty and integrity.
With the advent of socialism, salaries failed to keep pace with growing needs. The successive pay commissions only did a tinkering job.
Then the Fifth Pay Commission did the right thing in redressing this issue. There were reasonable hikes recommended which the government accepted. Things became slightly less uncomfortable.
Ten years later, the Sixth Pay Commission took the matter forward, and taking into account various factors including the need to attract the best talent, recommended a 20 per cent hike, which the government doubled while implementing it in 2008. Life became a tad easier and officers became sufficiently motivated to carry out their duties with enthusiasm.
However, the comparative salaries continued to be woefully out of whack. The basic salary of a cabinet secretary - the highest ranking bureaucrat - was only Rs 90,000.
I recall when I was the CVO of a PSU which had 6,000 employees and four plants across the country, the CMD was drawing less than a lakh a month. A similar position in the same industry in the private sector would have fetched him multiple times more.
It is in this context that the government's acceptance of the Seventh Pay Commission's recommendations needs to be understood.
An impression abounds that the government has been generous in doling out largesse. The cabinet approved a 23.55 per cent increase in salaries, allowances and pension of central government employees and pensioners, and a 14.27 per cent increase in basic pay for central government employees - the lowest in 70 years. Except for an annual modest increase, the new emoluments will continue for the next ten years.
The minimum entry level pay has been raised to Rs 18,000 per month from the current Rs 7,000. It looks huge at 150 per cent plus but actually is not.
Till now, the salary of Rs 7,000 translated to Rs 15,750 as salary plus DA. The pay will now be Rs 18,000 (DA will become zero); hence the increase is only of Rs 2,250 or nearly 14.28 per cent.
The maximum pay, drawn by the cabinet secretary, has been fixed at Rs 2.5 lakh per month. For the secretaries it has been fixed at Rs 2.25 lakh as against Rs 80,000 currently.
Starting salary of a freshly recruited Class 1 officer would be Rs 56,100.
Are the hikes reasonable? With the explosion in the cost of education, entertainment, hospitality, fuel, and other amenities, and considering the economic growth and the rise in levels of aspiration, the hikes are inadequate.
The worst sufferers are the pensioners, especially the recipients of family pension - widows of government servants. No wonder the 33 lakh comprising government staff is unhappy and has threatened to go on strike from July 11.
Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, had made a rather uncharitable comment about peanuts and monkeys in the context of his country.
India is a glorious exception and the best and the brightest join the civil services. But if the government wants to continue to attract and retain the best talent to the civil services, it must allow the employees to live a life of dignity and self-respect.
If it wants them to feel motivated and enthused, the salaries will have to be made attractive. Freedom from financial worry is the way to go. Daily