Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Let's work out the 'cost to country' of our babus

An unseasonal Santa Claus in the guise of the Sixth Pay Commission has handed out goodies to the tune of Rs 12,500 crore for this financial year (plus Rs 18,060 crore for arrears) to 45,000 Central government employees, some of whose salaries will go up three times. If the Centre gives, can the states be far behind?

Certainly not. Under pressure from state government employees, states too will have to substantially jack up salaries, never mind that the aggregate states' budgetary deficit in 2004 was already a humongous Rs 1,16,000 crore.

The Pay Commission's largesse is in stark contrast with export-related private sector industries, like IT, which in the face of a US recession (and a domestic slowdown in terms of infrastructure and tight monetary policy) have had to pare down pay and personnel to keep themselves in business.

There is no denying that the private sector, by and large, still pays far more handsomely than the government. However, in order to be economically viable, the private sector must ensure that each employee brings more to the company than that employee takes out. Private sector employees have to perform or get the push.

Despite the proposed performance related incentive scheme (PRIS), our babus are far less accountable. Our babus' 'performance' is not assessed by the public — whom they supposedly serve, but in reality routinely stymie — but by another member of the self-serving super-scheduled tribe/caste known as babudom .

Private sector employees are subject to an implacable assessment based on CTC (cost to company). The moment an employee's CTC outweighs the benefits the company derives from that employee, the employee is out. CTC takes into account everything from the employee's pay and perks, to the paper clips and office stationery that the employee may be pinching for personal use.

If we want to make our babudom truly accountable, the public sector should also be made to adopt the CTC formula — cost to country. In the case of babus, CTC would include not just pay, DA, subsidised housing, etc, but also, and far more importantly, the costs incurred by the delays and time-overruns caused by bureaucratic inertia or inefficiency.

Several years ago, a guesstimate exercise suggested that if the delays in all the country's public sector projects were to be added up, they'd total more than 500 years. Which means that, theoretically, we should all be living at the time of the emperor Akbar, or thereabouts. The fact that we are not might be attributed to the get-up-and-go of private enterprise. And, of course, to the efforts, against all odds, of the relatively few, dedicated, hard-working and incorruptible public servants the country can be proud of, and who are, sadly, the exceptions that prove the misrule.

The extent of this misrule — the result of an unholy nexus between an exploitative political class that patronises sycophancy and a complaisant bureaucracy — can be gauged by the fact that of a total of 890 Central infrastructure projects (power, railways, petroleum), 267 are currently running between two months and 16 years behind schedule, at an estimated delay-cost to the exchequer (apart from the budgeted cost) of Rs 20,948.69 crore.

While many of these delays can be attributed to problems like shortage of funds, land acquisitions, controversies and law and order issues, ultimately most of these bottlenecks can be traced back to a lack of anticipatory thinking and forward planning on the part of the administration.

NGOs and local self-help groups, using the Right to Information Act, have been conducting 'social audits' of the national rural employment guarantee scheme and in many districts have stemmed the corruption and misuse that has been rampant in the programme.

Perhaps what we need now is a larger 'social audit' of our babudom — not just to affix blame, but, equally importantly, to identify and reward praiseworthy performance, using the cost to country rubric. The only problem is that the babu audit would be run by — who else? — babus. With the result that it might end up costing the country too much to figure out just how much our babus are costing the country.

By Jug Suraiya


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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