A government is only as good as its servants. If the ever-climbing public expectations of the government are to be fulfilled, a well-paid work force drawn from the country’s most talented brains and hands is a must. None will therefore grudge government employees their latest salary hike on the basis of the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission. For the five million employees who have had to wait for a decade for the wage revision, the decision of the Union Cabinet on a minimum 21 per cent increase in pay should serve as a morale booster. In the years between the Fifth and Sixth Pay Commissions, top level salaries in the private sector far outstripped those in the government and public sectors. The present hike will do no more than narrow the gap, which has been widening rapidly in the last few years in keeping with the buoyancy in the economy. However, comparisons with the private sector have also been used to make out that the pay panel’s recommendations for those on the lower rungs are ‘too generous’ and way above the pay structures prevailing in the open job market. Forgotten in this argument is the fact that the private sector is notorious for poor pay structures at the lower levels. The government ought to be an ideal employer and the open job market is not always the model to follow. Further, spiralling inflation, which the government has been unable to contain, has deflated, to an extent, the euphoria the pay increases have generated.

While the Fifth Central Pay Commission linked the pay hike to a downsizing of the government, the Sixth has laid more emphasis on bringing about greater accountability and introducing performance-related incentives. Downsizing was always going to be difficult to implement, and indeed the challenge of effective deployment of manpower remains. The recommendations on public service accountability and performance criteria must be followed through to improve governmental efficiency and to erase the stereotype of the Indian bureaucracy as a gluttonous, giant sloth. In the last decade, State governments struggled to implement Central pay scales for their employees. Now the growth rate and increased revenues should ease the pressure on governments in meeting the enhanced pay bill. Finding the Rs.22,100 crore in 2008-09 required to meet the pay rise is the relatively easy part. Ensuring high morale among government employees and providing for efficient public service delivery is the real challenge. The salary hike is a necessary but insufficient condition for bringing about a better public grievance redress and service delivery mechanism.