The Eleventh Pay Revision Commission (PRC), in the second part of its report submitted to the government, has made politically tricky recommendations including an increase in pension age from 56 to 57, and the complete abrogation of the die-in-harness scheme under which a dependent of a government employee gets a government job if the employee dies while in service. The PRC report has also given a thumbs down for out of turn promotions for sportsmen in service.
The second part of the report, its parts six and seven, were submitted to the government on September 2. Part VI contains recommendations on revision of salary and pension of the employees in grant-in-aid institutions, and Part VII contains recommendations on administrative efficiency, social accountability, people friendliness and gender issues. The first part was submitted on January 29 this year.
Retirement as a money saver
The three-member PRC, chaired by retired bureaucrat K V Mohandas, has recommended enhancement of the retirement age by one year, to 57. It is recommended as a short-term relief measure in these pandemic times.
If upped to 57, it would defer the disbursement of pensionary benefits amounting to around Rs 4000 crore a year, the Commission has said. This, it said, would help the government temporarily to tide over its resource constraints due to COVID-19 pandemic. The saved money, the commission says, could be used for social security interventions.
Pros and cons
The PRC cites two major advantages of an increase in pension age. One, the employees, at 56, would have gained considerable experience by that time, and the services of a majority of them, especially those in senior positions, would be very valuable. Two, the bulk payment of terminal benefits like gratuity, pension commutation and leave surrender can be deferred in the initial period.
The PRC acknowledges problems, too. One, the intake of young persons will be delayed in the initial period. Two, higher recurring liability on pension as the pay and consequently pension will be higher with a higher retirement age.
Mani wins, Isaac loses
Raising the pension age has always been a sensitive issue in Kerala. It has been nearly a decade since pension age was last raised. This was done in 2012 when UDF was in power. The then finance minister K M Mani, in his 2012-13 Budget, had pushed retirement age from 55 to 56.
The Opposition LDF, especially its youth organisations, had then mounted vehement protests. But this did not prevent T M Thomas Isaac to recommend a further increase when the LDF came to power in 2016, not just by a year but by two years, from 56 to 58. He had forwarded the Finance Department's note asking that the retirement age be fixed at 58 to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
The finance department had then argued that if the pension was not raised, the government would have to pay retirement benefits to 30,000-odd employees retiring in 2017 plunging it into a severe fiscal crisis. Considering the political implications of the move, the Chief Minister had then vetoed it.
It is not clear whether the new LDF government would accept the PRC's recommendation.
Compassion breeds inefficiency
Another recommendation, which could have social ramifications, is the PRC's proposal to do away with compassionate appointments (die-in-harness scheme) and replace it with improved financial benefits to the families of employees who die while in service. Reason: It is a violation of the spirit of the Constitution, breeds inefficiency, and frustrates the meritorious. Moreover, the PRC notes that public employment cannot be inherited.
It is estimated that 747 employees of the Kerala Government unfortunately died in the year 2018, 743 in 2019 and 534 in 2020. According to the PRC, the government has an obligation to support the families financially.
Reward sportsmen, don't promote
The PRC is also against giving promotions to sports persons who achieve success in the sporting field while in service. It wants such achievements to be rewarded in the form of lump sum cash awards or additional increment or both.
According to the PRC, out of turn promotions could dampen the spirit of the other officers in the Department and was not desirable. It says that exceptions could be granted when there are extraordinary feats like that of P R Sreejesh in the Tokyo Olympics.
Other major recommendations
• Adopt a five-day week system for the government offices. To make up, office timings could be refixed as 9.30am to 5.30pm (now, it is 10am to 5pm with a 45-minute break in between.)
• Limit the number of days of casual leave to 12 per year
• Each department should identify the jobs that may be done from home, so that some staff could be allowed to work from home for specified periods without sacrificing the quantity and quality of the output.
• Adopt and identify measures to enhance the credibility and efficiency of the Public Service Commission.
• Two-thirds of the posts in Kerala Administrative Services (KAS) should be filled up by open direct recruitment from the next selection onwards. The balance one-third may be by selection from among government employees, gazetted or non-gazetted, through an examination which is different from that for the direct recruits. And the quota for Government employees may be abolished after five years.
• Put an immediate stop to the recruitment to the posts of Typists/Computer Assistants and support staff like Office Attendants. Future recruitment made only after a review of the skill sets required for the department/ organisation.
• Conduct tests, preferably by the PSC or even by an outside agency, for promotion from Subordinate Service to State Service and for promotion to higher posts in State Service.
• End all relaxations related to the clearing of the obligatory departmental tests. Persons who do not appear for the departmental tests or consistently fail in tests must be made to stagnate.
• 20% of the posts reserved for OBCs may be reserved for the economically weaker sections (EWS) belonging to these communities.
• Create a statutory Kerala Recruitment Board for Private Schools and Colleges.
• Revamp the system of recruitment to posts in private schools and colleges for which the salaries are paid by the government.
• Establish an institution of Ombudsman for educational appointments, through a legislation.