The Seventh Pay Commission, headed by justice A.K. Mathur, has sought a one-month extension from the finance ministry and is preparing to submit its report by the end of September. The commission is unlikely to recommend the lowering of the retirement age as rumoured earlier or push for lateral entry and performance-based pay.
The commission, set up once in every 10 years to review pay, allowances and other benefits for central government employees, was appointed by the previous government on 28 February 2014 and was asked to submit its report in 18 months, which falls on 31 August.
“There are some data points that are missing, which we hope to get by this month end. We are trying to submit the report by 20 September,” an official of the commission said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Sixth Pay Commission had submitted its report a little ahead of its deadline on 24 March 2008. The revised pay scales were implemented retrospectively starting 1 January 2006, while recommendations relating to allowances were implemented prospectively.
The finance ministry apprehends that salary and pension expenditure will both rise by around 16% in 2016-17 as a result of the implementation of the Pay Commission recommendations. This may allow capital expenditure to grow by no more than 8% during the year, leaving little room to aggressively push for an infrastructure build-up.
“The Pay Commission impact may have to be absorbed in 2016-17. The phase of consolidation, extended by one year, will also be spanning out in this period. Thus, in the medium-term framework, the fiscal position will continue to be stressed,” the finance ministry said in the 2015-16 budget presented in February.
The official cited earlier said the Pay Commission report needs to be effective from 1 January 2016, or by April 2016 at the latest.
“It will be the government’s prerogative when to implement it. But beyond 1 January 2016, there will be arrears. But then, the government will be subject to criticism. Earlier, they had hidden behind Pay Commissions giving late reports,” he added.
However, the official said the commission is likely to maintain the status quo on the retirement age of central government employees, currently 60 years. “We are not going to either recommend lowering or raising the retirement age. If we lower the age limit, the pension burden will bust the government’s medium-term fiscal targets,” he added.
Asked whether government has sent any directives to the commission on the kind of hike it can afford, the official said the message it has got broadly is to keep the hikes low. “Merge the basic with dearness allowance, don’t stretch it beyond—that is the message. But that is a good message for the government to send. But there is no pressure otherwise. In fact, there is a lot of cooperation,” he said.
The official said merging basic pay with dearness allowance, which is mandatory, would itself mean a 155% rise for central government employees. “We have to decide how much to give above that. So, it will look good if you compare basic to basic,” he added.
On whether the commission will recommend performance-based pay bands, he said it will make some feasible recommendations, though he couldn’t guess if the government would accept them. The Sixth Pay Commission had also recommended performance-based pay revisions, but the government is yet to implement them.
“Eighty-eight percent of central government employees are industrial and non-industrial workers working with railways, post, paramilitary and army. So, performance-based pay revision is the wrong instrument for them. Biggest growth in government services is in paramilitary forces, where staffs in Central Reserve Police Force and Central Industrial Security Force have gone up by 75-80% in the last 10 years. By the time we have dealt with them, the bureaucracy is an afterthought. It does not affect anything,” he added.
D.K. Joshi, chief economist at rating agency Crisil Ltd, said the government is expected to be restrained in its pay hikes this time around, given the low inflation level and tepid growth momentum. “The last two Pay Commissions had significantly bumped up demand and fiscal deficit. But the government is unlikely to be populist this time. It has already showed restraint in the hike in minimum support prices for farmers,” he said.
However, Joshi said the Pay Commission will have a permanent income effect as well as a one-time impact through the payment of arrears, which will lead to increase in demand for consumer durables.