These are times when the earlier attraction of government jobs has largely been replaced by attraction for jobs in the corporate sector. There was also a time when jobs of officers in the armed forces had a great attraction for a lot of people. Even this is fast fading out. The most sought after careers in the country are no longer selection to the Central services like the IAS, the IPS, the IAAS, the Revenue Service and so on. That privileged segment of our society that used to encourage their progeny to get into the Central services, is far happier to find the next generation getting into far more lucrative jobs in the corporate sector. Perhaps the only exception among the Central services is the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). People are still interested in the Foreign Service because of the postings abroad in glamorous capitals all over the world. However, many young incumbents in the IFS tend to overlook the fact that not everyone gets posted to London, Paris, Rome, Washington DC, Tokyo or Brussels. One needs godfathers in the IFS to wangle the coveted postings. Without godfathers one can spend years as a third secretary in Timbuktu or even less glamorous places.
Quite obviously, lucrative jobs calling for degrees in Management are available only in those States of India that are fairly well industrialized. In a State like Assam that has had practically zero industrial growth in the last three decades, one cannot expect such jobs in the corporate sector unless one is willing to go out of the State and is able to get such jobs in other States on sheer merit. I am not suggesting that this has not happened in some rare cases. But the cases are so rare as to invite the comment about the exception proving the rule.
So what is the situation for those from Assam who decide to remain in the State and look for jobs right here? They are all in the unenviable position of having to look for government jobs that certainly do not provide any kind of job satisfaction or challenge. However, for a lot of people who are unwilling to face competition or to accept challenges outside the State, a government job in the State is perhaps just what the doctor ordered. Even so, one cannot help wondering what attraction government jobs can possibly hold for anyone who is qualified and reasonably well educated. As things are in Assam, there are three or four distinct attractions the government jobs still hold for a lot of people. The first is that most government jobs in Assam can be bought. So even if one is short of merit or the requisite qualifications, it is generally possible to buy a job. I am flabbergasted to learn that even the job of a fourth grade employee in the State government goes for over a lakh of rupees. If one is thinking of jobs in the lower echelons of the bureaucracy in the form of State Civil Service jobs, the going rate is apparently closer to a million rupees. Even so, there is a distinct advantage. The prevailing system opens up opportunities for the less meritorious. In fact, they have a clear advantage over people with merit who do not also have the requisite funds or the complete lack of morals to buy their jobs in a system which pretends that these jobs are actually given on merit. It is important to realize that the principle of merit has virtually gone out of the window in our present dispensation. Take the case of West Bengal, for instance. During the long years of Marxist rule West Bengal actually decided to scuttle merit and to preserve jobs only for those without merit. In a recent article Ashok Mitra lamented the years during which West Bengal rejected merit and “worshipped the worst”. He says the administrative service of West Bengal would have been much better if the principle of merit had not been jettisoned altogether.
The other attraction of government jobs even today is that all government jobs come with a pension. What is interesting is that regardless of the output of work of government officers of the State, State government employees in Assam have managed to wangle pay-scales that are on a par with the pay-scales of Central government employees. The other attractive thing that happens to government employees is that the government sets up pay commissions far more frequently than it used to do in the 1960s and 1970s. The result is that pay-scales for government employees keep increasing every few years especially just before the general elections. One must not overlook the fact that revised pay-scales are worked out on the basis of consumer price indices and not wholesale price indices. As a consequence, with every revision of pay scales, the pensions of government employees also keep going up. Therefore, government employees generally end up getting pensions that are well in excess of their total earlier salaries even many years after their retirement. This is a major attraction that government jobs still have for a lot of people. We have a situation where people can buy jobs without having to do any work at all and then enjoy a pension greater than the mid-career salary drawn. What more could one ask at the end of a career that involved little work and much rest thereafter? Government employees rarely stop to think that their pension contributions are calculated by professionals known as actuaries—the same people who also calculate the insurance premiums for people who have insurance policies. Government employees do not always get the best deals for their pensions because these actuaries are instructed to be abundantly cautious about how they plan the deployment of pension funds. I know any number of professionals (who do not have anybody to provide them pensions in their old age) who make their own pension plans. Most of them do a far better job of it for the amounts they invest every month.
The third attraction is perquisites that go with government jobs. Actually, perquisites that do not go with the job but have been snatched for so long that the bad precedents have begun to be taken for rules are even more attractive. For instance, government rules do not permit a government car and government petrol to be used for dropping an officer’s children at school and bringing them back every day. But this has become standard practice. Nor do the perquisites include official car and fuel for the memsahib’s shopping. But the officer who uses his own car will be laughed and jeered by his peers into conforming with the illegal precedent.
The fourth attraction is the ability to take bribes that comes only with the job. This qualification for sleaze is like the policeman’s uniform. Where is the scope to misuse power and get paid extra for it unless there is the uniform?
The most powerful attraction is that one doesn’t have to work in a government office, and even when one hasn’t worked for years, one doesn’t lose one’s job. One can even take on another job and take salaries for both. As long as the right palms are greased, nothing happens to one’s government job. So all the talk about getting into government service to serve the country or the people is strictly for the birds. Also for the full colour ads that loudly proclaim the development we have achieved when we haven’t achieved anything of the sort. Several years ago, when I was a newspaper editor, I used to tell my sub-editors and reporters that they didn’t have to work like me. After all, I had the dubious reputation of being a workaholic. I told them I would be happy with just six hours of solid work. Some found even this too much of work and told me so. I used to tell that I knew about a company in the vicinity where one had much less work to do for a higher salary. There would invariably be eager enquiries about the name of the company. I would tell them it was called Dispur. I would also tell them that it was also the place that created vegetables out of men and women fastest of all—in just about three years.
So three cheers for government jobs—for people who do not want to work but aspire for creature comforts better than what people who work manage to get.