The Union Cabinet approved the implementation of Seventh Pay Commission recommendations yesterday. The Commission was tasked with reviewing and proposing changes to the pay, pension and efficiency of government employees. These recommendations will apply to 33 lakh central government employees, in addition to 14 lakh armed forces personnel and 52 lakh pensioners. This will take effect from January 1, 2016. Pay, Allowances and Pension of central government employees In relation to an employee, the Commission proposed to increase (i) the minimum salary to Rs 18,000 per month, and (ii) the maximum salary to Rs 2,50,000 per month. It also recommended moving away from the existing system of pay bands and grade pay, which is used to determine an employee’s salary. Instead, it proposed a new pay matrix which will take into account the hierarchy of employees, and their pay progression during the course of employment. The Commission also suggested that this matrix should be reviewed periodically, with a frequency of less than 10 years. The Pay Commission also suggested a linkage between performance and remuneration of an employee. For this, it proposed the introduction of performance related pay which will be based on an annual appraisal of the employee. In addition, it recommended that annual increments of an employee should be withheld, if he is unable to meet the benchmark required for regular promotion or career progression. The Commission also sought to abolish or merge some of the allowances that may be given to employees by various government departments. It suggested that, of the 196 allowances that exist, 52 should be abolished and 36 should either be merged under existing heads, or be included under proposed allowances. Some of these allowances involved payment of a meagre amount of close to Rs 100 per month. In addition, the rates of House Rent Allowance (HRA) were revised. The Commission proposed a methodology to increase the HRA rates every time the Dearness Allowance given to employees increased to 50% or 100%. Dearness Allowance is given to employees in lieu of increases in the cost of living, on account of inflation. The Commission had also proposed a new methodology for computing pension for pensioners who retired before January 1, 2016. This is aimed at bringing parity between past and current pensioners. As part of the new methodology, two options for calculation of pension have been prescribed, and the pensioner may opt for either one. Financial Impact on the government The implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations is expected to cost the government Rs 1,02,100 crore. Of this amount, 72% will be borne by the central government, and 28% by the railways. As a result, the overall expenditure is expected to increase by 23.6%, with a 16% increase in expenses on pay, 63% in allowances and 24% in pension. Addressing the issue of vacancy As of 2014, the central government had a job vacancy of 18.5%.[i] These vacancies may need to be filled or abolished, if required, to reduce redundancy.[ii] It may be noted that the Second Administrative Reforms Commission had observed that reducing the number of government employees is necessary for modern and professional governance. Further, it had expressed concern that the increasing expenditure on salaries of government employees may be at the cost of investment in priority areas such as infrastructure development and poverty alleviation.[iii] Inducting specialised personnel in the government The Second Administrative Reforms Commission had also observed that some senior positions in the central government require specific skill sets (including technical and administrative know-how).[iii] One way of developing these skill-sets is to recruit personnel directly into these departments so that they can over a period of time develop the required skills. For example, personnel from the Central Engineering Service (Roads) may aspire and be qualified to hold senior positions in the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways or a body like the National Highways Authority of India. However, another view is that special skill-sets may be inducted in the government through lateral entry of experts from outside government. This will allow for widening of the pool of candidates and greater competition for these positions.[iii] The Second Administrative Reforms Commission had also recommended that senior positions in the government should be open to all services. The last Pay Commission’s recommendations, in 2008, led to an increased demand in the automobile, consumer products and real estate related sectors. With the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendations expected to take effect from January 1, 2016, their impact on the economy and the consumer market will become known in due course of time. [i] Report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission, Ministry of Finance, 2015 http://finmin.nic.in/7cpc/7cpc_report_eng.pdf. [ii] “Union govt has 729,000 vacancies: report”, Live Mint, November 30, 2015, http://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/X6U6xFe5oR2pW4simMmAhK/Union-govt-has-729000-vacancies-report.html. [iii] 10th and 13th Reports of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, 2008 and 2009.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.