The Seventh Pay Commission recommends an additional annual benefit of Rs 1 lakh crore for salaried employees and pensioners. Where does it leave the hapless farmer?
Agriculture, India’s largest private sector activity, is unremunerative and extremely risky. A person working on the farm earns, on an average, ₹3,000 a month. Farmers constantly coping with the vagaries of weather and price fluctuations never retire till they are bedridden or dead because they lack alternate opportunities.
Neither do farmers want their children to farm, nor do the youngsters want to farm. People no longer want to marry their daughters to farmers and it is not difficult to figure out why the most coveted occupation for India’s rural masses today is a secure government job. A few months ago, 23 lakhs applied for 368 peon posts in Uttar Pradesh. The abject distress in agriculture is evident in the numbers.
All this even before the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations were announced last week. Going by its recommendations, one lakh salaried employees and pensioners will reportedly receive additional annual benefits of ₹100,000 crore, over and above what they are already receiving. This amounts to an additional Rs ₹100,000 per person per year.
Farmers have been bewildered by the largesse that plutocrats have appropriated for themselves. If all state governments were to implement the recommendations, the total additional expenditure to the exchequer would reach a staggering ₹300,000 crore and India would be heading the Greece way. Accepting the recommendations will mean that a teacher who joined at a salary of ₹850 a month in 1980 will draw ₹96,700 in 2016; a 113-fold rise in 35 years. Also, on retirement, his monthly pension will be ₹46,000.
A rural co-operative bank employee who joined in 1976 at a salary of ₹720 a month will soon be retiring. His last drawn salary will be ₹1,30,000 a month; a 180-fold rise in 40 years. Nowhere on earth does one get such a bounty. A retiring lieutenant general commissioned on a salary of ₹450 in the early 1970s would draw a salary of about ₹1,75,000 today, and will retire with a monthly pension of ₹85,000. No wonder tens of thousands of rural teens are lining up in the recruitment centres across the country and, at times, being lathi-charged to disperse the swell.
The central government minimum wages are being increased by 260 per cent from ₹7,000 to ₹Rs 18,000 a month. An average marginal farmer would not even dream of such sums. The average marginal farmer would have to earn ₹1,40,000 per acre to earn an equivalent amount to the basic minimum wage, without the perks that go with the central government jobs.
Parents of applicants to government jobs bribe politicians. A bribe is an investment that the employees supposedly recoup through corruption in their long fruitful careers. Rather than blame the system for being corrupt, these parents of applicants feel fortunate to have access to a politician who will accept money in return for a guaranteed appointment letter. Politicians find more ways to benefit from the opportunity. The financially tottering Punjab government, reeling under a terminal backlash induced by large-scale farm distress, has sought to deflect mass frustration by announcing the sop of 1,13,000 new jobs.
To even suggest that the pay commission’s recommendations would serve as a stimulus to fuel consumption by doling out cash to the top one per cent in India, is foolish. ₹100,000 crore can achieve a lot. The ₹65,000 crore given by way of fertiliser subsidy is criticised on a regular basis but that figure pales in comparison with the ₹100,000 crore recommended by the pay commission. Farmers are constantly reminded of the one-time ₹55,000 crore in farm loan waiver.
The amount could generate ₹375 crore person-days of work annually under the MGNREGA. It is presumed difficult for a government to allocate resources to the farm sector because of competing demands. What people in power forget is the future cost of grappling with the consequences of the exodus of farmers, migrating to urban centres. Had they understood, they would have worked to keep farmers happy on farms, as the far more economical way forward.
A moratorium on wage hikes for 10 years is a better strategy because expenditure must deliver equity in society. Being at the bottom of the socioeconomic order is a horrifying feeling. Equitable growth is not a pipe dream but increasing inequity is a nightmare that the salaried classes have conjured up and the whirlwind is about to hit home.