The Indian bureaucracy is notorious for inventing outrageous ways of self-aggrandisement. However, nothing demonstrates its unbridled audacity for disregarding all civilised norms of probity than the disreputable Non Functional Upgrade (NFU) scheme. One must doff one’s hat to the ingenuity of the bureaucracy to loot the nation. Simultaneously, the political leadership needs to be pitied for a total lack of spine to check this blatant delinquency. Bureaucracy rules the roost.
The Sixth Central Pay Commission, in its March 2008 report, recommended introduction of NFU to reward civil servants of 49 ‘Organized Central Group A Civil Services’ with automatic time-bound pay promotions till the Higher Administrative Grade. Subsequently, it was made applicable to the IPS and the Indian Forest Service (IFoS). Its stated purpose is to “alleviate stagnation in the civil services”.
Opinion in the Seventh Central Pay Commission was divided. The Chairman felt the NFU should continue because it had “existed for the last 10 years” while two distinguished members faulted its basic premise and recommended its total withdrawal. The pusillanimous government decided to continue with NFU.
NFU implies that whenever any IAS officer of a particular batch is promoted to a specific grade pay in pay bands PB-3 or PB-4, grant of higher pay scale on non-functional basis should be granted to the officers belonging to batches of ‘Organized Central Group A Civil Services’ senior by two years.
For better understanding, let us take an actual case. On 22 August 2016, the first officer of the 1999 batch of IAS was appointed as Joint Secretary in the Centre. It resulted in simultaneous upgradation of all officers of the 1999 batch of IAS and the 1997 batch of 49 ‘Organized Central Group A Civil Services’ (along with IPS and IFoS) to joint secretary grade on non-functional basis. Consequently, all of them started earning pay of joint secretary from the said date, even while continuing to perform functions of junior appointments.
The NFU is by far the most blatant loot by the officialdom anywhere in the world. There is no international precedent for such a scheme. It is a malady of epidemic proportions and has the potential of hollowing out all organs of the state. The domino effect is already discernible. Initially, it was meant only for 49 ‘Organized Central Group A Civil Services’. The IPS and IFoS were soon added.
In Sep. 2015, the Delhi High Court declared the Central Armed Police Forces as organised services, thereby entitling them to the NFU. In its Dec. 2016 verdict, the principal bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in New Delhi allowed a petition by the armed forces demanding the NFU, thereby meeting their long-standing demand.
Right to equality of status and opportunity is enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution. Article 16 (1) is more specific and states: “There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State”. Thus, it will be difficult to deny the NFU to other government employees. The demand is already being raised by the unorganised Group ‘A’ Services, Group ‘B’ Services and Group ‘C’ Services. If alleviation of stagnation is the sole justification for NFU, their case is far stronger as they have fewer opportunities for advancement. It will not be long before State government employees demand similar dispensation. The future is fraught with turmoil.
The NFU suffers from serious fundamental infirmities. The promotions are independent of all administrative imperatives like organisational structure, availability of vacancies, job responsibility, span of control and challenges of decision-making.
It delinks promotions from career progression, thereby completely abolishing the merit-based selection system. With assured promotions, there is no incentive to excel in work. It is a fundamental principle that financial remunerations must relate to the responsibility being undertaken. How can an official performing the duties of joint secretary be given the pay scale of an additional secretary? It is totally absurd.
By linking promotions to progression in IAS, it makes an untenable attempt to equate all services. In addition, it damages the structural edifice of all services. Through promotions to entire batches, it bloats the central services and makes them cylindrical in nature.
Worse, as pay scales decide parity in government services, the NFU has undermined the status of the defence forces with disastrous effect on command and control. In mixed organisations, citing NFU pay scales, most civilian officials refuse to obey their senior service officers.
Selection for higher levels needs to be merit-based, not seniority-based. The NFU negates this. In case stagnation is a problem, the right way to solve it is through cadre-review and not en masse promotions. Senior level positions and pay scales should not be available to everybody as a matter of course. In no other country can a employee expect pay of a senior position while performing functions of a junior position.
It is symptomatic of the bureaucracy’s self-serving arrogance and total disregard to basic norms of ethics and principles. As it rewards mediocrity and encourages non-performance, it has the potential to play havoc with financial prudence, organisational efficiency and responsible governance.
It is naive to expect the bureaucracy to shed the NFU voluntarily or the political leadership to crack the whip. The honourable Supreme Court of the country is the only hope to stop this shameful loot of the national exchequer. As the NFU is ‘malum in se’ (bad in law), it is an ideal case for being taken up ‘suo moto’ by the top court.
Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman
A decorated veteran and expert in defence procurement procedures