[Editorial] Public Services – The Need for Right-Sized Government, Challenges with Contractual Employment

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, an Indian citizen committed suicide every hour in 2019 as a result of joblessness, poverty, or bankruptcy. According to the Union government in the Rajya Sabha in February this year, approximately 25,000 Indians committed suicide between 2018 and 2020.

Several unemployed people in India resort to protests — thousands of people burned railway coaches in January 2022 over alleged flaws in the railways’ recruitment process, and more recently, protests over the Agnipath scheme occurred in India.

Quick revision mind map

The instability in government services

  • The situation is not much better for those working in government. For example, Haryana terminated the services of over 2,000 contractual health workers hired during the pandemic in May 2022.

Problems related to

The issue is twofold:

  • Government vacancies are not being filled at a sufficient rate.
  • In July 2021, there were over 60 lakh vacancies in the government at all levels.
  • The government has attempted to push for the recruitment of 10 lakh people in a mission mode over the course of 1.5 years. However, this would be insufficient given the scope of the problem. On this front, we need to be more ambitious.
  • Where vacancies are filled, they are heavily skewed toward contractual positions.
  • According to the Indian Staffing Industry Research 2014 report, approximately 43 per cent of government employees (about 12.3 million) had non-permanent or contractual jobs in 2014, with approximately 6.9 million working in key flagship welfare schemes (Anganwadi workers, for example) with low wages.
  • By 2018, the proportion of government employees in this category had risen to 59%.
  • Contractual (and non-permanent) employees increased from 19 per cent to 37 per cent in Central Public Sector Enterprises in March 2020, while permanent employees decreased by 25 per cent.
  • In March 2020, contractual employees made up more than 81 per cent of ONGC’s workforce.

Other issues

Public ethos:

  • The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that a contractual employee for a government department was not a government servant.
  • Will a public ethos exist if most government employees have contractual terms?

The way forward

Bolster public services:

  • Instead of increasing contractual employment, we should strive to improve public services.
  • Expanding public service provisioning will result in the creation of high-quality jobs and skilled labour, providing us with social stability.
  • A push to improve public health would result in the creation of societal assets.
  • For instance, a push for a universal basic services programme with public healthcare would complement insurance-based models such as Ayushman Bharat. Such spending, on the other hand, will eventually lead to an increase in consumer demand and have significant multiplier effects, improving productivity and quality of life in India’s cities and villages.

Attract talent to the government:

  • Government jobs have lost their shine.
  • We need to attract talent to the government. Rather than downsizing or simply avoiding the cost of pensions and benefits, one should right-size government.

Administrative Reforms Commission recommendations:

  • The Administrative Reforms Commission’s proposed reforms should be our first step.
  • This is the time to build capacity for an efficient civil service capable of meeting today’s challenges, such as providing a corrupt-free welfare system, operating a modern economy, and providing increasingly better public goods.

Practice Question for Mains

  1. Rather than downsizing or simply avoiding the cost of pensions and benefits, one should right-size government. Critically examine. (15 Marks, 250 Words).
Referred Sources

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