A preferential pay package

Print edition : March 13, 1999

The Government's lopsided perception of what constitutes science and technology becomes evident in the disparity created in the pay structures of various scientific disciplines.

R. RAMACHANDRAN

CERTAIN developments on the Indian science scene, which came in the wake of the Pokhran-II nuclear tests of May 1998 can have serious implications for science and technology in India unless they are countered by the scientific community immediately. The latest of these are the Official Orders issued on February 3 by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Department of Space/Indian Space Research Organisation (DOS/ISRO) sanctioning across-the-board grant of special incentives to their scientists in the form of special pay, salary increments and special allowances for the "role played by them in the development of high technology and systems for strategic applications".

In the context of agitations by various sections of the scientific community - particularly doctors of the premier medical institution, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, scientists of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and those of the different scientific departments - against the implementation of the recommendations of the Fifth Central Pay Commission (V-CPC), which already places the triad of "strategic departments" in a different grade with regard to promotion norms vide a gazette notification of November 1998, this preferential treatment of the three departments based on the dubious perceptions of the greater importance of their work will only polarise the community further. Although the strikes by doctors of the AIIMS and scientists of the ICAR have ended, the issue of salary structure remains contentious.

Irrespective of the position one may take with respect to the nuclear tests, such differential treatment is bound to send wrong signals to the scientific community. The inclusion of DOS/ISRO in this special dispensation of incentive packages might give the impression that the incentives have nothing to do with the nuclear blasts. But, given the timing of the incentives, it would be naive to imagine that the tests had nothing to do with the decision.

After the Government's pronouncements and actions following the tests, such a lopsided perception - that good work in science and technology means developing bombs, missiles, rockets and satellites, and not working on a vaccine, new crop varieties, cost-effective and innovative telecommunications technologies or efficient power transmission systems or building world class telescopes - has gained currency. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee coined the slogan Jai Vigyan during his visit to the Pokhran site. May 11 has been declared "Technology Day" by Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi. Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), has been given a two-year extension in recognition of his pivotal role in the nuclear tests. The Government has honoured all key DRDO and DAE scientists involved in the tests with prestigious awards such as the Padma Vibushan, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri. The fact that the Prime Minister paid special encomiums to nuclear scientists at the Indian Science Congress held in Chennai recently is evidence enough of the misplaced priorities of the Government in the science and technology sector.

All these will have a demoralising effect on scientists working in other disciplines. In fact, even within the DAE there is a growing feeling that the 'Pokhran lobby" enjoys tremendous clout with the Government. Even a dissenting view among scientists with regard to the nuclear tests is not tolerated, as it happened in the case of a scientist of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), an institution under the DAE.

Significantly, these developments are also bound to have an adverse influence on young people who are at the threshold of choosing their scientific career. Indeed, the chief of the training school at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the entry point into the DAE, proclaimed that the stock of the institution had gone up after the Pokhran tests and that there were more applicants seeking admissions to the training school last year than in earlier years.

In the wake of the nuclear tests there has been considerable debate on the increasing "militarisation of Indian science". While that phrase itself is in a sense vague in view of the large number of scientists engaged in defence-related activities, not just nuclear, the actions and tendencies of the Government that seek to give "strategic R&D" a higher status compared to research in areas that are more relevant to society at large, give a concrete meaning to that phrase.

The following are the incentives that have been approved by the Government, which will be met from the budgetary allocations of the respective departments:

1. Effective January 1, 1996, a special pay of Rs.2,000 a month to scientists in the pay scale (as per V-CPC recommendations) of Rs.18,400 to Rs.22,400 (Scientist G) in lieu of a separate higher pay scale, after peer review.

2. Effective January 1, 1996, two additional increments to scientists (recruitees/promotees) in the pay scales of Rs.10,000 to Rs.15,200 (Scientist C); Rs.12,000 to Rs.16,500 (Scientist D); Rs.14,300 to Rs.18,300 (Scientist E) and Rs.16,400 to Rs.20,000 (Scientist F) after their normal pay fixation.

3. Effective financial year 1998-99, a "professional update allowance" of Rs.5,000 per annum for all scientists - that is all the scientists above the Rs.8,000 to Rs.13,500 (Scientist B) scale - to "keep themselves updated" in their respective fields and to "widen their horizon".

These are applicable to all the wings under each of the three departments but, interestingly, not to the autonomous institutions under them. For example, scientists of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) which is under the DAE, or the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), which is under the DOS/ISRO, will not be entitled to these. In principle, the respective governing bodies of these institutions can recommend the incentives to them but it is unlikely to happen in practice. For example, the DAE has already said no.

Complaints in many of these institutions that their status has dropped compared to that of the University Grants Commission, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which come under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), have fallen on deaf ears. The pay scales of all the autonomous institutions have been fixed at V-CPC levels by default. The scientific staff of the premier research institution, the TIFR, made a representation to the Prime Minister in March 1998 on the issue of "parity in salaries and ranks of TIFR scientists vis-a-vis their peers in other premier academic institutions in the country." The Prime Minister has so far not responded.

As pointed out in the representation, major national activities in science and technology such as the atomic energy programme, and the space programme, defence programmes such as AREN and ADGES, and institutions such as the microwave research centre SAMEER, the semi-conductor complex, the National Centre for Software Technology (NCST), and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) have all sprung from activities at the TIFR. And yet the institute has received a raw deal from the DAE, the scientists feel. The exclusion of the institution from the present incentive package will only intensify the agitation there.

Thus, even within the triad the new package is bound to cause resentment because, for example, research done by the bulk of the scientists in a place such as BARC, which gets the benefit of the incentives, may not be very different from that done at the TIFR or the Saha Institute, which does not. In fact, one could argue that the successful completion of even strategic projects is part of their job. That notwithstanding, it is one thing to give special rewards to people engaged in a particular project if an achievement is considered to be significant - as was done in ISRO after successes such as the Satellite Launch Vehicle or the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle - but another to give them across-the-board hikes as has been done now.

Consider the rationale given in the official order sanctioning these incentives for entire departments: "(T)he question of providing incentives in the department has been examined by the Government keeping in view the role played by them in the development of high technology and systems for strategic applications. Taking all relevant factors into account and in order to attract, retain, inspire and motivate scientists to give their best contributions, the President is pleased to sanction...." But the rest of the scientific community is certainly not pleased. A scientist from a leading institute said: "This is tainted money."

It is true that the DAE, the DRDO and ISRO have been losing expertise and skilled manpower, particularly from the middle rungs with five to seven years experience who are crucial to project-based programmes. But so have been other institutions and departments, including laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The AIIMS has been particularly affected in recent times by the flight of doctors of calibre to high-paying private hospitals.

The root cause of the problem lies elsewhere: in the lack of uniformity in pay structures and personnel policies across institutions, the politics of the scientocracy (which has resulted in the differential status of the various departments), and, most important, the gradual erosion of the status of senior professors, directors of national laboratories and top level scientist-cadre officials (advisers) in the scientific departments as compared to the pre-eminence that has been almost surreptitiously bestowed on the civil services after the last two Pay Commissions.

Today a director of a national laboratory under the CSIR has a rank equivalent to that of a Joint Secretary, way below the status equivalent to a vice-chancellor, which was conceived at the time of the Third Central Pay Commission. As a result, the importance of the directors of laboratories and advisers of departments in the decision-making process has been usurped by the bureaucracy comprising officers of the Indian Administrative Services. The seeds of the problem, which were sown during the Fourth Pay Commission, has only been aggravated by the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission.

Viewed in this background, the incentive package in the DRDO, the DAE and DOS/ISRO acquires a somewhat different perspective. In November 1998, the Department of Personnel had rejected the recommendation of the committee of secretaries of the scientific departments to upgrade the pay scale of scientist G/H to make it higher than that of Joint Secretary. Given the differential status that has been accorded to the triad in the implementation of the V-CPC recommendations, their Secretaries would seem to have used the post-Pokhran climate to push through an incentive package for themselves in a bid to restore their superiority, albeit in a notional sense, with the civil services. (The italicised part in incentive No.1 refers to this and implies that the special pay of Rs.2,000 per month would be given to only those who qualify for the same in a peer review.)

This, almost devious, way of resolving the problem for one section of the scientific community alone is only likely to cause further confusion, which already seems to defy any meaningful resolution acceptable to the entire scientific community, including medical and agriculture scientists. It is not difficult to see why this is so if one goes back to the genesis of the problem with the Fourth Pay Commission.

Before 1986 - during the period of the Third Pay Commission - up to the professor's level the salary structure was the same in all academic institutions, including those coming under the MHRD (universities, IITs and the IISc) and the Ministry of Agriculture (ICAR/IARI). The directors of national laboratories and professors at the AIIMS (because of the special status accorded to the AIIMS) had the same grade as senior professors (Rs.2,500 to Rs.3,000) in other academic institutions; that is a grade that begins where the professor's grade ended elsewhere. During this period a Joint Secretary from the IAS cadre had a scale (Rs.2,250 to Rs.2,750), a notch lower than that of senior professors, AIIMS professors and directors of national laboratories.

After the Fourth Pay Commission, different salary structures were put into place because original recommendations of the Commission fell short of expectations and faced protests. Different groups lobbied for different salary structures and the Rajiv Gandhi Government yielded to the proposals made by various committees that were set up for the purpose. This differential status accorded to different sections of scientists is the starting point of all problems till date.

While professors in the scientific departments were put in three categories (Rs.4,500 to Rs.5,700, Rs.5,100 to Rs.6,300 and Rs.5,900 to Rs.7,300), UGC professors were given a single grade of Rs.4,500 to Rs.7,300. Professors of the IITs and the IISc got two slabs of Rs.4,500 to Rs.6,300 and Rs.5,100 to Rs.7,300. Professors of the AIIMS, continuing with the special status, were placed at Rs.5,900 to Rs.7,300, although this time around the grade, by not starting where the professor's grade ended, dropped a notch below. In this deal, IARI/ICAR professors too, who sought parity with the UGC, got a relatively better bargain of a single scale of Rs.4,500 to Rs.7,300, although at the very end of the prolonged post-Commission exercises. All this meant that the IITs, the IISc, the AIIMS, the universities and the IARI all got a better deal compared to scientists in autonomous academic institutions of the various departments.

Scientists of the CSIR and scientists (B to G) of all scientific departments, however, got a raw deal in comparison to the IITs, the IISc and the IARI because of a fault in the implementation of the Fourth Pay Commission's recommendations. For instance, Scientist D in the CSIR and other departments, equivalent to an associate professor in the IIT as per the recommendations of the Third Pay Commission, dropped a notch below, to the equivalent of assistant professor. Only laboratory directors and advisers could reach the level of professors of the IITs and the AIIMS and senior professors of academic institutions (Rs.5,900 to Rs.7,300). This caused great heartburning among CSIR scientists. In IV-CPC, the Joint Secretary had a scale of Rs.5,900 to Rs.6,700, still marginally below all these.

The V-CPC has basically resulted in undoing the higher status given to scientists and placing the IAS bureaucrat at a comparatively higher position. This has been done by merging some grades of scientists in an illogical manner - at many levels three grades have been merged into one - so that the marginal edge of the scientist over the bureaucrat in the earlier Pay Commission is undermined. For example, most senior scientists in the national laboratories were in the salary grade of Rs.5,100 to Rs.6,300. Post-V-CPC, this grade gets mapped onto Rs.16,400 to Rs.20,000 and in the salary hierarchy it is five rungs below the level of a Secretary to the Government and also below that of a Joint Secretary, which is Rs.18,400 to Rs.22,400. While the grade of UGC professor and the top agricultural scientist, which is equivalent to that of a Joint Secretary, terminates at Rs.22,400, the lower-rung scientists have got a raw deal because of the illogical merging of scales lower down. This is the reason for the protests by IARI scientists and UGC teachers earlier.

Scientists of the AIIMS have similarly been taken for a ride; after appointing the Bakshi Committee, the V-CPC grades are being thrust upon them now. While the manipulative merging of scales put lower-rung scientists at a disadvantage, the failure to maintain the level of AIIMS professors above the level of professors elsewhere has meant that there will be a saturation of professors at the top end of the grade over the years and after the V-CPC grades take effect they will soon saturate at Rs.22,400. What they demand now is a new scale that maps from the earlier Rs.7,300 to Rs.7,600 (which would be Rs.22,400 to Rs.24,500) instead of the one that maps from Rs.5,900 to Rs.7,300 (which is Rs.18,400 to Rs.22,400). The scale for the Joint Secretary grade is Rs.18,400 to Rs.22,400.

As regards the salary structures for the IITs and the IISc, the committee headed by Professor U.R. Rao has recommended a structure better than the UGC structure in order to maintain their primacy. This proposed structure would be applicable to the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) as well. These are yet to be accepted by the Government. The CSIR, having done in by default implementation of the scales, is playing a watchful game. As of now, according to Dr. R.A. Mashelkar, it has implemented in the interim the V-CPC scales but at the same time has appointed a committee headed by Dr. Prahlad to recommend appropriate structures. The committee has come up with three packages. The CSIR will wait until the dust settles down and then choose what is best for its scientists.

On the other hand, having been forced into accepting V-CPC scales by default, the scientific departments - the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Department of Electronics (DoE), the Department of Defence (DoD), the Ministries of Environment and Forests and Non-conventional Energy Sources - have settled for the best of a bad bargain. The scientists in these departments are seeking, through the committee of its Secretaries, to get at least the benefit of the quick, merit-based promotion mechanism, called the Flexible Complimenting Scheme, which the November 1998 notification had denied to them. They are also hopeful of suitable adjustments in the residency periods in the different scales so that the total period until they reach the top salary is brought down to 17 years from the V-CPC-recommended 21 years.

Clearly, what the triad has attempted to do for itself in this controversial scenario is to accept the V-CPC scales and get ad hoc increments and special pays to restore their superiority vis-a-vis the bureaucracy. In the process, they have not shied away from dumping the rest of the departments and the rest of the scientific community. In this divisive and manipulative tactics of politics of science, bomb blasts and missiles acquire a currency of clout with the Government. The consequence: each section of the scientific community for itself and the IAS bureaucracy against all. This is because the scientific community as a whole failed to speak in one voice since the last two Pay Commissions, while the IAS could and thereby stood to gain.

The impact of this is already visible in the events in the last few months at the DoE. Similar things are bound to happen in other departments as well. The issue has got so complicated that unless the entire scientific community - medical scientists, agricultural scientists and university professors - is addressed as a single entity, outstanding issues will remain in one section or the other. Maybe it is time the issue was considered de novo.

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