When the Centre announced on June 14, 2022, that 10 lakh vacancies in the central ministries and departments would be filled in the next one-and-half years, it came through a one-line tweet from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The tweet said: “PM@narendramodi reviewed the status of Human Resources in all departments and ministries and instructed that recruitment of 10 lakh people be done by the government in mission mode in next 1.5 years.”

The 10 lakh number sparked speculations about whether these were purely regular civilian jobs in central ministries and departments or included central armed police forces (CAPFs) and other autonomous bodies under the central government.

Muddled sanctioned posts and vacancies in central ministries/depts

That is because until then, the Rajya Sabha had been told, on February 3, 2022, that there were 8.72 lakh vacancies in central ministries and departments as on March 1, 2020 – far lower than 10 lakh the PMO tweeted. The reply didn’t reveal the source of information.

On July 20, 2022, the Lok Sabha was told that there were 9.79 lakh vacancies of “civilian regular” posts in central ministries and departments as on March 1, 2021. This time the source was revealed: Annual Report of Pay Research Unit of Department of Expenditure.

A look at the Annual Report of Pay Research Unit of Department of Expenditure (DoE), Finance Ministry, reveals many discrepancies.

When the Centre claimed 8.72 lakh vacancies as on March 1, 2020, the DoE’s annual report of 2019-20 said this was higher at 8.86 lakh on the very same date – which works out to be 21.75% of the sanctioned posts. These vacancies were “including UTs”.

When the Centre claimed 9.79 lakh vacancies (or 24.27%) as on March 1, 2021, the DoE’s annual report of 2020-21 said this was true but if UTs are excluded. If UTs were included, then the vacancies went up to 9.96 lakh – that is, 24.20% of sanctioned posts. This (9.96 lakh) is closer to the PMO’s tweet (10 lakh).

Now, if the vacancies “including UTs” went up from 9.79 lakh to 9.96 lakh, why did the percentage fall (from 24.27% to 24.20%)?

That is because the DoE’s annual report said the sanctioned posts “excluding UTs” were 40.35 lakh but “including UTs” 41.11 lakh – as on March 1, 2021. Going by the DoE’s annual report of 2019-20, the sanctioned posts were 40.78 lakh as on March 1, 2020.

This would mean, the sanctioned posts went up in 2021 (41.1 lakh), compared to 2020 (40.78 lakh).

How did the sanctioned post go up during the pandemic of March 2020 to March 2021? India went into a complete lockdown, there was a massive distress migration from urban areas to rural. The Centre never announced creating new posts, before or after the lockdown. How did this happen?

In fact, something opposite has been happening for a long time:

1) The 7th Pay Commission report of 2015 says, sanctioned posts (“regular civilian”) were cut down from a peak of 41.76 lakh in 1994 to 38.90 lakh in 2014 (both “excluding UTs”) and 40.49 lakh (“including UTs”) in 2014. It doesn’t provide the sanctioned posts of 1994 “including UTs”. Further, on March 5, 2020, the Centre told the Rajya Sabha that the sanctioned strength was 38 lakh as on March 1, 2018. The trend was a secular decline.

2) Indian Railways abolished 72,000 Group C and D jobs in six years during 2015-16 to 2020-21.

3) The Public Sector Enterprises Survey (PSES) of 2020-21, released on July 21, 2022, by the Department of Public Enterprises said, CPSUs shed jobs – not part of the job data mentioned until now. Regular jobs fell by -5.4% (from 9.1 lakh to 8.5 lakh), casual jobs by -44% and contract jobs by -.6.8% in FY21 (pandemic) over FY20 (pre-pandemic). This is also a long-term trend.

These facts point to a cut down in sanctioned post, rather than increase.

Other central govt vacancies

The above data on sanctioned posts and vacancies are limited to central ministries and departments. What about vacancies in other central agencies?

CPSUs, mentioned earlier, are a big source of jobs. According to the PSES of 2020-21, the total employees in CPSUs were 13.72 lakh in FY21 – falling from 14.79 lakh in FY20. There is no information on the sanctioned posts or vacancies. Even a 10% vacancy, for example, would mean more than a lakh of jobs go abegging.

Public sector banks (PSBs) also provide plenty of jobs? As per the Centre’s reply to the Lok Sabha on July 18, 2022, 5% posts (38,147) were vacant as on July 1, 2022. This would mean the sanctioned posts were 7.63 lakh as on that date (July 1, 2022). Given that the RBI database shows 7.7 lakh were employed in PSBs in FY20 (more than 7.63 in 2022), the Centre’s reply would mean the sanctioned posts in PSBs have fallen – reinforcing the assertion that the sanctioned posts are going down, rather than up, as argued earlier.

As for institutions of higher educations, the Centre told the Lok Sabha on March 21, 2022, that faculty positions in Central Universities, IITs and IIMs are vacant. Central Universities had 6,558, IITs 4,370 and IIMs 422 vacant posts. The reply didn’t reveal the sanctioned faculty posts or the date of vacancies.

Then there are a large number of autonomous institutions under various central ministries and departments. For example, the Education Ministry runs central schools (Navodaya Vidyalayas and Kendriya Vidayalays) and other institutions like the CBSE, NCERT and UGC; Defence Ministry runs Sainik Schools; Ministry of Health and Family Welfare runs hospitals and medical colleges (AIIMS, Safdarjung), etc.

There are bound to be vacancies in these institutions too – given the evident lackadaisical attitude to filling sanctioned posts.

Vacancies in non-civilian posts

Then there are non-civilian posts under the Centre’s control. One is central armed police forces (CAPFs) like the Assam Rifles, BSF, CISF, CRPF, ITBP, NDRF, NSG, PF and SSB. The 2022 report of Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), Data on Police Organisations, shows as against the sanctioned strength of 11.09 lakh, 1.29 lakh posts were vacant (11.6%) as on January 1, 2021.

Among the three defence services, as per the Centre’s reply to Lok Sabha on July 22, 2022, the total number of vacancies in the three defence forces – Army, Navy and Air Force – were 1.36 lakh. Except for the Navy (May 31, 2022), the date of vacancies was not mentioned for the army or air force, nor the sanctioned posts for the services were revealed.

On July 25, 2020, defence minister Rajnath Singh told Lok Sabha the three services could recruit 37,301 personnel in the last two years, as against the average annual vacancy of 60,000. That was because of the pandemic. He said the three services had started recruitment under the “Agnipath” scheme and would induct 46,000 in 2022.

This leaves 96,699 (1,80,000 minus 37,301 plus 46,000) unfilled positions in the three services by the end of 2022. There is a buzz the Army intends to cut down its strength to below 11 lakh, from the current strength of more than 13 lakh.

If all these are added, the total vacancies in all central government entities under its control would far exceed 10 lakh, the PMO mentioned. There is no reason why those wouldn’t be filled in a time-bound manner.

These vacancies are jarring not only because there is a job crisis but also because high vacancies mean low service delivery to the people for which they have elected the government in the first place.

In fact, the vacancies worsen the grossly inadequate public service in India.

Are there enough public servants in India?

Going by the PLFS of 2020-21, the share of public sector employment (centre plus states) works out to a mere 6.8% of the total workforce. In comparison, the OECD average was 21.1% in 2020 and 17.4% in 2021. This huge gap should burst the myth, if any, about India having a bloated bureaucracy or that India needs to shed its public sector workforce.

There is yet another yardstick to know the adequacy of public servants. The 7th Pay Commission report of 2015 says, going by the size of central sector employment (excluding states), India had 139 public servants per one lakh population in 2014. In comparison, the US had 668. Again, India’s score is very poor.

Economists often use such data (public sector workers as percentage of total workforce and population) to argue that India must increase employment in government, rather than reduce it as India has done for years (by reducing sanctioned posts and keeping vacancies unfilled).

It was the PLFS of 2017-18 which delivered the devastating news that the unemployment rate had reached 45-year high of 6.1%. Analysis of its data by the Azim Premji University said, India lost 9 million jobs between 2011-12 and 2017-18 “for the first time in India's history”.

How has the Centre responded to it?

The annual reports of Pay Research Unit of Department of Expenditure (DoE) shows, the vacancies in central government “civilian regular” jobs have progressively grown from 17.8% in 2018 to 22.7% in 2019 to 21.7% in 2020 and to 24.2% in 2021. That’s sad in the midst of a job crisis.

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