They are the keepers of national wealth worth trillions of dollars, but feel their value has been undermined. An association of Indian Forest Service (ifs) officers is complaining that the sixth pay commission has overlooked them much as the government has neglected the country's wildlife and forests, which cover 21 per cent of India's total geographic area and are valued at Rs 60,000 billion or about one-and-a-half times India's gdp.
The ifs Association has written to the prime minister about its grievances and pay anomalies. While the sixth Central Pay Commission (cpc) has recommended parity between ias and ifs, the ifs Association says in reality it has widened the gap between the two services.According to the association, cpc has reduced the starting basic salary of a conservator of forests from Rs 16,400 to Rs 15,600. This contradicts cpc's own guideline that states when the pay scale is widened a person's starting salary cannot be lowered. The ifs Association instead wants the pay scale of a conservator of forest to be increased to the next level of Rs 39,200-67,000.
The sixth pay commission also puts the seniormost position in forest services in a state--principal chief conservator of forests (pccf)--at a disadvantage. At present, a pccf can match the pay of a state chief secretary (Rs 26,000) after three years of service, but in the revised scale it may take eight years for a pccf to reach the level of a chief secretary, which, the forest officials say, is impossible to achieve as no pccf will have eight years of service left when he/she reaches that level. The association is demanding that the pay of pccf be fixed at Rs 80,000. The sixth pay commission includes only two posts in the pay scale of Rs 80,000--director general of forest at the Ministry of Environment and Forests (moef) and director of Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy. The association is demanding that nine posts, including pccf, be upgraded to that pay scale.
|between IAS and IFS salaries|
|Source The IFS Association|
The forest service forms the majority of the strength of moef, which has traditionally been headed by an ias officer. Though the ias versus ifs tiff is not new, the sixth pay commission has aggravated it. If cpc recommendations are accepted the difference in the gross pay of an ias and an ifs officer of, say, 1986 batch will increase from about Rs 5,000 to more than Rs 20,000 (see graph).
Even before the sixth pay commission was constituted, the forest officials had raised the issue of career stagnation. "But except pay scale nothing has been addressed," says A N Prasad, president of the ifs Association's central unit. The association had demanded placement of ifs officers as joint secretaries, additional secretaries, secretaries and equivalent posts, and scope for lateral movement to remove stagnation. cpc has recommended empanelment of officers for promotion by an independent commission like upsc. Forest officials say if accepted the recommendation will benefit the forest service, but doubt the ias lobby will allow this change.
There is stagnation in the ifs cadre at almost every level. As per the traditional hierarchy, an ifs officer joins the service as assistant conservator of forests and is promoted to deputy conservator in three years. An ifs officer is eligible for promotion to conservator of forests after 14 years of service and to chief conservator of forests (ccf) after 18 years of service and to pccf in 28 years. Forest officials allege that not a single officer is promoted as per the norm. It takes about 18 years for an official to reach the level of conservator of forests and 25 years to reach the level of ccf.
In ifs, cadre management is controlled by moef unlike ias, which is managed by the Department of Personnel and Training (dopt) under the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. "dopt has an upper hand because it looks after all service rules and always overrules guidelines by other departments," says Sanjeev Chadha, central unit general secretary of the ifs Association. In 2005, moef issued guidelines to states and Union territories, suggesting creation of ex-cadre posts to overcome stagnation. While states were in the process of implementing the guidelines, dopt withdrew them in 2006, saying they were not in consonance with the All India Services Act and Rules. moef says the guidelines were advisory in nature and did not violate any act or rule. Members of the ifs Association assert the guidelines were withdrawn solely to favour ias officers.
In January 2008, dopt issued a notification making an ias officer eligible for super time scale (Rs 18,400-22,400) in 14 years in place of 16 years. "What an ias normally gets in 14 years, an ifs takes almost 27 years to get," adds Chadha.
To reduce such disparities and stagnation, the ifs Association has been requesting timely empanelment of ifs officers. Any officer in the All India Services (ias, ips, ifs) has to be empanelled before being posted on central deputation. There should not be more than two years of difference between ifs and ias batches for empanelment at the level of joint secretary and above. cpc also advocates two years' edge for administrative services over forest officials. "While ias officers up to the 1988 batch have been empanelled, empanelment of ifs officers is pending for as old as the 1982 batch," says Prasad. Besides, ifs officers are posted on central deputation by the moef staffing scheme--with less opportunities-not the central staffing scheme.
|Not a single IFS officer is promoted as per the norm, leading to severe stagnation|
Forest officials say to an extent the problem of stagnation can be addressed by creating a department of forest and wildlife within moef. A separate department was recommended by the prime minister-appointed Tiger Task Force in 2005. "Despite a pmo directive the department is yet to be notified," says Prasad. The reason for delay, forest officials say, is that the directive asks for an ifs officer to head the department and has been blocked by the ias lobby.
Even the Empowered Committee, looking into the issues raised by services after the sixth pay commission's recommendations, is stacked with ias officers.
"We get the best of talent but due to low wages and career stagnation, a number of officers are leaving their job," says Chadha. The officials have to live and work in remote areas with poor infrastructure and no protection from poachers, mafia and Naxals, adds B S Barfal, pccf, Uttarakhand. There is no uniform pay scale for the junior staff. While Himachal Pradesh has a scale of Rs 3,500 for forest guards, Uttarakhand has Rs 2,700," says Barfal. Chadha demands junior forest officers be treated on a par with their counterparts in the police department. "Given the tough job conditions, forest officers should be paid better. The ministry endorses their demands," says S Regupathy, minister of state for forests and wildlife. With ifs facing about 30 per cent attrition rate, it is time their role is revalued.
With inputs from Sumana Narayanan