To paraphrase a proverb popularised by Vladimir Lenin, it is a case of two steps backwards and one step forward.
Over the last four years, the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha recruited over 50,000 retired government officials, blocking avenues of employment for the youth in the process. With elections due in the next few months, the government has now done a complete U-turn and has decided to ‘disengage’ these re-recruited government officials and appoint about 27,000 fresh recruits in their place.
In what is being touted as the biggest recruitment drive ever in the state, the fresh recruitments will be at all levels, starting from the lowest (peon) with a starting salary of Rs 15,000 to the highest, the Odisha Administrative Service (OAS) officers with a pay packet of Rs 50,000.
Doctors, police sub-inspectors, constables, junior clerks, revenue inspectors, assistant executive engineers, junior engineers, veterinary surgeons, junior clerks and fire officers will also be appointed as part of the recruitment drive.
In doing so, the government has eaten the very words it had used to justify recruitment of retired officials: utilisation of their skills to improve efficiency. It now explains away the disengagement of these very ‘skilled’ officials as a ‘logical step’ when there is a large-scale recruitment drive going on.
This flip-flop hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention. Not just the opposition, everyone who has kept track of the developments in government recruitment over the last two decades is convinced that it is an out-and-out political move aimed at wooing the youth in the state ahead of the next elections.
It is the timing of the decision that has the opposition crying foul. As per the government’s own estimate, there are close to 1.57 lakh vacancies in government jobs. And these vacancies have been there for years. But it is only now that the government has woken up to the need for fresh recruitments.
For over four years, it went on recruiting government staff after their retirement, ignoring the rightful claims of lakhs of youth clamouring for jobs. No wonder the intention behind the decision appears suspect.
The Naveen Patnaik government has obviously calculated that it will not have to pay a political price for the retrenchment of the over 50,000 re-appointed retired government officials. For one thing, they have already enjoyed the pelf of office for four years after their recruitment and would remain grateful to the government for the favour.
For another, there is nothing to stop the government from a fresh round of recruiting retired officials once the elections are over and the ‘purpose’ has been fulfilled.
The decision to recruit 27,000 employees is only part of the elaborate exercise launched by the Naveen Patnaik government to get the youth on its side ahead of the elections. It comes close on the heels of the formation of Biju Yuva Vahinis in panchayats and urban local bodies (ULBs) to “promote Leadership, Volunteerism and a Healthy Lifestyle through Sports and Social Action Interventions” for which the government has earmarked nearly Rs 450 crore to be spent over the next three years at the rate of Rs 1.5 lakh for each Vahini each year.
The aims and objectives of the scheme have been kept deliberately vague. No wonder, most people see the move as an exercise to keep youth owing allegiance to the BJD in good humour at government expense. The lines between the party and the government have been completely blurred as the vast majority of the 2.92 lakh recruited to the Vahini are members of the Biju Yuva Janata Dal (BYJD), the youth wing of the ruling party.
Fresh recruitment of government staff in Odisha, frozen since 1995 owing to the precarious financial position of the state at the time, began partially in 2010 after the finances improved. But for some reason, there was a reluctance to fill up the 1.57 lakh vacancies in government jobs even as the government announced scheme after scheme worth several thousand crores to woo the electorate.
With the overwhelming majority of women in the state still under Naveen’s thrall, the focus in this election is on the youth. And the recruitment drive launched by the government is part of the efforts by the ruling party to buy the support of the youth at government expense.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)