William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote about mercy in his play The Merchant of Venice. “No one shows mercy because he has to. It just happens, the way gentle rain drops on the ground. Mercy is a double blessing. The quality of mercy is not strained. It is twice blest. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes,” are the lines taken from the play for juxtaposing mercy with the pay package in this column. Mercy has been portrayed by the playwright for its quality as above. In a contrast of sorts, pay package suffers from a double whammy. It blesses neither the giver nor the taker, raising the question of which of the two parties (giver and taker) is hurt more than which other. The slogan equal pay for equal work has been raised on many occasions, understandably by the aggrieved sections among the working class. That demand has always remained a cry in the wilderness as it were. The government has so far constituted seven Pay Commissions at intervals of 10 years leaving the target beneficiaries of the recommendations always disillusioned with the increment in their pay package. A wit has captured the outcomes of action with the remark that the government employees pretend to work and the government pretends to pay (the salaries).
A movie in Tamil produced some years ago included a humorous song presenting the plight of an upright government employee being made fun of for not emulating another employee living next door in supplementing his pay package with ‘you know what,’ meeting all the demands of his wife in her wish-list — expensive sarees, jewellery etc. In today’s dispensation, if a government employee chooses not to emulate the neighbour in the above narrative, one can only sympathise with his wife.
The period before the emergence of the digital technology triggered Information Communication Technology (ICT) during the last decade of the last century, the pay package was wearing a modest image. Then came the avalanche of salaries of employees in the sector, popularly called techies, a trend that continues to be galloping. While the techies have not only taken wings and flown away to many regions abroad but also bringing revenue of the order of 100 billion dollars to the country, the elected representatives of people in virtually every public body from Panchayat to Parliament have not lagged behind in giving themselves hefty hikes in their salaries and perks. The top brass of the corporates, who have to be on their toes as it were to stay at the top, often unstable, are in a class by themselves, taking home pay cheques of amounts in astronomical dimensions.
A report published by a widely read daily last week with a catchy heading “Indians feel CEOs should be paid less,” based on a survey by a reputed agency, highlights glaring differences in earnings, read pay cheques with the respondents suggesting a salary cut of 60 per cent. The shoe is on the wrong foot. In another report this week, a Member of Parliament has called upon rich MPs to forego their salaries. Is he asking for the moon?