Digital

National Informatics Centre Staff, Caretakers of India’s Digital Infrastructure, Plan Mass Protest Leave

The one-day strike, which has been sparked because of grievances over delayed promotions, is yet another sign of how the NIC has been neglected when it comes to personnel issues.

The delayed promotions are only one sign of how the NIC has been neglected. Image is for representational purposes. Credit: Reuters

The delayed promotions are only one sign of how the NIC has been neglected. Image is for representational purposes only. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: Employees of India’s National Informatics Centre (NIC), the agency responsible for the country’s digital infrastructure and spearheading Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India programme, have threatened to step away from their computers if a six-year long grievance over delayed promotions is not resolved by next week.

According to a letter the All India NIC S&T Officer’s Association ( AINOA) sent to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) last week, large sections of NIC scientists have been working under the “same designations for last 10-11 years”. In the same period, according to sources, government scientists are usually promoted twice if various performance criteria are met.

“At present NIC is undergoing multifarious issues…the prominent [issue] being the pending promotions of  Group ‘A’ scientists [which were] due from 01-01-2011 onwards,” the letter says.

The NIC is perhaps, along with the Department of Telecommunications, the most critical agency in implementing Modi’s Digital India; it manages everything from the government’s e-mail accounts to its data centres.

From the beginning of July, the centre’s scientists have showed up wearing black badges to work as a token protest. Over the last two weeks the NIC’s employee associations have also pushed forward their case with the Department of Electronics and Information Technology secretary Aruna Sharma and minister of state PP Chaudhary.

“If you look at the worst case scenario, in specific grades and categories, a scientist at the NIC has lost anywhere between Rs. 12 – 15 lakh in earnings over the last five years because they were not promoted,” B.N Shetty, President, AINOA, told The Wire.

“Because we have no choice, and things have been pending for so long, at our AINOA meeting last week, we have decided that all of NIC’s scientists which number over 3,000 will go on mass leave protest on August 10th for one day. We will do this if the issue of pending promotions is not solved by August 8th,” Shetty added.

No promotions?

Why exactly have promotions been delayed for the scientists and networking engineers who work at the NIC? Shetty points towards bureaucratic inefficiencies, which stretch back to the UPA government’s tenure.

One problem could be the changes in the flexible complementing scheme (FCS), an in-situ promotion scheme for ‘Group A’ scientists employed by government agencies and departments. Under the FCS, which was in effect until 2011 and during the fifth pay commission, scientists were considered eligible if they had a master’s degree in natural or agricultural sciences and a bachelor’s degree in engineering, technology or medicine.

The NIC, which on the other hand is an institute that props up the government’s technical backbone and manages the country’s data centres, has historically hired candidates with MCA backgrounds and other similar degrees. “Even though we have hired differently qualified candidates, it has always been allowed under the FCS. However, under the modified FCS and the sixth pay commission things have stalled,” said Shetty.

According to sources, the Modi government tried making headway on this issue earlier this year in January when the committee of secretaries (CoS) approved in-situ promotions with effect from 01-01-2011. However, the the CoS’ decision has been held by the appointments committee of the cabinet (ACC) since January.

Sign of neglect

While a number of NIC scientists have been wanting to push for some sort of protest for over two years now, what has further frustrated them is two developments over the last few months: firstly, the position of Deity secretary, which should ideally fight for the NIC’s grievances, has changed twice over the last few months.

Secondly, with the approval of the seventh pay commission, and because promotions have been delayed,  NIC staff will miss out yet again on the financial compensation they deserve.

“If the strike does go through and they go end up going on for more than a day, it would be disastrous. The folks at the NIC power all of the government’s websites, cybersecurity, government e-mail, the Centre’s data centres, e-governance projects as well as online monitoring for nearly every government project. It is a sad state of affairs that the NIC is treated like this,” said a senior industry executive, who did not wish to be identified.

Indeed the delayed promotions are just one of the many issues the NIC has been grappling with over the last few years. The agency’s budget has not been expanded over the last few years, even though the Modi government’s vision and expectations from the organisation have shot up over the last two years. The NIC didn’t have a director general for a number of years, with the Modi government filling the position only recently.

“Recruitment doesn’t happen. Contractual staff is obviously leaving in favour of greener pastures as salary increments and promotions are delayed. The NIC is a crucial organisation when it comes to cyber security. If it’s so understaffed and looked down upon, who will be called to blame when a cyber-attack hits or critical information infrastructure is not looked after?,” a senior NIC scientist said.

  • http://www.greenemerald.org dibya

    sad development. PM should intervene and Minister(IT)/ Secretary(IT), should be instructed to solve the problem within one month else they should be relieved from their job

  • Kamal Chetri

    The serving Scientists and the Engineers/ technical officers at the National Informatics Centre (Goverment of India) have been denied promotions, transfers, etc. on time, since the past several years. On the other hand, their counterparts in other central government departments and organizations have been getting all facilities as per the rules. The big question that arises here is: why the NIC officers are being given a stepmotherly treatment?
    As the published article in ‘The Wire’ clearly points out, the NIC Group ‘A’ officers are being denied their rights to promotions, transfers, other perks and facilities. There are instances that an officer at NIC has been expecting promotion for the last ten years now — a decade of negligency by the ministry/department/ government! It is not a joke. It is not a circus. The rights of the officers cannot be neglected in this manner!
    Another example is that of the officers who served at the same posting place, with the same designation or rank, for more than 14 years at a stretch, that also in the remotest parts of the country, sharing the International boundaries! Is this a joke or a circus that the officers are made to work under such unfriendly conditions and situations?! Who is going to look after the plights of the NIC’s aggrieved officers? Where is the ‘Acche Din’ for them? Why our honorable PM is not coming in the picture to resolve the ongoing issues; to redress the grievances of the officers at NIC?
    There are more questions than a solution. There is none to hear or see the prevalent hardships that the NIC officers are going through for over a decade, in certain cases.
    “Enough is enough!”….. Now, if the authority concerned doesn’t respond to the plights of the NIC officers till the stipulated day, the AINOA will frame its own course of actions, and the NIC officers (Scientists and Engineers) all over the country, would follow them (the course of actions). Long Live The Aggrieved NIC Officers!

  • K SHESHU BABU

    It is a pity that the most sought-after agency necessary for the high profile digitisation has been neglected for years and forced the employees to go on a strike demanding improved facilities. The NIC which is the heart of the government has suffered gross neglect in the hands of that very government that has a penchant for computerisation and modernisation’.

  • Shankaran PN

    As an ardent follower of eGovernance and IT activities of govt. in general, I reckon NIC as the premier entity in eGovernance. Its really astonishing to see the scientists are denied promotion and other service benefits. I believe there needs to create a seperate civil service cadre for NICians and their pay and perks be made comparable to the Industry. Their couterparts in Industry is paid several times higher. 6CPC has given mandate for all departments to formulate their own policies and get ratified. Unfortunately for NIC they were headless for years and their administration wing is not professiinal enough too to fulfill this. The new IT minister could have solved the matter much earlier. NIC has lost its glamour and independence when they got attached to deity. It was definitely a troublesome decade thats gone by for NIC.