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.
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.
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.