Why post graduates and PhDs want to be peons

Dec 9, 2015


At a recent literature festival two well-respected veteran journalists were a part of a discussion. During the course of the discussion one of them said that he was travelling through Bihar recently, in the run up to the state assembly elections held in October and November, earlier this year. And he was surprised to know that in Bihar a job actually means a government job. To this the other senior journalist added that it means the same in other parts of the country as well.

This at a very basic level explains the fascination a large part of India has for government jobs. It is another extension of what we like to call a mai-baap sarkar. In fact, over the years, reports have regularly appeared in the media about people with post graduate degrees, engineering degrees, MBAs and even PhDs, applying for jobs at the lowest level in the government.

Take the recent example from Uttar Pradesh. For a 368 posts of grade IV staff (peons) at the state Secretariat, the Uttar Pradesh government received 23.25 lakh applications. This included around 250 PhDs, 25,000 post graduates and 1.52 lakh graduates. "If we start interviewing such large number of applicants, it will take more than two years to complete the process," a state government official told The Indian Express.

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If 23.25 lakh people are applying for 368 jobs, it clearly shows the sad state of job creation in the state of Uttar Pradesh. What is even more surprising is that people with good degrees have applied.

Nevertheless what happened in Uttar Pradesh is not an isolated example and has been happening in other parts of the country as well. Take the case of Rajasthan University which sometime in 2011 wanted to employ 15 peons. It got 3000 applications for it. The Vice Chancellor of the University told NDTV that the university had received applications from: "candidates who've done PhD, MPhil, MBA and Msc...We are really surprised to get applications from such highly-qualified people."

Or take the recent case in Chhattisgarh where 75,000 applications were received for 30 posts of peons in the Directorate of Economics and Statistics of the Chhattisgarh. The applicants included post graduates in arts and sciences and engineers as well, a news-report said.

What explains this trend? Lack of jobs is one answer. The fascination for government jobs and the job security that comes with it, is another. The fixed hours that government jobs have to offer is another possible reason. But there is a fourth answer to this as well. At lower levels, the government jobs are much better paying than the private sector. And there is data to back it up.

As the Report of the Seventh Pay Commission points out: "To obtain a comparative picture of the salaries paid in the government with that in the private sector enterprises the Commission engaged the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad to conduct a study. According to the study the total emoluments of a General Helper, who is the lowest ranked employee in the government is Rs 22,579, more than two times the emoluments of a General Helper in the private sector organizations surveyed at Rs 8,000-9,500."

Hence, the IIM Ahmedabad study "on comparing job families between the government and private/public sector has brought out the fact that...at lower levels salaries are much lower in the private sector as compared to government jobs."

This explains why so many people end up applying for jobs of peons with the government. The economic incentive is at work. It also explains why so many people with degrees end up applying for low-end jobs with the government. Over and above the salary, any money from corruption can also be added to the kitty.

Further this is not a recent phenomenon and has been at work for a while now. As Professor R Vaidyanathan of IIM Bangalore put it in 2008: "Most of the discussion on the emoluments of the government employees focuses on the senior level positions like that of Secretary etc. But more important is the positions at the lower end of the hierarchy. There was an interesting news item sometime ago about there being over 11,000 applicants for just three posts of peons advertised by the Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission."

So what is happening in 2015 was also happening in 2008. As Vaidyanathan writes: "This is hardly surprising considering the lower the category of position in government the larger is the number of aspirants. The salary and perks in government are significantly higher than those of the private sector at the lower levels. Reports suggest that post-implementation of the Pay Commission report [the Sixth Pay Commission i.e.], the lowest-level worker will get more than Rs 10,000 per month as pay. In the private sector, a peon or similar-category position might fetch around Rs 3,000 or at best Rs 5,000. An important consideration is the hours of work involved."

Another point that needs to be discussed here is that we are producing many more engineers and MBAs than can be possibly absorbed in adequate jobs. As Akhilesh Tilotia writes in The Making of India: "An analysis of the demand-supply scenario in the higher education industry shows significant capacity addition over the last few years: 2.4 million higher education seats in 2012 from 1.1 million in 2008." In 2016, India will produce 1.5 million engineers. This is more than the United States (0.1 million) and China (1.1 million) put together.

The number of MBAs between 2012 and 2008 has also jumped to 4 lakh from the earlier 1 lakh. Also, the quality of many of these engineers and MBAs is not up to the mark. As Tilotia writes: "India faces a unique situation where some institutes (IITs,IIMs, etc.) are intensely contested while a large number of the recently-opened institutes struggle to fill seats...With most of the 3 million people wanting to pursue higher education now having an opportunity to do so, the big question that should...be asked...are all these trained personnel required? Our analysis seems to suggest that India may be over-educating its people relative to the current and at least the medium-term forecast requirement of the economy."And this to some extent also explains why people with good education degrees apply for jobs of peons.

Vivek Kaul is the Editor of the Diary and The Vivek Kaul Letter. Vivek is a writer who has worked at senior positions with the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) and The Economic Times, in the past. He is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. The latest book in the trilogy Easy Money: The Greatest Ponzi Scheme Ever and How It Is Set to Destroy the Global Financial System was published in March 2015. The books were bestsellers on Amazon. His writing has also appeared in The Times of India, The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, Business World, Business Today, India Today, Business Standard, Forbes India, Deccan Chronicle, The Asian Age, Mutual Fund Insight, Wealth Insight, Swarajya, Bangalore Mirror among others.

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11 Responses to "Why post graduates and PhDs want to be peons"


Oct 13, 2018

sarkari naukri milna bahut muskil h.

Like (1)

Sundaravaradan S

Dec 9, 2015


PhD MBAs applying for Peons.! Why? Did not the candidate know, what they are doing? Govt is not asking MBAs to apply for Peons!
1.There is shortage of Jobs.
2.The Salary of Govt peons is twice that of Peons in Private.
3.Are these Phd, MBAs from reputed Institutes???
If you meet them in person, one would know, they can not speak well. Their knowledge is limited.
They want to become Politicians etc...?

Arm Chair Analysis does not help, any one....


Like (1)

Mukund Giri

Dec 9, 2015

Besides, Government jobs are for the indolent and the inefficient. There is none to whom you are responsible save to an inefficient Government that wallows in the tax payers money. The level of education is so low that individuals come out of the institutions as literate uneducated. They seriously lack the skill necessary to enter into a competitive world. Hence, the easiest approach is to seek a Government job.

Like (1)


Dec 9, 2015

In our present society salary income is a very important factor.One can buy graduation,post graduate degree,M.phill or a PhD but very difficult to buy a peons job.Secondly the peons job is highly secured and dignity will come with qualification .If a PhD joins as a peon he will soon get promoted to clerk/inspector/officer etc.In the 60 decade in many PSUs people joined as sweepers,peons,lift-man etc without or minimum interview and reached senior positions which many graduates could not.Again there is no dignity loss rather it is prestigious to be a peon in govt office.Better to be the tail of a lion than to be the head of an ass.

Like (1)


Dec 9, 2015

Dear Sir,

I really like your articles, they are knowledgeable and full of information. Since recent past I have been noticing, most of the articles are just showing the sad part of India inc and government. I understand that they are the facts but for a change if you can try to put some articles which can give some enthusiasm focusing on something good happening in India inc. which can make people hopeful that either people or business or government etc are taking some good measures, some hope related to future of Indian economy, some suggestions and track which can really help others to look for a fortune India.
Pleas see if you also find something good around you or all worse is happening all around.


Like (1)

S. Krishna Kumar

Dec 9, 2015

The seemingly over-educated applicants may not be overqualified at all. Many of them may be applying for lower level jobs out of family and economic compulsions. But a very large number of them know that with the skills they have, the peon's job is perhaps what they can handle. There has been a serious devaluation of educational qualifications led by the quantitative boom under lax regulation. The other problem is that governments remain "model" employers without becoming "model" extractors of work from their employees. The private sector remains exemplar in driving workers' productivity but not equally willing to pay the workers adequately. We have only to look at the trajectories of the wages of workers and the compensation of executives at the top since 1991 to see where we are headed. The so-called labour reforms ought to focus on this systemic discrimination that is leading to greater inequalities in society.

Like (1)

Virender Kumar

Dec 9, 2015

A government job has several other attractions, like free housing and medical treatment and pension which, in certain states and the Centre, is only a lttle less than the pay. Then, there is an absence of accountability. When was the last time you heard a government employee being dismissed for inefficiency, corruption or dereliction of duty? Besides, whatever the economic conditions, or the performance of a PSU in which an employee works, he or she keeps getting the annual incerement, sometimes even time-bound promotions. Which private employer offers all this?

Like (1)

A Chopra

Dec 9, 2015

You should also check the universities from where these people have obtained the degrees. There is massive rot in the Indian education system. Almost anyone can obtain any degree. No one from a good university would ever apply for such jobs.

Like (1)

Ravi Kapoor

Dec 9, 2015

Hello Vivek,

A thought provoking article indeed. I would like to add a few other factors -

1. Inadequate job opportunities to absorb the available candidates thus compelling students to extend their education phase as long as possible.
2. Mismatch between the qualification requirements of available jobs and the qualifications of a vast majority of job seekers.
3. The absence of sabbatical opportunities and economic compulsions in later parts of one's career, necessitating acquisition of maximum qualifications before one starts working.

Possible solutions -

Expand the economy faster to absorb the annual addition to the pool of job seekers. 'Make in India' is a step in the right direction.

Impart vocational skills early in the career. The modern economy offers a myriad of white collar job opportunities that did not exist 20-30 years ago. These also require vocational training.

Encourage and support people to embark on mid-career education thru (partly/fully) sponsored sabbaticals. This way, focused and required training can be imparted.


Ravi Kapoor

Like (1)

PK Sethi

Dec 9, 2015

In India, most of persons want to do white collar jobs. Most people go for higher Education like engineering and MBA to get higher salary job in service sector only.
India needs more skilled persons for construction and manufacturing sector where good skilled persons are not available as such manufacturing units cant produce quality products and industry doesn't develop.

India should produce Persons like technicians, welders, fitters, electricians who can do quality jobs who can quality jobs. Institutes linked to Industries are not available. Further reservation system has spoiled the whole system.

Like (1)
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