Monday, October 27, 2008

SCPC: After pay shock, Army officers set to lose batmen

NEW DELHI: Still smarting from "bureaucratic mischief" to downgrade their status in the new pay scales, here is another shocker for Army officers:
they may have to make do without orderlies, or sahayaks as they are now called, if MPs have their way.

The sahayak system prevalent in the 1.13-million strong Army is "a shameful practice", which "should have no place in Independent India", holds the latest report of the parliamentary standing committee on defence. In tune with what many believe is a vestige of the colonial era and an anachronism for any modern Army, especially since fresh recruits are now better educated unlike yesteryear's, the committee urged the defence ministry to abolish the sahayak system with immediate effect.

Though the committee actually dwelt upon "stress management in the armed forces", in view of the mounting number of fragging and suicide cases in their ranks, it felt that utilising soldiers as sahayaks was also a contributory factor in raising stress levels in the lower ranks. "The committee hardly needs to stress that jawans are recruited for serving the nation and not to serve the family members of officers in household work, which is demeaning and humiliating," says the report, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

This, of course, is bound to evoke howls of protest from the Army, which has 35,495 officers at present out of an authorized strength of 46,614. Its argument is that an officer gets a sahayak basically for upkeep of his uniform, weapons and other equipment, as also act as his radio operator and "buddy" during combat. That is certainly true. But the fact also remains that sahayaks are grossly misused by many officers, from being made to walk the dogs, taking kids to school to even washing clothes. Moreover, senior officers often have two to three sahayaks, particularly when posted outside the Army HQ in New Delhi, in blatant disregard of rules which lay down only one orderly or batman for Majors/ Lt-Colonels and above.

"But a few black sheep should not lead to a time- tested, age old practice being scrapped. There is no rampant misuse of sahayaks, who are combatants meant to support the officers in the discharge of their official duties," said a senior Army officer.

Added another, "Strict action is taken if any misuse comes to notice in the Army. Visit a district magistrate’s house or any other IAS officer and you will see the real misuse of lower government staff."

That may equally be true but the parliamentary committee, during its study visits and interaction with jawans, learnt that some soldiers had even been deployed to work as sahayaks with families of officers. When the committee asked an Army officer specifically about this, he replied that the sahayak could be "attending the work at home due to reverence" even though he was not supposed to do it "technically".
After pay shock, Army officers set to lose batmen

This topic has regularly figured in the Parliament ever since 1983. No one has been able to do any thing about it. Now as one turns an eye towards other government services, the gross misuse manpower by way of this 'colonial' custom is widespread in all civil services. It may be worth the while for "India Today" or for that matter any magazine or newspaper to do a bit of investigative journalism to determine the magnitude of this 'malaise' in India. Here are some obvious findings:

  • The number of men in the house of an average police officer is two to ten. Some who believe that there is a threat to their lives have many more 'body guards' for security.
  • Railway officers are 'authorized' two men to work in their houses which includes a cook.
  • The Deputy Commissioners and SDMs have scores of people milling around their houses.
  • Officers of the Para Military Forces have a minimum of two orderlies. Senior officers have more.
  • The houses of Judges are provided security personnel And it is well known that the 'sentries' are misused to perform other chores such as upkeep of lawns and running errands.

    India has a feudal past. The Moghuls set these traditions, and the British merely carried them through. Removing 'Sahayaks' without replacing them with something to compensate the officers is neither possible nor, perhaps, desirable. The subject needs to be studied systematically by a social scientist in its entirety before attempting a radical change.

    One may consider doing a full story on this. You will find many readers wanting to know the cost to the exchequer of this feudal tradition. The misuse of manpower in the offices is even worse. Nearly every officer (including Desk Officers) has a 'runner' to give him tea and to move files, and most senior officers have stenos and PAs who take print outs of the officer's emails. And of course, every one who is authorized an official car is also given a driver, so that the vehicle can be used by the family or even friends when he 'sahib' is in the office. This increases the running of the vehicle by a factor of two or three.

    Quite frankly, one does not mind all this. However one regrets that most of the government officers are ineffective. They are rude and inefficient. Common observation: "When Mr X reaches his office, he first does all his personal work. He then does whatever jobs have been given to him by his friends. And, if at the end of the day, he has some time, he 'clears' his official files. The peons and the PAs are necessary because the officers dislike 'dealing' with the public directly.

    Why then, Chastise and admonish only the Armed Forces for this feudal Custom when the whole Nation of Bureaucrats are grossly and blatantly guilty of this practise?
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