Thursday, October 30, 2008

SCPC: No defiance but prudence by armed forces chiefs

A senior retired IAS officer in Delhi told me that had Narsimha Rao been the PM he would have sacked all the three armed forces chiefs for defying the cabinet order and communication of the information to the troops. A few days later editor of a leading daily, echoed the same views, demanding dismissal of the three chiefs. What could be the link in the editor echoing the same views! But first the background.

The story goes back to the new pay code introduced for the military in the fifties. While every one's pay, allowances etc were drastically cut down, the King's Commissioned Officers, who formed the then higher command of the army, were excluded from these cuts. It was the first crude attempt by the government to create bad faith between the higher command and those in the lower rung.

The Second Pay Commission was dealt with by the MoD by stating military's pay etc, "as given." It meant lowering of their pay etc. The Third Pay Commission wanted to hear the case direct from the armed forces, but the MoD ruled against it on the ground that the same, in the interest of discipline, is not desirable. Unfortunately, the service chiefs accepted this patently absurd stance of the MoD. The Fourth Pay Commission, faced with the prospect of resignations by all the three chiefs, granted running pay band, up to the rank of brigadier in addition to rank pay. Running pay band catered to extremely limited promotions in the military. Through a sleight of hand, the rank pay of thousands of officers was deducted from the basic pay, leaving them back at square one.

The Fifth Pay Commission gave brigadiers more pension that maj gens and in addition brought in more than two dozen anomalies. Out of these, only five have since been addressed and the remaining are under consideration for the last ten years. Now the Sixth Pay Commission introduced some more anomalies and distortions.

Though armed forces are over 30 percent of central services, a member from them on the Pay Commission has never been accepted. Not only that, even amongst 150 or so staff, assembled every time, does not include even one person from the forces. In the case of review of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission report, the IAS member of the commission also forms part of the review committee. Thus, prosecutor now forms part of the jury!

In all these doings of the bureaucracy, the political class has been a mere mute spectator. The strong suspicion and the breakdown of trust that prevails in the services with the babudom, must be viewed in this background.

Given the sordid manner of treatment of services and grossly biased recommendations of the Review Committee which instead of correcting the anomalies brought about by the Sixth Pay Commission, added some of its own, the service chiefs took up the case with the RM and the PM. The RM, as member of the Cabinet Committee which took decision on the review committee report, promised to look into the case. It was therefore, well in order for the chiefs to defer the implementation of the cabinet order and apprised the troops about the delay etc. Had the RM told Admiral Mehta that the cabinet decision be first implemented while the cabinet will have a relook, the situation would have been different. When Winston Churchill said, ' Indian army is not a silent order of monks ---". He was speaking for commanders who must stand up for their officers and men.

While the objection to the security classification of the communication by Admiral Mehta to his troops can be dismissed as absurd, meriting no discussion, the other issue relates to a more pertinent point: the need to keep troops informed and to protect them from all manner of rumours.

Spread of rumours amongst the troops is a very dangerous development and that is why it is a serious offence in the military. It was the rumours and arrears of pay that led to breakdown of discipline in the Sikh army after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was again arrears of pay and rumours that led to the events of 1857. More recently in 1984 it was the blackout of information to troops that led to spread of wild rumours and consequently mutiny in some of the units. During my review of court-martial cases, it was found that the inability of commanders to keep troops informed of the actual developments in the golden temple and the country side of Punjab which proved fertile ground for wild rumours to spread. It is in the light of this experience that the Chairman Chiefs of Staff and the Army Chief's action in keeping the troops informed and to protect them from malicious rumours must be seen.

Why should a reputed journalist play the tune of the bureaucracy in a case which has no merit? It is again in Delhi that one overheard the talk of a Rajya Sabha seat.

Finally, now that the fudging, fraud and subversion of the Cabinet decision by the babus, to gain advantage for self, has come out in the open (Outlook dated 13 Oct) we expect our worthy editor of the national daily to enlighten us and say what dispensation he recommends for the perpetrators of this great fraud!

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (Retd)
Former Deputy Chief of Staff

I read the editorial, “Uncalled for defiance” on the action of the Service Chie (Sept 30). There was absolutely nothing wrong or defiant on the part of the Service Chiefs in taking up the cause of their officers and troops. While they took up the issue with the Defence Minister, they withheld instructions for the release of new pay and allowances.

It was essential for the troops and officers to know that they would have to await the final response from the government and quash any possible adverse rumours. The point about security classification of the Naval Headquarters letter is simply laughable.

While the Press is quick to make non- issues sensational,it misses on the ramifications of larger issues. Take the Services case on the dispensation of the Sixth Central Pay Commission.

Ms Sushma Nath was a member of the Sixth Central Pay Commission which created the problem for the Services in the first place and then made a member of the Committee of Secretaries formed to look into the mischief of the Pay Commission. Could the Press not see the absurdity of the situation? The prosecutor turned into a judge in the same case!


It is so easy for anyone in this country to chide Service Chiefs— politicians, bureaucrats, judiciary and the Press. They all form the four pillars of Indian democracy. But they forget that India’s armed forces are the bedrock on which these pillars stand.

There is a definite need for our politicians, bureaucrats, judiciary and journalists to study and understand military ethics and what goes into serving in the military. Only then, they will realise the difference between acting in the larger interest of the service and willful defiance of orders.

After all, Hitler’s order to exterminate Jews too had the government stamp but generals and soldiers who executed that order, forgetting military ethics, were tried as criminals against humanity.

The Chief of Naval Staff has committed no offence. The Admiral has acted as per ethical-dictates of the military. If the government, in its wisdom, imposes punishment on this eminent soldier sailor, then so be it. After all, there is always a price to pay for upholding truth and duty. That is what soldiering is all about.

Maj Gen K KHORANA (Retd)
This is not defiance

Related reading:
Uncalled for defiance: Admiral Mehta’s conduct inexcusable
Anomalies in armed forces pay revision

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