Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pay and Pain of the Armed Forces Personnel

Volume 29 - Issue 22 :: Nov. 03-16, 2012
Pay and pain
Retired and serving defence staff feel that they have been taken for a ride in the matter of salary revision and that the government has been indifferent to their protests.
Medals surrendered by retired soldiers at a demonstration demanding “One Rank One Pension” and other welfare measures, in New Delhi on March 14, 2010.
CAN you imagine a situation wherein a major general draws a pension lower than that of a lieutenant colonel, a position that is three ranks lower in the hierarchy? Can you imagine the embarrassment of a havildar who draws a pension less than that of a sipahi, which is a much junior rank? Can you imagine the humiliation of a lieutenant general who draws almost the same pension as a colonel or a brigadier, ranks that are lower, because he has been clubbed in the same pay band? These are not hypothetical situations but real incongruities that have been created with the implementation of the Sixth Central Pay Commission (CPC) recommendations for armed forces personnel. On July 13, the Prime Minister constituted a committee, headed by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, to look into these and other anomalies in the pay structure of defence personnel vis-a-vis their civilian counterparts after the implementation of the recommendations. Significantly, the committee was made up of bureaucrats, and the government turned down the request from the three services chiefs that they be included in the committee because military concepts and nuances of rank and grade might not be understood by civilian bureaucrats.
The committee submitted its report to the government on August 8. On the basis of its recommendations, the government, on September 24, announced a Rs.2,300-crore package that would, an official release said, help bridge the gap in the pensions of those who retired before and after 2006, the cut-off year for the Sixth CPC recommendations. Besides, the government also announced an enhancement of the family pension and approved dual family pension and the continuation of family pension to mentally and physically challenged wards of defence personnel even after their marriage. But even as the government was patting itself on the back for having met the long-pending demands of defence personnel, including of “one rank one pension” (OROP), serving personnel and ex-servicemen were left seething with rage at what they saw as a betrayal. “This is peanuts. We are aghast. It meets zero aspirations of the armed forces personnel. We were apprehensive of something like this [happening] as the government had refused to include the three services chiefs in the committee. We have been taken for a ride by the government,” said Maj. Gen. (Retd) Satbir Singh, vice-chairman of the Indian Ex Servicemen Movement (IESM).
“This country does not respect the sacrifices made by a soldier who lays down his life for the country. There is no respect for those in uniform who would not think twice before making the supreme sacrifice. This is a very unfortunate state of affairs. The government is bluffing the country and the unsuspecting soldier,” he told Frontline. According to him, the concept of “pay band”, where four or five ranks are clubbed together, is “anarchic” and should have been replaced with a rank pay concept at every level. Besides, defence personnel should be given non-functional upgradation (NFU) like their civilian counterparts (in the Indian Administrative Service), wherein if some people from a batch get promoted to the next rank, those left behind get their salary upgraded despite not being promoted.
“In the armed forces, promotions are basically about rejections as there are limited vacancies. Out of 300 colonels, only 12 become brigadiers, out of these 12, only four become major generals and only one finally makes it to the lieutenant general rank. Those left behind may be equally competent, hence should be compensated with a pay upgrade to keep them on a par with their course mates,” said Brigadiar (Retd) V.A.M. Hussain. But none of these demands was even considered by the committee though the service chiefs had put them on the agenda.
Back to the streets
To protest against the government’s “betrayal”, members of the IESM, who have taken to the streets in the past on these issues, are protesting again. On December 1, they will hold a dharna and once again return their medals. “Over 10,000 medals have been returned by the veterans in protest. The government has refused to take them back. They are still lying in our office. We will once again return these medals to the government,” Maj. Gen. (Retd) Satbir Singh said. He said that all that the government had actually done was to just nominally increase the pension of various ranks by amounts ranging from Rs.400 to Rs.1,500 a month. “The government is misleading the country by exaggerating the benefits,” he said. The IESM has written letters of protest to the Prime Minister demanding justice, with copies to the Defence Minister and the services chiefs.
The sharp reaction from the soldiers has not spurred the government into any sort of action. In fact, the blame for the mess is being shifted between the Defence Ministry and the Cabinet Secretariat. “We have nothing to do with this issue. The announcement was made by the Cabinet Secretariat, and as far as we are concerned, there is no deliberation happening at any level as of now,” a senior Defence Ministry official said. The Army’s public relations officer (PRO) confirmed that the Ministry was not in the loop on this issue as yet. “No, I have no brief on this. We are aware the announcement has caused certain serious concerns and certain issues have emerged but we are not aware whether any deliberations are taking place at any level at all,” said the Army PRO.
Apathy and indifference
Serious anomalies in the pay structure of defence personnel and problems in the implementation of pay commission recommendations have been a point of concern for armed forces personnel since the Fourth CPC was announced. Until 1973, the armed forces had a separate pay commission, and the concept of military pay was prevalent, which gave them a certain advantage over their civilian counterparts. At the time of the Fourth CPC, the armed forces pay commission was merged with the pay commission for Central government employees.
Defence personnel allege the bureaucracy manipulated the implementation of the recommendations in such a way that the status of armed forces personnel was actually degraded. In order to retain the advantage in the salary of armed forces personnel, the CPC had recommended the concept of rank pay, which is an emolument over and above basic pay and perks and which varies from Rs.200 to 1,200, depending on rank. But during implementation, instead of being increased by an amount equivalent to the rank pay, the basic salary of armed forces personnel was reduced by that amount. So even when the rank pay was added to the salary, the net result was that there was no increase in their salaries.
AFTER GIVING UP THEIR MEDALS at the demonstration, ex-servicemen used their own blood to sign a memorandum to the President listing their demands.
Nobody seemed to have noticed the problem until Major (Retd) A.K. Dhanapalan filed and won a case in the Kerala High Court in 1996-97. As the news spread, many officers filed similar petitions across the country. On the government’s request, all the cases were shifted to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of the defence personnel on March 8, 2010, and ordered the government to pay arrears with 6 per cent interest to over 20,000 retired and serving defence personnel. The government, however, sought a modification/recall of the order. In 2010-11, the case came up for hearing 10 times, but the Solicitor General failed to appear each time.
On June 7, 2012, Lt Gen. (Retd) Raj Kadyan, former Deputy Chief of the Army Staff and chairman of the IESM, met Law Minister Salman Khursheed and requested his intervention. The case was finally decided by the Supreme Court on September 4. The government pleaded inability to bear the “extra expenditure” but was reminded by the court that it was not extra expenditure but the just due of the defence personnel that had fraudulently been denied them. Then, the government requested that only litigant officers be given the arrears, which again the Supreme Court rejected, saying all affected officers should be granted the arrears. The court, however, waived the interest up to 2006. Over 20,000 officers who had inadvertently been deprived of their due benefited. “What is disturbing is that even our own organisations have failed to protect our interests,” said Major (Retd) Dhanapalan. The three services chiefs should have ensured that their personnel got their due, but that did not happen.
But what pains the defence personnel the most is that the problem the political leadership kept silent when the problems were brought to light.
“Civilian control over the armed forces is indisputable, but should the political establishment abdicate its responsibility and give the executive unbridled power?” demanded Lt Gen. (Retd) Kadyan. Lt Gen. (Retd) Kadyan and Maj. Gen. (Retd) Satbir Singh said that the strict discipline within the forces was keeping things from going out of control, but this pent-up frustration could prove risky.
The government should stop fiddling with the emotions of soldiers, said many serving armed forces personnel. The government, they warn, would do well not to mess with things like the salary, pensions and hierarchy of soldiers because for them these things are not mere fiscal matters but form an integral part of their sense of dignity. Is anybody in the government listening?
Pay and Pain of the Armed Forces Personnel

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