Today, after 51 years of that slogan, it is a matter of serious concern why neither the soldier nor the farmer is happy.
The armed forces are India’s defenders in a not-so-cozy neighbourhood so far as external security is concerned.
The army has played a crucial role in internal security as well. Be it a natural disaster or a riot, it is the army that is finally called in. It is one of India’s most disciplined organizations—one which has achieved high standards of professional efficiency over time.
Going above and beyond the call of duty whenever asked is the rare quality that our armed forces have shown time and again, winning the hearts of the people. And that too without speaking about their own issues. Therefore, it is imperative for us to go deeper into their issues and find the ways and means to resolve them.
CPC and reflection of inequality: One such urgent and important issue is related to the recommendations of the Seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC). After the submission of the report, certain issues have come forth which, if not addressed, will end up reducing the status of the armed forces.
For example, the status and salary of an army brigadier was higher than that of a deputy inspector general (DIG) of police until the Third CPC. The Fifth CPC pitched the salary of a DIG between that of a colonel and Lt. colonel. But the Sixth CPC equated the DIG’s salary to that of a brigadier. Now, the Seventh CPC recommendation has placed a brigadier’s allowances below those of the DIG. This is despite the fact that only 5% of army officers become brigadiers and that too after 26 years of service, whereas more than 90% of IPS officers become DIGs after 14 years. A similar situation crops up when armed forces personnel are compared to Indian Administrative Service officers, who retire at the age of 60, while more than 80% of army officers have to retire at 54. Therefore, not only do most IAS officers enjoy a higher status than armed forces officers from 14-15 years of service onwards, they also benefit greatly in terms of higher salaries from that point on.
Another such recommendation of the Seventh CPC that does not pass the test of fairness is the reduction of disability pensions of the armed forces by reverting to the slab system as was being followed before the Sixth CPC. Interestingly, the central armed police forces and civil services continue to follow the percentage system which gives a higher relief. While this recommendation was accepted by the government, concerns have been raised and one hopes that it’s rectified promptly.
Another issue that has remained unresolved despite deliberation by the Seventh CPC is that of non-functional upgrade (NFU), which allows Group A services including IAS, IPS and 47 others to draw the salary of their batch mates who get promoted. This gives them automatic time-bound pay promotions till higher administrative grade (HAG), which is equivalent to Lt. generals in the army. NFU must be provided to armed forces.
A junior IAS officer in Jammu gets higher allowance than a captain or major serving in the harsh conditions of Siachen. I had raised this in Parliament with the defence minister, who assured that this disparity will be addressed by the Seventh CPC.
Need for due representation: While committees are time and again formed to rectify these ‘anomalies’, army personnel are forced to go to court and the issues remain unresolved for long. This is accentuated by the fact that these committees have no formal representation from the armed forces. For example, the three-member Seventh CPC consisted of a retired SC justice, an economist and an IAS officer. The empowered committee of secretaries, who are responsible for processing recommendations of the Seventh CPC has mostly IAS officers and also one from the railways. The number of employees in the railways is close to 1.4 million, which is roughly same as that in the armed forces. There was no representation from the armed forces in either panel.
Command and control issues: A lowered pay status compared to civilian counterparts with much less period of service leads to operational problems for the armed forces working in a multi-cadre environment as the civil authorities refuse to listen to them. Whenever serving or retired officers meet collectors on official or personal work, the officers are kept waiting and not treated well by their civilian counterparts. This affects the morale of the forces and needs to be rectified.
The Indian Army has a shortfall of 9,106 officers, which is 18% of the cadre strength, and the Indian Navy has a shortage of 14% and 16% of officers and sailors, respectively. This is mainly because the forces are not able to attract right talent like they did in the past. The profession of the armed forces is no longer seen as first choice by the public.
Remedial measures: The best solution is to have formal representations on these committees by both serving and veteran armed forces personnel. The second option could be to constitute a separate Armed Forces Pay Commission right after the CPC submits its recommendations. This new commission should operate in a time-bound manner so as to avoid delays and not be disconnected from the main CPC. Fulfilment of this long-standing demand of the forces will help address outstanding issues and set the course for the future.
Further, I propose that an expert committee be formed to inquire into the change in status and command and control issues of the armed forces, vis-a-vis the bureaucracy, and recommend course corrections in a time-bound manner. This report with comments from the three service chiefs and ministry of defence should be examined and approved by the parliamentary standing committee on defence after due deliberation.
Governmental responsibility: The prime minister has recently called upon the people to publicly honour and respect the armed forces. I think he may also like to ensure that first the governmental system and its bureaucracy show due respect to the armed forces; only then will the public follow. The government must collaborate with the opposition for the betterment of the forces as it is the duty of all of us to give voice to their genuine issues. As a member of the parliamentary standing committee on defence, I am hopeful that the government will take appropriate measures to address their issues in general and those arising out of the Seventh CPC report in particular. By doing so, we can effectively give the honour that the military holds dear.
I would like to recall what Gen. Sam Manekshaw famously told prime minister Indira Gandhi on being asked about army’s preparedness for the 1971 war: “I am always ready."
Today, when the armed forces are back in focus, we should have the guts to say, “Yes, we are ready to ensure an equitable pay structure for our armed forces."
Rajeev Satav, a Congress party leader, is a Member of Parliament from Maharashtra and a member of the standing committee on defence. The views expressed here are personal.