The Centre has constituted a committee under the chairpersonship of the cabinet secretary to look into pay and pension-related issues concerning defence services personnel and ex-servicemen. The other members of the committee are the principal secretary to the Prime Minister; defence secretary; secretary, expenditure; secretary, ex-servicemen's welfare; and secretary, personnel and training.
The committee's 'terms of reference' are to look into issues relating to: (i) Defence services personnel: Common pay scale for in-service JCOs (junior commissioned officers)/OR (other rank); initial pay-fixation of Lt Col/Colonel and Brigadier/equivalent; review and enhancement of grade pay; placing of all Lts General in HAG+ (higher administrative grade) scale and grant of non-functional upgradation (NFU) to armed forces personnel; (ii) Ex-servicemen: One rank, one pension (OROP); enhancement of family pension; dual family pension; and family pension to mentally/physically challenged children of armed forces personnel on marriage.
The department of expenditure will service the committee, which may co-opt any other member. The committee would finalise its recommendations and submit its report to the Prime Minister by August 8.
It is unfortunate that not a single member has been detailed either from the services or from ex-service officers, without which the committee of bureaucrats seems to be defunct because their recommendations are already well known.
In 2010, keeping in view the ex-servicemen's agitation at Jantar Mantar and handing over of their medals to the supreme commander of the armed forces (President), the Supreme Court had ordered the immediate constitution of a separate commission to examine the pay/pension anomalies and other grievances of the defence services.
The apex court would directly monitor the functioning of the commission, which would comprise justice Kuldip Singh, retired SC judge, as the chairperson and would have as its members justice SS Sodhi, Gen VP Malik, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi and one person to be nominated by the government. The commission would independently look into grievances of members of the defence services and the government would have no say in the matter.
The government, in its affidavit, had only consented to refer the rank pay issue to the proposed commission and did not agree to any other term of reference. The court disregarded the affidavit along with the government stand, and also ruled that the rank pay issue would not be referred to the commission since the Supreme Court had already passed the orders. The court also refused to recall or modify its earlier orders on the rank pay issue and instead referred the review application to the Chief Justice for directions that it be placed before some other bench. A historic step, indeed, for the armed forces.
The salient features for the said commission, as laid down by the Supreme Court in its order, are:
(1) The commission shall be called Armed Forces Grievances Redressal Commission (2) The commission shall look into all grievances forwarded to them in writing or email by serving and retired personnel; (3) The commission shall frame schemes for the rehabilitation of soldiers who are discharged at a young age; (4) The term of the first commission shall be two years (renewal is up to the central government); (5) The commission shall be based at Chandigarh. The Centre to provide adequate infrastructure for the same; (6) Last drawn pay and allowances of the members to be protected; (7) The commission shall also recommend change of rules if in its opinion, the same are defective or inadequate; (8) All civil and military authorities to extend full cooperation to the commission.
How is it that the government has overlooked orders of the country's highest judicial authority and constituted a committee under the cabinet secretary to look into anomalies of serving and ex-servicemen, about which they have no knowledge?
The OROP issue has been pending with successive governments for the past two decades. Promises about its implementation are made during elections, but later it is put in cold storage. Now, with the general election just two years away, the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) is worried about it again. So, the cabinet secretary would decide what is to be done by August 8. The result is obvious another committee would be formed to look into the matter as the civilians are also involved.
The writer is a defence analyst and commentator. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org