Defence matters: Let down by military top brass

  • Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
  • Updated: Jun 12, 2015 12:14 IST

On the obligation of the higher command in the military towards their command, Winston Churchill wrote, “The Indian army is not so much an arm of the executive branch as it is of the Indian people. Military professionals have a duty and an obligation to ensure that the people and political leaders are counselled and alerted to the needs and necessities of military life. This cannot be done by adhering to the notion that the military profession is a silent order of monks, isolated from the political realm.”

In India, the higher command of the military has never projected forcefully enough the needs and necessities of the military. Consequently, the military’s downward slide has continued and the government continues to remain oblivious of the true state of national security: both in terms of wherewithal with troops and their morale.

The British gave place of pride and honour to the military and were able to draw on the right material and create a world-class military. However, since Independence, a concerted effort has been afoot to denigrate the military, strip it of honour and pride: the two essential prerequisites for any worthwhile military. The fact that the intake standards into the officer cadre have fallen is obvious from the number of unsavoury incidents that have taken place in units in the recent past.

At Independence, an army man drew 70% to 75% of the last drawn pay as pension, due to the ‘X factor’, while a civil servant got 30% of the last pay drawn as pension. A brigadier drew more pension than the chief secretary of a state. A decade later, this chief secretary had the stature of a two-star general and now of an army commander.


The disparity in promotion prospects, retirement age, allowances etc. between the military and civil services and their consequent effect on the sum total of emoluments when both reach the age of 60 years is too well known to be repeated. What is less known and a highly disturbing aspect of all this is that a soldier’s life expectancy is down to 61-62 years, while that of his equal in the civil services is 71-73 years. This ought to have shaken up both the nation and the military authorities. While the politician remains unconcerned, the military authorities should have raised the alarm.

Philip Mason (1906-99), an Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer, in his book, ‘A Matter of Honour,’ dilating on the long history of military defeats of armies of India, lays the blame at the door of politics and the type of governments that had grown up in India. This point about politics and the type of governments brings to mind their current state in the country.


The Post-War Committee, linked the pay of civil services with that of the army, evolved the ‘New Pay Code,’ which cut down only the pay etc. of defence services officers.

The case of defence services was taken up with the First and Second Pay Commissions not by the defence services but also by a department of the ministry of defence (MoD). The Third Pay Commission wanted the defence services to put their case directly before it. This Pay Commission was not required to go into the service conditions (‘X factor’) of the defence services for its impact on pay and allowances. The MoD came up with the contention that the “requirement of discipline in the armed forces does not permit them to put their case direct to the Pay Commission.” Service chiefs accepted this patently absurd stance of the MoD! The Pay Commission also came up with the incredulous conclusion that advantages outweigh disadvantages of service in the military.


The Sixth Pay Commission assembled about 150 officers from various services (postal, BSF, forest etc ) to work out the nittygritty of the report, but took none from the defence services. It gave higher pension to a brigadier than a majorgeneral and other innumerable discrepancies. One may like to find out how many defence officers have been co-opted with the Seventh Central Pay Commission for preparing its report.

That service in the armed forces has become unattractive can be seen from the fact that between 2001 and 2004, 2,000 officers in all sought release. These included two lieutenant generals, 10 major generals, 84 brigadiers and the rest lieutenant colonels and majors. This trend has continued since then.

On the issue of lowering the status of service officers, the committee of secretaries, which decides on the order of precedence recorded, “military officers had been placed unduly high in the warrant of precedence, presumably as it was considered essential for the ‘army of occupation’ to be given special status and authority.” How absurd babus could get!


The bias of the bureaucracy continues to this day and it is presently over-busy confusing the political executive on the simple issue of one rank, one pension (OROP) and its financial implications. No one raised even an eyebrow when nonfunctional upgradation was granted to more than four dozen class-A services with its enormous financial implications. The political executive is oblivious of the long-term adverse impact of this vacillation on the grant of OROP. There is an increasing feeling among the veterans and the serving officers that the higher echelons in the armed forces continue to fail in standing up for the troops and their officers.

Our political executive needs to carefully read what Churchill, that great architect of victory in World War 2, wrote, “Armed forces are not like a limited company to be reconstructed from time to time as the money fluctuates. It is not an inanimate thing like a house to be pulled down or enlarged or structurally altered at the caprice of the tenant or the owner. It is a living thing. If it is bullied, it sulks, if sufficiently disturbed it will wither and dwindle and almost die and when it comes to this last serious condition, it is only revived by lots of time and money.” How far are the Indian defence forces from this last stage mentioned by Churchill!

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