Guest column: Sadly, not all birds of a feather flock together

  • Col Avnish Sharma (Retd), Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 28, 2015 14:06 IST

There has been a deliberate erosion of protocol, status, pay and perks in the defence services While working on a dissertation project on the CDS (chief of defence staff) at the Defence Services Staff College, I could not find any demerit in our country adopting the unified system.

That was way back in 1993. More than two decades later, however, the matter still rests. A unified approach to military matters remains a pipe dream. Sad but true.
Is it the lack of strategic vision or vested interest of powers that be ‘to let it be’? The analogy goes deep down at all levels with a resultant triumph for both the ‘dhoti and suit boot’ clad.

The defence services have traditionally been short clipped in our country. There has been a deliberate erosion of protocol, status, pay and perks. The denigration does not lack media coverage. However, on the contrary, the result has been regressive instead of being progressive.

Major Navdeep Singh, lawyer, reserve army officer and a military activist in his tweet has made a shocking revelation. “The pay achievable by 1% army officers in 35 years of service is reached by 100% civil service officers in 16-22 years of service,” he wrote.

Now, dilution of protocol and status of the men in uniform needs no emphasis.

The defence minister, though misunderstood in the context of manner, has rightly remarked that the Indian Army’s importance has diminished due to lack of war. This actually is true when viewed in the context of protocol, status, pay and perks. There has actually been a fair amount of redundancy of civil military equation. OROP (one rank, one pension) exemplifies the aforesaid.

The ingrained vision ethos of not looking beyond one’s nose afflicts men in uniform too. A serving soldier refuses to see oneself without uniform. To most of the serving big wigs, an ESM (ex-serviceman) is a spent force. While in service, once a senior army officer, now retired but reemployed by the state government, had the gumption to label an ESM as a ‘parasite’, which incidentally he too is today.

Ironically, our flag-bearers allowed reduction of pensionary benefits of retiring soldiers from 70% of the pay last drawn to 50% and the consequent increase from 30% to 50% of their civilian counterparts. Pay commissions down the line have ensured a conscious reduction of monetary status of the armed forces.

Who should we blame? Here’s an off the cuff example: I was posted in north Kashmir at a formation which mans the longest stretch of extremely inhospitable borders. The area, besides the vagaries of weather and terrain, is a hot bed of militancy. One fine morning, I was informed that a high-profile team comprising the chairman and members of the central pay commission would be visiting border areas to assess the difficult working conditions of soldiers, an input to ensure they get their legitimate dues.

Well, the programme of visit was convenient, cosmetic and, of course, five star. Travel by choppers, stay at the VIP guest houses (SOS renovated) and the works. Needless to say, the impressions that they carried translated into un-enhanced allowances and sops for us all. But yes, a personal rapport between big wigs of the army and civil surely would have been a positive outcome. Sad but true!

The concern, effort and struggle by our chiefs towards the issue of OROP have been symbolic. A mechanism for a unified effort by all three services does not exist thanks to an ‘in grave’ CDS. OROP is on simmer for close to three decades. At least half a dozen chiefs of all three services have witnessed it go by.

Their statements on OROP can sadly be recounted on a single little finger during 95% time of their tenures, although, they were abnormally vociferous in the dying stage of their services, for obvious reason of a sudden grip of fear of joining the under privileged band wagon of ESM.

There is a brewing debate amongst more than two million ESM as to whether they should shun government-organised events and functions and whether functions organised by the armed forces be treated at par.

Well, the armed forces are part of the government, both in letter and also in spirit. Their contribution to the cause of the ESM has been dismal. We are no one to dissuade the uniformed to shun tunnel vision but yes we can reciprocate with a similar ethos.

(The writer is a retired army officer in Chandigarh. The views expressed are personal)

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