The government on Thursday decided to stick to a controversial army rank structure that has allegedly led to disparity between military and civilian grades and fanned resentment in the armed forces.
A defence ministry statement said “there has been no downgradation or any change in the existing equivalence of the service ranks whatsoever”, though a section of army officers are citing an October 18 letter to allege discrepancy in rank parity with civilian officials.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar too had said on Tuesday that any discrepancy would be corrected in a week. His reaction came a day after hindustantimes.com broke the story about the letter laying down revised rank equivalence norms.
The development has threatened to widen the civil-military divide against the backdrop of the armed forces’ concerns over seventh pay commission report and the one rank-one pension (OROP) scheme.
The government has been highlighting the army’s recent successes against militant outfits including the highly-publicised surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, leading to a war of words with opposition parties.
“The existing functional equivalence as clarified in 1991 and further reiterated in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2005 has only been re-affirmed (in the October 18 letter),” the ministry said on Thursday.
In the letter, which claimed rank equation was “examined in detail”, a civilian principal director, who was equivalent to a brigadier, was equated to a major general, a director-ranked officer to a brigadier and a joint director to a colonel.
Till now, a major general was on par with a joint secretary and a colonel’s civil administration counterpart was a director, several serving officers said. A lieutenant colonel, earlier equivalent to a joint director, has been scaled down to a deputy director, they added.
The ministry said, “It is further clarified that the present reiteration of rank equivalence is only for matters of assigning duties and functional responsibilities.” It stressed there was no change in the “rank structure or the status” of military personnel.
The government’s nod to the existing rank equation has not gone down well with serving officers and veterans.
“We were hoping the government will soothe some ruffled feathers. It’s disappointing,” said a senior officer.
The rank equation is followed while assigning duties, it decides the channel of reporting, plays a role when officers are sent for training and also determines perks such as stenographic and secretarial assistance.
“Such turf battles are not good for the military’s morale. The bureaucracy’s mindset reflects the larger civil-military issue as to who has overriding importance over the other,” said retired brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal.
Retired lieutenant general HS Panag said that “these are battles that have to be fought by the three service chiefs”.