Courage is priced differently by different states. For instance, a soldier from Gujarat feted with the Param Vir Chakra by the Centre gets just Rs 22,500 as reward from the state. In Punjab, though, the medal would fetch a soldier Rs 25 lakh.
In operational terms, this is creating rifts within the force. A senior officer told HT that there were instances of soldiers from less generous states showing reluctance to lead the charge in a difficult operation. “They tend to encourage their comrades from other states which offer higher cash grants. It weighs on their minds,” he said. <b1> See the graphic.
Former Army Chief General V.P. Malik said, “Troops do feel bad when the same acts of valour are rewarded differently. But I do not think it impacts their functioning.” The government had set up a committee of chief ministers after the Kargil war to look into cash grants offered by different states. Senior officers said state governments had created a dangerous division within the force.
There’s proof to back those fears. Gujarat offers a cash grant of just Rs 20,000 to winners of the Ashok Chakra, the peacetime equivalent of the Param Vir Chakra. But if a soldier belongs to Himachal Pradesh or Punjab, he gets Rs 25 lakh.
The bulk of the remaining states — including Bihar, Delhi, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu — offer a cash grant of Rs 1.45 lakh for the same act of gallantry, aside from an insignificant annuity.
The Centre has laid down the minimum cash grant to be given to gallantry awardees by the states, but the states are free to fix their own ceiling. As a result, Kirti Chakra awardees from Mizoram, Orissa and Punjab get Rs 12,000, Rs 87,000 and Rs 15 lakh respectively.
“The Army is not a provincial unit. It fights for one country and such discrimination can be disastrous. The awareness levels among the troops are high and they resent unequal treatment,” said an officer.
The Army hails financial incentives for its brave. But many feel it should be the responsibility of the Centre to dispense cash grants as state governments have their own agenda. A highly-decorated officer said: “Politicians take care of soldiers only if ex-servicemen form a vote bank in their states. Otherwise, no one cares for the poor bloke who returns home in a coffin.”