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HindustanTimes Wed,17 Sep 2014

Damaging a great institution

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd), Hindustan Times   November 08, 2013
First Published: 09:42 IST(8/11/2013) | Last Updated: 09:45 IST(8/11/2013)

As compensation for limited promotions, early retirement and to soften blows of the earlier Pay Commissions, the service chiefs demanded 'running pay band' and 'rank pay' from the 4th Central Pay Commission (CPC), constituted in 1983. Since this CPC appeared to follow in the footsteps of the earlier Pay Commissions, the three service chiefs prepared their resignations in case the commission did not accept this very basic demand.

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When the decision of the chiefs to resign came to be known, this requirement was met along with rank pay up to the rank of brigadier. True to its character, the bureaucracy later deducted an amount equal to rank pay from the basic pay. Quarter of a century later, the Supreme Court finally ordered the government to correct this mischief and pay up rank pay. There are more than 50,000 officers where rank pay amount had been deducted from basic pay. Many have since died and in many other cases, the controller of defence accounts has not worked out the precise amount to be paid.

33 years' service

The condition of 33 years' service to earn full pension was introduced, knowing full well that more than 90% of the defence personnel cannot meet this requirement. The 4th CPC created a number of other anomalies which till now have not been resolved.

The 5th CPC (1994) took away the running pay band and introduced many more disadvantages for the defence personnel. It further lowered the status of defence officers. On persistent protests from the defence services, the bureaucracy (Ajai Bikram Singh Committee), instead of restoring the rank-wise status, altered the very rank structure within the service by creating more vacancies in higher ranks. Thus, we ended up with a Lt Col doing a Major's jobs, resulting in six to seven Lt Cols in a unit, besides the commanding officer of colonel rank. The same pattern was adopted right up to the rank of Lt Gens. In some manner, this cheapening of the rank did contribute to the problems that have surfaced in units during the past year or so. This has been the handiwork of the bureaucracy, bugged as it had been with the earlier status of armed forces officers vis-à-vis the bureaucracy, police etc. Higher command in the defence forces, unable to oppose this damage to the service, acquiesced to this mischief.

Anomalies galore

The 6th CPC (2006) did away with rank pay and displayed complete lack of knowledge of defence services, on whose pay, allowances etc., it was to decide. It thought that a brigadier is of a higher rank than a Maj Gen and consequently gave the former higher pension! It took nearly six years to partially sort out this issue by taking the case right up to the Supreme Court. There are still more than two dozen anomalies in its recommendations concerning defence services, which await resolution.

However, the biggest mischief of this CPC has been the exclusion of defence officers from what is called Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU), which means that once an IAS officer, say with 14 years' service, becomes a joint secretary to the union government, then all, yes all officers, in grade A central service with 16 years of service will get elevated to an equivalent status in terms of pay etc. There are more than 50 class-A central services. Army officers are not in class-A central service, it is military service as designated by the bureaucracy. The issue of NFU for the defence services is being left for the 7th CPC to decide, which of course should not be accepted. Hopefully, army commanders (and those in the air force and the navy) will, in writing, apprise the defence minister of the damage such policies are inflicting on the services.

No representation

No CPC had a member from the defence services, while theirs is the largest officer cadre and nearly 40% of central employees are from the armed forces. There has never been a defence member even among the staff of more than 150 officers assembled to work out the nitty-gritty of various CPC reports. The 5th CPC's report runs into 2,100 pages in three volumes, where less than 50 pages deal with the defence services.

The government has succeeded in making the service so very unattractive that few suitable candidates want to join it and many of those in service want to quit. During 2001-04, 2,000 officers applied to leave service and that included two Lt Gens, 10 Maj Gens, 84 brigadiers and the rest colonels and below. How many from the IAS, IPS and other central services have opted to leave? Looking at the number of mutinies in units in recent times and the increasing number of cases of suicides and fratricides, even the dumb-witted can make out the impact these developments will have on national security. The British took more than a century to create a world-class military, while we have succeeded in inflicting much damage to this great institution within a much shorter period. Winston Churchill spelt out the time and the type of effort required to restore the spirit and morale of an army.

The 7th CPC must have a member from the services and sufficient number among the staff that prepares the report. The issue of NFU for the defence services and other anomalies need to be decided now and not left to the 7th CPC.

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