The military has been persistently disadvantaged by successive central pay commissions (CPC). In the case of the first and second CPCs, its case was fielded by the ministry of defence (MoD). The third CPC wanted to hear the case from the military directly but the MoD ruled against this on grounds of discipline, and the top brass accepted the absurd stand.
This pay commission brought down pensions of military personnel from 70% of last pay drawn to 50% but elevated pensions from 30% to 50% in the case of civil servants. Nearly 80% of military personnel did not even get 50% of the last pay drawn as pension. Only 37% got it because of the shorter span of service. The 50% pension was available only after 20 years of military service. Thereafter, subsequent CPCs persistently disadvantaged the military vis-à-vis civil services. However, the third CPC dangled the one rank one pension (OROP) scheme as an alternative to the decrease in pensions from 70% to 50%.
MoD, CDA play negative role
Where subsequent pay commissions tried to improve matters for the military, the MoD and the controller of defence accounts (CDA) stepped in to negate them. The fourth CPC, as a consolation for OROP, gave rank pay up to the rank of brigadier. The CDA conveniently deducted this amount from the basic pay, which in turn impacted allowances as well. Three decades later, this is yet to be resolved. The Supreme Court orders on the payment of rank pay have not been implemented fully. Those behind this lapse were neither exposed nor held accountable.
The sixth CPC ruled that pension should be fixed at 50% of “the minimum of the rank in the pay band corresponding”. The civil bureaucracy rephrased this sentence to read, “minimum of the pay band corresponding”. Those who played this trick were never pointed out and no action was initiated against them. This put four ranks: Lieutenant colonel, colonel, brigadier and major general in the same band 4 and the ministry placed all of them at the bottom of the pay band for the purpose of fixing pension. Thus, a brigadier (with rank pay as admissible to him) got more pension than a major general. This has also not been fully resolved a decade later, the Supreme Court ruling notwithstanding. In addition, more than two score anomalies created by the sixth CPC are yet to be resolved.
Disabled civil employees of the government are retained till they reach the age of superannuation and given normal pension. Whereas for military personnel, for whom the chances of suffering disability is higher due to professional hazards, the disabled are sent out of service and often denied adequate disability pension. Disabled personnel have been fighting their cases with the government for years. The seventh CPC has further complicated the issue of disability and broadbanding.
Early retirement, mounting family commitments and resultant financial worries has brought down a soldier’s life expectancy to 61-63 years, while the life expectancy of his counterpart in the civil services is 71-72 and those from the railways is 73. Early death of a soldier creates a wider gap in the sum total of pay and pension between him and his counterpart in the civil and police (state and central services). This sad state of soldiers seems to be of no one’s concern: least of all the military’s top brass.
Civil services are one up on OROP
The bureaucracy, via the sixth CPC, gifted itself and all-India Group A services (over four dozen of them) “non-functional upgrade (NFU)” but made it a point to exclude military officers from this largesse. This grant of NFU gave these civil services one up on OROP. Under NFU, everyone from those over four dozen civil services retired in the minimum appointment equivalent to an additional secretary to the government of India (equal to a threestar general), while less than 0.01% vacancies of three star general exist in the military. Even if the seventh CPC recommends NFU to the military, others would have gained 10 years advantage over them.
The seventh CPC could do no better. As in the past, there was no representation in the CPC from the defence services though they form the largest group of government service (other than the railways). Even among the 150-odd officers drawn from various services to assist the CPC in working out the details of the report, there is none from the military. So the perennial bias and prejudice of bureaucrats against the military play out to the full and even those from the top judiciary, the chairmen of the CPCs, fail to notice this glaring shortfall. It would be too much to expect our service chiefs to take a stand even on this basic issue.
In working out the defence revenue expenditure and percentage share of revenue expenditure, the seventh CPC took into account only .01% of the defence forces that reaches the rank of lieutenant general and paired it with that of 95% of civil servants who reach the level of additional secretary. This has been done to present a facade of satisfactory remuneration to defence personnel.
This CPC’s terms of reference were to take into account the economic conditions of the country and the need for fiscal prudence, yet it has recommended grant of OROP to all government employees, while ex-servicemen have been agitating for OROP for more than 160 days and the government has been haggling with them to reduce their demand, citing the fiscal burden. The military’s demand for OROP rested on the grounds of early retirement and limited promotions. No such basis exists in the case of civil servants. The pay commission has gone horribly wrong on the retirement age of military personnel. For it, a sepoy retires at 42-48 years and a naik at 49. The CPC is unaware that 80% of army personnel retire at 37 years and less.
Putting the military at the disadvantage has made the service unattractive. This would impact national security in the long run because the man behind the gun continues to be more important than the gun. It’s time to rectify the anomalies of successive pay commissions and end the bias against the military.
(The writer, a former deputy chief of army staff, is a commentator on defence and security issues. Views expressed are personal)