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Pay Commission and Morale among the Defence Services

The government of India's refusal to implement the principle of "one-rank-one-pension" to the retired defence personnel will make the far-sighted fear for the union of India because a demoralised or fractious military that is also denied the right to free speech cannot be in the best interests of the nation.

ONE-RANK-ONE-PENSION DEMAND

Pay Commission and Morale among the Defence Services is denied fundamental freedoms under Articles 19(a) and 19(c), and have conditions of service, promotion and retirement that are adverse when compared with other categories under consideration
of the scPC.
N S Chakravarthy, S G Vombatkere National development, which is reck-

The government of India’s refusal to implement the principle of “one-rank-one-pension” to the retired defence personnel will make the far-sighted fear for the union of India because a demoralised or fractious military that is also denied the right to free speech cannot be in the best interests of the nation.

N S Chakravarthy (ns_chak@yahoo.com) retired as a senior official in the Telecom Commission. S G Vombatkere (sgvombatkere@ hotmail.com) retired at the rank of major general from the army.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 25, 2009

F
ollowing the announcement of the central government’s order on pay revisions based on the Sixth Central Pay Commission (ScPC), several articles appeared in the media concerning inequities suffered by the defence services (comprising army, navy and air force, or “the military”, whose personnel of all ranks are referred to as faujis) in terms of pay and equivalence with other central services, and importantly, the dereliction of significance attached to the inequities. There are several dimensions of this grievance felt by faujis across the board.

There is a need for deeper discourse on morale, which is the bedrock of faujis’ cohesiveness, discipline and battleeffectiveness. Morale is determined by what a fauji is expected to do and actually does, how he is looked after by government during and after military service, and how the fauji brotherhood perceives it. One should not fail to mention that morale is also dependent upon the quality of military leadership and the motivation, training, weapons, equipment and supplies that it provides.

The focus of this article is the negative impacts on national security due to serious erosion in the morale of serving and retired faujis, based on estimation by senior retired military officers. Most faujis feel that the government does not even attempt to understand the problems faced by them when on duty, and treats them with indifference, even neglect. This can compromise collective performance in military combat, an unforgiving activity for which there is no runners-up award, and failure in which has huge negative, irreversible consequences both for the military and the nation.

The proximate cause of lowered morale is the scPC and the fact of there being no member in it to represent the faujis, who form not only the single largest s egment of people affected by the scPC, but who also form the only segment that

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oned by growth and its sustainability, is a complex and difficult subject to examine, but it will not be an oversimplification to state that safety and security are among the prime factors for social stability, without which development cannot be effectively planned or implemented.

The state and central administrative services and police forces have a central role in the internal socio-political and legal domains, to provide security and social protection as a part of governance. The military provides the complementary protective envelope that inhibits external powers from interfering with the processes of development. In addition, the military, with its established apolitical, secular credentials and professionalism, is requisitioned by the central or state governments to supplement the state and central police. After independence, the supplementary role of the military has expanded in the type and frequency of its deployment to meet internal turbulences in the form of emergency situations and crises.

Role in Governance Functions

In order to maintain stability of governance, the primary instrument of the union and state governments is the bureaucracy along with the central and state police forces, which comprise the civil administration. Because of a combination of seve ral reasons, perhaps, the most important of which are political interference, corruption and inability to change the colonial mindset of governance, the demonstrated performance of government’s primary instrument over the decades has been in decline, with selfevident effects.

The military is frequently called by the civil administration in “aid of civil power” to solve a variety of problems or handle emergency situations. However, it is necessary to point out that though the p rimary role of the military is to defend national borders and maintain India’s

ONE-RANK-ONE-PENSION DEMAND

t erritorial integrity and sovereignty, it has been and still is very frequently deployed in its emergency role of aid of civil power. This is not to argue that the military should not be called out. After all, the military is a national body that is meant to serve the nation and its people.

The tasks assigned to the military range from controlling social violence, handling insurgencies, maintaining essential services and undertaking rescue and relief operations during natural or man-made disasters, even rescuing children fallen into wells. And all this is undertaken and executed despite a growing shortage of officers which stands at 14,264, with 11,238 in the army alone, mostly at the ground-working levels.

There are two primary reasons for the civil administration seeking help of the military. One is their acknowledged discipline, experience, expertise and specialisation in handling large problems and tasks at the planning, management and execution levels. The second is poor and declining governance standards provided by the elected executive through the bureau cracypolice network. For example, as reported in the media, after the warning of the mega-cyclone that hit Orissa in Octo ber 1999, the senior staff of the district administration had fled to safe places, leaving the citizenry to their fate at the peak of the c risis. Again as reported in the media, once the military is called out, the civil administration most often does little or nothing.

Military to the Rescue

When an emergency arises, or law and order is threatened or deteriorates, c entral or state governments are sometimes paralysed into inaction. The most recent display of this was during the 2008 t errorist attack in Mumbai (“M umbai 26/11”). In other instances which need not be elaborated here, g overnments have displayed negligence, inaction and even complicity for poli tical or ideo logical reasons. It is in such s ituations that the use of the military in aid of civil power to restore internal s tability is an instrument of last resort like a trump card for central or state g overnments. And it is the traditionally apolitical, s ecular and professional military that has made restoration of internal s tability possible.

Being strongly hierarchical, the military is a relatively closed system. Unlike any other organisation, the relative insulation of the military from the rest of India’s society is due to its traditions, ethos, training and deployment which have made it what it is – to repeat, apolitical, secular and professional. Faujis are subject to military law, and are therefore, denied the right to freedom of speech and expression to communicate with the media under Constitution of India Article 19(a), and the right to form associations or unions under Article 19(c), that are guaranteed to ordinary citizens including the bureaucracy and central and state police forces. Thus, faujis are, in fact, extraordinary citizens. But serving faujis do communicate with their colleagues, friends and relatives. Thus, most veterans are well aware of faujis’ grievances, their fears and anxieties, their desires and aspirations, their moments of pride and achievement and their motivations. After all, every veteran was once a serving fauji.

The grievances, fears, etc, of faujis do not reach the upper echelons of governance partly due to the insulation of the military because of denial of constitutional rights, and partly due to the several layers of the military and bureaucracy. The result is that the innermost thoughts of the simple sepoy at the base of the pyramid or the junior officer who has the most direct contact with him rarely, if ever, get known outside the military. These are the thoughts that, when put together, indicate the individual fauji’s morale, and when aggregated, the morale of the military as a whole.

Apart from training, team-spirit and regimental tradition that are a part of morale painstakingly built up within the military, there are two external factors that contribute towards the morale of the indivi dual fauji, namely, status (more appro priately, “izzat”) and salary. Pay scales are important to faujis, but anybody with the least familiarity with the military knows that izzat is always more important. The first is to satisfy the corporeal and temporal needs of the fauji and his family, and the second is what motivates him to fight for national causes and if need be, sacrifice his life. And the two are inextricably linked. Here it is necessary to

april 25, 2009

stress that the present paper is not an oblique attempt to argue for pay or status parity, although both these issues have a great and immediate bearing on a much more important issue, which is the degradation, even invalidation of the government’s frequently-used “trump card”.

The Fauji Devalued

Live issues within the military, such as physically and psychologically trying service conditions, especially during internal security duties, insufficient living accommodation, all jawans having to retire at the age of 38, 60% officers by the age of 54, and promotions (to which pay is linked) being very limited especially in the officer cadre, have been borne without much murmur. But now the dissatisfaction in the military is at high pitch, although this may not be seen by those outside “the system”

– not even those who have access to intelligence reports, because most intelligence agencies keep uncomfortable facts away from the boss. The hard fact is that, justifiable or not, most faujis and veterans harbour a grudge against the bureaucracy, which they see as the hand behind the consistent denial of their just and fair demands. Admittedly, every person feels that his demand is just and fair. But we must note the great dissimilarity between what the fauji does, how he lives and works with risk to life and limb on the one hand, and on the other, bureaucrats who live relatively comfortable lives, receive assured promotions, draw higher salaries and earn more during their much longer service life.

It is appropriate to quote examples. Only 7% of military officers get promoted to Brigadier rank after 28 years of service, much of it in hard areas, while 100% of the Indian Police Service officers are elevated to the “equivalent” post of Director/ Inspector General after 14 years of service. Similarly, only 2% of military officers get promoted to major general after 32 years of service, while 100% of IAS officers are promoted to the “equivalent” senior administrative grade after 14 years of service. (This coincidentally shows how the Indian Administrative Service is one-up on the IPS!). But this is not about officers alone, because the status inequity goes down the hierarchy to the sepoy who, though living a much riskier life and

vol xliv no 17

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r etiring much earlier, becomes inferior to his civilian counterpart.

The load on the exchequer for provi ding military personnel status-service-salary parity with the IAS or police at all levels is not unaffordable considering, for example, the huge tax holidays and concessions being freely given to commercial and industrial corporations. While he freely accepts being under control of the union cabinet through the defence minister, the fauji resents the real-time control that is exercised by the bureaucracy to his personal detriment and the izzat of his service. He feels devalued, neglected and insulted. This state of affairs is undoubtedly harmful for the country’s internal and external security.

Veterans

Pension is based upon pay drawn at retirement. Ex-servicemen have held a longstanding demand for “one-rank-one-pension” (OROP), which means that regardless of when a fauji retired, those who retired with the same rank and the same length of service should receive the same pension. This demand is based upon the fact that faujis, especially personnel below officer rank (PBOR), who retired long ago draw much less pension than those who retired more recently and are in difficult economic circumstances. OROP had not been acceded to by successive CPCs, even though it had been agreed to in principle by several elected representatives in v arious union governments. Faujis continue to believe that the bureaucracy is behind such a refusal. It is learnt that, while discussing the OROP issue recently, a senior official of defence (finance) has said, “Finances are not an issue” or words to that effect, since the amount in question may be a mere Rs 600 crore. This view from the finance angle clearly r einforces the fauji’s apprehension that the bureaucracy is at the root of the consistent refusal.

Hitherto, military veterans had always silently accepted whatever the CPCs have granted by way of pension and allowances over the decades. The CPCs have always been headed and dominated by bureaucrats, who have little idea of and less i nterest in the working and living conditions of the fauji or the veteran and have

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 25, 2009

made decisions for the largest segment of central government servants without their representation. The unfairness of successive CPC dispensations was not lost on military veterans, but their habit of acceding to “superior authority” hitherto ended in simple grumbling, mostly at personal level. It needs to be noted that the worst sufferers of the neglect of veterans are the jawans who, after retirement at 35 years age, are too busy trying to reconstruct their lives to be able to afford time to join hands to make demands concerning pensions.

However, following the scPC, military veterans have organised themselves to agitate vigorously and have taken the unprecedented step of offering satyagraha by relay fasting at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi since mid-December 2008, and returning their hard-earned medals. The veterans’ relay fasting has been kept out of the media possibly due to bureaucratic influence on the government, and veterans become even more disillusioned. Earlier, police arre sted senior retired general offi cers demonstrating silently in the Boat Club area with prior intimation to ministry of home affairs, and were taken to the Tilak Marg Police Station. The continued stonewalling by the government, including the arrest of veterans mentioned above, has turned the mood of military veterans from unwilling acceptance into one of deman ding anger. One may argue that the voice of military veterans is not important in the future of the country, but such an argument neglects the fact that the serving fauji is well aware of the socio-economic conditions of military veterans, and also knows all too well that he will one day join their ranks. Hence, today’s neglect of military veterans is tomorrow’s neglect of the serving fauji, and this is t aking its toll on the morale of the fighting man.

The position of faujis in the order of precedence has been steadily falling over the years relative to IAS and police appointments. Faujis view this as deliberate devaluation of military rank and as loss of izzat. This reflects lower down the military hierarchy in the matter of pay equivalence with bureaucrats and police officials. With the skewed recommendations of the scPC, it has resulted in police officers who

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h itherto drew less salary than their fauji peers, now drawing a higher salary despite less years of service. At the operational level in J&K and the north-east states, police officers have refused to serve under army officers of the rank of lieutenant colonel since they now draw higher emoluments according to the scPC. This has also happened between navy commanders and coast guard officers. Herein lies serious risk of operational failure and consequent national security risk, and worse, further lowering of fauji morale.

Consider serving military personnel with lowered morale. Almost all faujis have followed the media coverage of the November 26, 2008 attack in Mumbai and the sacrifices made by the NSG (SAG) commandos. In fact, most faujis serving in counter-insurgency operations are personally under direct fire from militants and participate in such actions much more often than reported in the media. And they see the cause of their exposure to such difficult, life-threatening situations as being due to poor governance, more specifically, failure of civil authority (the political executive and the bureaucracypolice) to handle political violence or law and order situations, necessitating frequently requisitioning the military.

Thus, among serving personnel, there is an undeniable feeling of dissatisfaction, a deep-seated feeling of injustice, the feeling of helplessness and a certain knowledge that many people in the higher e chelons of government are callous or corrupt. One might argue that such is the feeling even among the general public as demonstrated most recently following Mumbai 26/11, but then members of the general public are not required to carry out life-threatening tasks as part of duty.

India’s military remains staunchly apolitical and professional unlike in some countries in India’s neighbourhood. They have displayed an exemplary courage and fortitude in all wars thrust upon the c ountry, and are respected within and outside India. They are counted among the top fighting forces in the world. But in the fallout of the scPC and the generally negative, even sullen mood obtaining, in a forthcoming war with Pakistan, should there be even a temporary or local reverse in the military situation, it is quite

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likely to be interpreted as a failure of morale by (irresponsible?) media. And the canker of lowered morale can rapidly spread through the branches of the military. This can be much worse than a military defeat both for India and its military. From the already rapidly growing regional pressures, a weakened India will be an easy meat for superpower ambitions in south Asia.

Conclusions

The combination of dissatisfaction, feelings of injustice, helplessness and the knowledge that powerful people are callous is a potentially explosive one. Such a mood obtains today among veterans, after the scPC and subsequent events. The government’s refusal to accord status parity, especially with the police, and the refusal to grant OROP status will make the far-sighted

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fear for the union of India because a demora lised or fractious military that is also denied the right to free speech, cannot be in the best interests of the nation. Restoring the izzat of the military and providing faujis at various salary levels commensurate with their duties, with consultation, is possibly the most important and urgent step that government needs to take to rejuvenate its instrument of last resort.

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april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17

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