Despite war clouds looming on the horizon, a plaintive plea from the Forces asks the powers-that-be to bring about pay parity between the Services and their civilian counterparts so that their morale remains high in these trying times
By Bikram Vohra
The terror attack in Uri and the subsequent death of 18 soldiers, the worst in a decade, dried out the rising damp of controversy over the schisms between the salary and emoluments of the Services and their civilian counterparts.
It is tempting at this highly emotional juncture to sweep aside all the delays and roadblocks that have allowed the 6th and 7th Pay Commission to widen the gulf rather than bridge it and give the Forces what they ask for so they can go and fight the good fight. The writing on the wall indicates that Uri is only a link in an insidious chain and there will be more violence in the offing.
Ergo, the pressure is on the government to keep its forces sweet. But that is not the way to do things. Let’s backtrack a bit.
The armed forces count 36 anomalies in the latest report and the three chiefs had dispatched a collective letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar rejecting the 7th Pay Commission in toto and refusing to implement it.
After a lull in which this bold move by the generals was being seen as a major shift from the usual surrender to the civilian masters, the capitulation occurred almost anti-climatically. No one is clear what went on behind closed doors, but the three chiefs gave in and agreed to go ahead with the recommendations, subject to the government promising to look into four points of contention and setting up what would quaintly be called an “Anomalies Committee”.
It would ill behove the chiefs to use this rocky and stressful moment to push for more perks and privileges, however justified they might feel. The military mindset hasn’t got the capacity for blackmail.
It would be disingenuous to believe that the three chiefs were so naïve as to accept this premise ipso facto, especially after the run around given to the ex-servicemen over the OROP issue.
So why did they give in so easily to the blandishments of the PM and the defense minister, knowing full well from experience that going into a committee was a death knell for the issues they had brought up? Having bought time, the government could well have found itself comfortably in a position to slam the door on the uniform.
That hopefulness and a possible media-driven probe into why the chiefs so unctuously gave in and meekly withdrew their written protest was sideswiped by the terrorist attack in Uri and eclipsed by rage, disappointment and tension that now holds sway. Hardly had the story warmed up when it slipped off the front page by the harsh reality that Uri might well be the beginning of something more sinister.
Pakistan is now preparing for what it sees as India’s “Cold Start” tactic. In such a scenario, the Uri attack immediately demands a carefully planned invasion of Pakistan, earmarking its frontline military installations and putting it so deeply on the backfoot that any retaliation means targeting its own people. By “immediately” think minutes, not days.
To offset this very real fear in the Pakistani mind, Pakistan has already started working out a defense mechanism which includes turning highways into instant airfields and runways in case its air bases are overrun. To many minds, Pakistan is mentally gearing for war even if it’s only some self-indulgent sabre-rattling designed to send India the message that the surprise element is off the table.
India has ammo for 12 to 20 days of intense battle when it should last 40 days. In a report, CAG had stated that in some weaponry, the shortage was 84 percent.
One would agree that in these perilous circumstances, the armed forces suddenly become very important and beloved. That’s par for the course. Self-preservation becomes the operative dynamic and much virtue is dredged for and found in our military might.
That said, it would ill behove the chiefs to use this rocky and stressful moment to push for more perks and privileges, however justified they might feel. Even ex-servicemen who hunger-struck for months for OROP would balk at arm-twisting authorities now. They are not likely to hold the government to ransom because the military mindset hasn’t got the capacity for blackmail.
But whether war or peace descends on the valley, the question of creating parity in pay scales will remain and it would be in keeping with mutual good faith if the so-called “Anomalies Committee” was ordered to fast track its conclusions. The points are not new and do not need in-depth study.
As I had written some time back… “the current “attitude” is best seen in the last of the four points. It will probably get the least attention and yet, stands testament to the way the services all too often get the short straw.
- The disability pension for an additional secretary is Rs 70,000 and that of a three star general only Rs 27,000. This disparity is laughable. Down the line where the jawan is most vulnerable, it is whittled down to nothing. The odds on a man or woman in uniform getting injured or losing a limb is several times more likely than that of the civilian counterpart. What would a secretary have to do to be disabled? Fall out of his car.”
The other three points which deal with the salary gap are:
- While all central government employees are provided 40 pay scales, the defense personnel is grade-bracketed only in 24, reducing their pay hikes
- Refusal to give Junior Commissioned Officers the recognition they deserve by upping their Military Service Pay which is the same as that of the jawans they lead
- lA call for a non-functional upgrade which is enjoyed by the civil services
These are largely irritants because the man (and woman) in uniform firmly believes he/she is seen as inferior by the civilians who run his/her life.
This disparity has generated discord and the general attitude in peace time is of uneasy tolerance. Even the Indian public and the media at large are unsympathetic to the uniform per se in times of peace. It is not surprising then that there is a shortage of nearly 15,000 officers and 90,000 men in just the army. Indian youth would rather duck the physical rigors of military life for the relatively softer 9 to 5 treadmill of a civilian job.
Why did the three service chiefs give in so easily to the blandishments of the PM and the defense minister knowing full well from experience that going into a committee was a death knell for the for the issues they had brought up?
The genesis of this shabby saga, reflected in the dismay that the armed forces feel, lies in the lip service and pre-election gung-ho rhetoric from Modi and the Independence Day speech he gave. He had invoked the sentiment of mera jawan (my soldier), followed soon after by a public display of affection when three of his lady ministers tied rakhis to soldiers, including those stationed at Siachen base camp.
The second tier was put into place when Modi went on record saying: “Those who have to work from the table will work from the table; and those who have to guard the border will work at the border with full strength. Each one will fulfill responsibility entrusted to them. Our jawans are fulfilling their responsibility.” After these demonstrations of so-called good faith, the armed forces felt done down when the 7th Pay Commission went the same way as the 6th and the gaps remain.
In the present circumstances, the government cannot be seen to be bribing the armed forces to maintain their integrity as the keepers of the gate. National security and pay hikes are mutually exclusive for the now.
Also, the priorities are different. Dramatically so. The need of the hour is expenditure on arms and ammunition. The War Wastage Materials which is the supply maintained to consume projectiles at several times the peacetime practice level is woefully short. India has ammo for 12 to 20 days of intense battle when it should be at 40 days. In a report, CAG had stated that in some weaponry, the shortage was 84 percent.
This is criminal neglect by both the Congress and BJP regimes when the defense budget is $40 billion. One day, the people will ask their political echelons why this was allowed to happen to compromise national security. Go shopping, is what the soldier will also say and make us sharp and ready to protect the country.
India’s forces will not ask for more money now and the government must, therefore, do the right thing for the right reasons regardless of whether war clouds gather or not. No war lasts forever and once normality returns to the border, this issue will be raised again because it won’t go away.
In legal terms, in February this year, well-known lawyer Ram Jethmalani took up the case of the ex-servicemen and petitioned the Supreme Court. In July, the Supreme Court summoned the government in order to seek its response to the petitioner’s claims.
The national mood at this moment would ensure that the babu brigade would have to give in to the military demands because of the tension on the border and the truth behind the old lyric: “Gods and soldiers all adore, when in trouble, nevermore.”
One would rather the disparity was addressed because it deserves to be addressed and not done at the point of a gun.
Lead picture: (L-R) The Chairman of the Seventh Pay Commission, Justice AK Mathur submitting report to the Union Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information and Broadcasting, Arun Jaitley on November 19, 2015. Photo: PIB; Soldiers manning the Air Force base at Pathankot, which came under terrorist attack in early January this year. Photo: UNI