Governments have deliberately downgraded the military: Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

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(L-R) Soldiers of the Indian Army take their positions near the site of a gun battle between the Indian security forces and militants on the outskirts of Srinagar (Photo: UNI); Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

 At a time when the clouds of war are hovering over India and Pakistan, the armed forces, no doubt, stands united in countering any threat from across the border. While our men in fatigues are steadfast in their resolve to protect the country, they have one grouse with their political masters. It’s over their pay scales which show no parity with that of government employees.

This gap has only widened with the recommendations of successive pay commissions. The recent Seventh Pay Commission’s structuring of salaries has caused much heartburn among the three forces which felt that the officers and men had been shortchanged yet again. 

LT GEN VIJAY OBEROI, former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, has been quite vocal in condemning the step-motherly attitude shown by the government to the men in uniform. He spoke to USHA RANI DAS. Excerpts from the interview:

What in your view are the anomalies of the Seventh Pay Commission?

There are broadly two types of anomalies, those relating to the Seventh CPC (Central Pay Commission) and those that have been carried forward from earlier CPCs. The total varies from about 30 to 50, depending on how different analysts have calculated them. Some, having remained unresolved over decades, cannot be resolved now. An important anomaly that appears after every CPC is Pay Fixation, which is wrongly carried out, intentionally or due to wrong interpretation of rules, resulting in some seniors getting less pay than their juniors. This anomaly continues. JCOs and junior ranks suffer the most.

The underlying theme of the 7th CPC recommendations and their approval by the government appears to be yet another attempt to downgrade the military.Then the 7th CPC correctly termed Siachen as the riskiest and most hazardous area and recommended Risk & Hardship Allowance (RHA) at Rs 31,500 for officers and Rs 21,000 for JCOs and lower ranks. Yet, for civilian employees it has recommended 30 percent of the basic pay (of the new pay matrix) as Special Duty Allowance (SDA) to all personnel of All India Services (AIS), in Guwahati or in the salubrious climate of Shillong or Aizawl, to name a few places. This works out to much higher amounts. Is it not mind-boggling that military personnel will only receive RHA for Siachen at much lower amounts of Rs 31,500 for officers and Rs 21,000 for JCOs and lower ranks, while civilian government employees will get SDA at 30 percent of pay (Rs 60,000)  in the north east?

What do you make of Union Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar’s promise that he will resolve the issues related to the 7th CPC issue separately?

The initial response of the defense minister to the three service chiefs informing the defense ministry that the recommendations of 7th CPC would not be implemented till all anomalies are resolved, was both bureaucratic and  naïve. It indicated how little the minister understands the ethos, pride and élan of the military.

Even a cursory study of what the central government has approved indicates that the 7th CPC is heavily loaded in favor of the bureaucracy, the police and other non-military government employees.Curtailment of salaries, pension, and allowances of military personnel can hardly be termed as a correct strategy or policy to balance the fiscal deficit, or whatever other excuse the bureaucrats and mandarins of the finance ministry can come up with. The need is to ensure that soldiers are secure and satisfied, so that they can focus on safeguarding our borders.

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Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

Is Parrikar’s response a veiled move to pacify the three service chiefs?

The raksha mantri (RM) talks a lot and makes grandiose promises, but only implements simple and peripheral issues. Much was recently said by the sarkari media that the RM has carried out a reshuffle of the MoD, wherein he neither trimmed the burgeoning bureaucracy, nor inducted any military officers in it, as has been the mandate of the government since 2001, when a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by the deputy prime minister of his own party had directed the integration of the civil and military officials in the MoD.

What are the challenges the Indian Military is facing due to the politics being played out?

In generalized terms, the underlying theme of the 7th CPC recommendations and their approval by the government appears to be yet another attempt to downgrade the military.

The politico-bureaucratic nexus has been systematically lowering the status and remunerations of military personnel. It is an attack on the very institution that guarantees the security of all citizens of India.

Even a cursory study of what the central government has approved indicates that the 7th CPC is heavily loaded in favor of the bureaucracy, the police and other non-military government employees.

The real problem does not lie in not resolving the large number of anomalies that stretch back to over four decades, but the approach that is increasingly being adopted by the political leadership, at the behest of their bureaucratic advisers towards the one institution which has always performed, irrespective of the dangers and challenges.

Sadly, the Seventh Pay Commission report falls well short of the standards expected of it. Therefore, if the three service chiefs have addressed the defense minister, it is for sound reasons.

Why has the Indian government neglected the welfare of the military all these years?

The politico-bureaucratic nexus has been systematically lowering the status and remunerations of military personnel. It is an attack on the very institution that guarantees the security of all citizens of India. Motives need not be spelled out, but do include arrogance; inability to grasp what the military desires; personal agendas; and pure greed! These actions of all governments, irrespective of political affiliations, have deliberately downgraded the military. 

 Lead pictures: (L-R) Soldiers of the Indian Army take their positions near the site of a gun battle between the Indian security forces and militants on the outskirts of Srinagar (Photo: UNI); Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi