This festive season, the armed forces and their families have been forced to accept the handouts of the government and their bureaucratic masters from the civil services and are expected to feel grateful for it.
After the put down by the Ministry of Defense over non-submission of salary vouchers according to the revised pay grades recommended by the Sixth Pay Commission, the three uniformed services sent in their revised vouchers ensuring payment of ad hoc arrears to armed forces personnel. The forces had earlier decided to withhold the implementation of the Commission’s report, which many in the armed forces have called discriminatory.
This means that, India’s soldiers, sailors and airmen and their families will have to take what they’re getting and can only hope for parity from the committee set up by Prime Minster Manmohan Singh to look into the issues that have left the forces and their families seething.
The Defense Minister had rubbished reports of disaffection. He said, “There is no difference between the government and the Services, because they are also part of the government.”
And while the three service chief discussed the issue with the Defense Minister on Tuesday, there is still discontent amongst armed forces personnel and their families.
Priya, the wife of a Special Forces officer deployed in counter insurgency operations calls this ‘Diwali gift’ ‘Total nonsense’. “It was long overdue and I am very disappointed. But this is expected from the government. They just look at their votebanks and act accordingly.” Married two years, she points out, “Even after the Fifth Pay Commission whatever pay hike they made became meaningless because of inflation. I expect the same to happen now,” adding, “It’s not just pay. They call us officers but look at the living conditions. The conditions of the accommodation given us are so bad.”
Colonel M S Rathi, retired from the Sikh Regiment is livid. “The civilian leadership has been doing this right from the beginning. This bias against the armed forces has been there for a long time.”
“The bureaucrats have cheated the armed forces in connivance with the politicians,” says Colonel R C Kapoor, retired from the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
He also thinks this is the reason the quality of the recruits in the army has gone down. “We’re not getting good people any more,” he says, adding, “This is not about money, just equality with the officers of the other services.”
While there are several points of dispute, the fact is that bulk of the officer cadre comprises officers of the ranks of Majors and Lt Colonels and their equivalent. Officers of this rank actually run the armed forces. And the major point of dispute is the standing of officers of the rank of Lt Colonels and their like.
Col Rathi thinks this is going to lead to trouble for the forces. “First of all, these officers will just leave the forces. There are good opportunities available outside. As it is there is a shortage of officers. Why should they stay? They will just go out,” he says.
The second problem arising from this disparity is that in joint paramilitary and armed forces operational assignments, a paramilitary officer placed under the command of the military might simply refuse to take orders from the military commander if he draws a higher pay, even though they be of equivalent ranks.
Col Rathi says this is because although the forces had been asking for equivalent pay according to the number of years of service, the civilian bureaucracy has consistently forced them to accept pay according to rank. Since the number of ranks in the armed forces is greater, the subsequent promotions and increases in pay, in comparison to the civil services, are lesser in scope.
“Whenever there is a problem – floods, riots or anything – they send out the army, but otherwise the forget them,” points out Col Kapoor.
Priya’s husband is on his second tour of a counter insurgency area and they’ve been separated for the past year and a half. “I can’t even think of sitting at home and have him working. I can’t ‘not’ (sic) have a career of my own. I have to be working,” she says.
In the meantime, there are reports that the UPA government is delaying any action by the ministerial committee looking into the grievances of the armed forces till the Election Commission’s announcement of the general elections. Under the model code of conduct that comes into operation once elections are announced the government will just wash it’s hands off the entire affair saying it can’t announce any ‘largesse’.