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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Commission’s omissions

The Sixth Pay Commission report held no cheer for the majority of oficers of the armed forces. The resentment is most visible in the middle-rung officers between the ranks of Major and Brigadier in the Army and their equivalent in the Air Force and the Navy. It is the middle rung, which forms the backbone of the armed forces. The three service chiefs were left with no option but to approach Defence Minister A.K. Antony for an upward revision in the pay panel's recommendations.

The government has set up an Empowered Committee of Secretaries for reviewing the report. The committee is expected to re-examine the recommendations and make amends in the yawning disparity in pay packets of the supposed–to-be-equals in the government service.

The move, however, has not evoked much hope amongst the personnel of the armed forces. "Despite several proposals, the Sixth Pay Commission gave nothing to the war disabled. This shows the insensitivity of the government towards defence personnel and their problems. As far as this enhanced committee is concerned, nothing substantive is likely to result. For the simple reason that there is no representation of the defence forces in the committee. They are likely to present the same wine in a new bottle, using different words and expressions and coming up with only marginal improvements," says Lt-Gen Vijay Oberoi, former Army Vice-Chief.

A majority of the armed force personnel are similarly convinced that the new committee will not have much to offer. An infantry officer adds: "Once again, it was left to the three service chiefs to convince the government in power that the Pay Commission had succeeded in addressing the issues entrusted with as much as a band-aid on a gaping wound. Now another empowered committee is expected to work out a formula that an empowered body of eminent citizens could not in over two years. A fixed monthly sum of Rs 6,000 for officers up to the rank of Brigadier and all of Rs 1,000 for PBOR, This was the answer to the shortage of more than 11,000 plus officers in the Army. The Commission did not try to understand the difficulties faced by men in uniform and the discontentment that has been brewing for quite some time.

For the 1.5 million-strong armed forces, anticipating a hike of 4 to 4.5 times in this pay panel over the last one, the disappointment was understandable. It came as no surprise that since the announcement of the report, many officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force sought premature retirement from service while several others are in line to do so

The pay panel has, however, doled out an attractive pay packet for officers just joining the armed forces. The move was meant to give adequate motivation to youngsters to opt for the armed forces as a career.

Reasons for discontent

It was not the mere 13-15 per cent hike recommmended in take-home packages of officers from the rank of Major to Brigadier which is the only cause of disgruntlement in the rank and file. There are a number of other reasons. Officers who have put in their papers and want to quit are not willing to wait for the government's review of the pay panel's recommendations. For them, the issue is not just about money, it about status, or rather the lack of it. "There is no money, no status, extreme hardships, no promotion. To top it all, they are not even letting us go out when there is still time for us to do something for the family. Serving in the armed forces is like bonded labour," they say.

Which means that in all probability a majority of the applications of those seeking to leave will be rejected and they will continue to serve the nation despite not wanting to. The big question is how will the armed forces ensure that such officers remain motivated.

Pecking order

To a large extent, the growing disillusionment within the armed forces stems from the fact that the status of defence personnel has, over a period of time, eroded considerably. For this, they blame the strong IAS lobby. The disomfort over "lack of stature" results from a disparity with the IAS and Allied Services along with a disparity in pay packets. This is a major morale downer, too.

"Despite being equals in government service, look at the power bureaucrats have. We might be manning the borders of this one billion plus nation and managing assets worth crores but it is the IAS personnel who decide our fates," says a serving Group Captain.

It hurts those from the armed forces to see the "pecking order" go down, year after year. With no money and no status to boot, it is no wonder then that deserving youngsters prefer to join the lucrative corporate sector or opt for powerful civil services than join the armed forces. "It takes 33 long and hard years for a select few to a status which the civilian bureaucrat can take for granted at 18. In comparison, an IAS officer will certainly become a joint secretary in 20 years time. For the military men, careers are truncated at an age and stage that is early for retirement and late for gainful employment. General Oberoi says that the rejection of the inclusion of a representative from the defence forces nominee in the Sixth Pay commission itself should have been an indicator of things to come.

"Bureaucrats have deliberately made recommendations that have reduced not just the pay and allowances of the armed forces at different levels but also their stature. In consecutive pay panels the directive has been of relativity. But relativity is possible only among equal people. How can you compare an orange with a banana? Conditions in the armed forces are not similar with any other government service and there cannot be any comparison. The rest of the government services have a similar nature. Personnel stay in a place and are desk-bound. Even the police, though not desk-bound, cannot be compared with the armed forces. Therefore if not a separate pay commission , the armed forces should at least have a representative in the committee," he says.

"Apparently the adventurous lifestyle did not cut any ice with youngsters any more than the promise of painting the skies with glory. They all said that a fat pay packet was all that it takes to 'buy' it off the shelf. It took all of 60 years, post-Independence, to acknowledge that their status is good enough to absolve them from getting frisked by security at airports," says a Brigadier.

Freedom from babudom

Armymen are clear that if the government wants them to guard the country's borders and airspace, patrol the high waters and fight terrorists, it should be ready to set up a separate pay commission for them. They have sporadic family life, their careers end prematurely and their children's education suffers. The suicide rates are rising amongst them. "The need of the hour," says an Armyman, "is to delink the pay commission of defence services from that of babudom. Till such time, I for one am not encouraging my children to pick up the gauntlet. I choose, like the rest of us, to fail the gallant.

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