Armed Forces Shortchanged

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The report of the 7th Pay Commission is out and like the last commission (and even the one before), the anomalies in the pay, allowances and conditions of service of the military, vis-à-vis their civilian counterparts, remain unaddressed. While every government service was represented in this commission (and the ones before), the military was kept out (as before). The government says that the Defence Ministry takes care of the men in uniform but as this research by Team Parliamentarian reveals, the mandarins in the ministry have time and again shortchanged the military

While commenting on the norms for governance, the Chairman of the 7th Central Pay Commission quoted from the Gita: “YathoDharmah,TathoJayah” meaning “Where there is Dharma, there is Victory”. In other words, success goes hand in hand with righteousness.

This article intends to put forth just two arguments, based on the strength of the data and facts contained in the report submitted by the commission. Both arguments suggesting that the high principles of righteousness quoted in the foreword of the report, have evidently been ignored while the commission structured the pay and allowances for the Defence Forces. Interestingly, the commission’s report has many contradictions which have helped in building of the aforesaid arguments and therefore the commission’s report is the only document that has been referred to in the writing of this piece.

NO REPRESENTATION

The first argument is that the commission was inadequately composed to handle the challenges of developing the future pay structure for the defence forces, and yet it continued with the task at hand. The commission’s report states that, “Of the total Central Government manpower of around 47 lakh, personnel belonging to the defence forces form a significant proportion of nearly 29.49 percent. In fact, as on 01 Jan 2014 the defence service personnel, numbering 13.86 lakh, formed the single largest group of Central Government employees”.

In other words, almost one out of every three Central Government employees that are affected by the report, is a combatant soldier. While the rest of the Central Government has 91,510 Group A officers, Defence forces alone account for 66,690 officers. Apart from the above challenges on account of sheer magnitude, the commission also acknowledges the uniqueness of the cadre. It states in its report: “The commission, after careful consideration of the matter, notes that there are exclusive elements that distinguish the Defence forces personnel from all other government employees. The intangible aspects linked to the special conditions of service experienced by them, set them apart from civilian employees. Defence forces personnel are expected to conduct full spectrum operations in operational environments which are characterized by extreme complexity and ….”

So the moot question is, how did the commission handle this huge magnitude, the largest component of Central Government employees, which is blessed with intangible aspects linked to special conditions of service and the extreme complexity of their operating environment. A reading of para 6.1.6 of the report will tell you that, they read the Joint Services Memorandum in 2014 and benefitted from the views, exchanges, and interactions with several key stake holders. But here, the key question is whose advice and wisdom mattered the most while the report was written and the future pay structure evolved. They say that an author is absolutely candid while scripting the acknowledgements and its reading is the key to knowledge sourcing. The Chairman of the Commission, in his acknowledgement states that, “Shri D.K. Rai, a young officer from Accounts and Finance stream who had a deep insight into the financial matters especially the Defence. His knowledge about Defence Finance has been of great help to this commission in determining the pay structure for the Defence Forces.”

Isn’t it perplexing and absolutely against the high principles of righteousness, that the future pay structure of 13.86 lakh combatants was decided largely by an officer from Accounts & Finance stream, who was considered as an expert with deep insight in matters relating to defence services. Isn’t it strange, that while the successive pay commissions acknowledge the sheer magnitude of our Armed Forces, the uniqueness of its service conditions, and complexity of the operating environment and yet, while they decide their fate, they rely on officers with accounts and finance background?

Why couldn’t the chairman not have at his disposal, just one out of the 66,690 officers that serve the Defence Forces, to help him determine their future pay structure? More so, when the word “defence” occurs on 255 pages of the report?

And if officers of the Accounts Services have indeed such insights, then why can’t they do the needful for all other Central Government services, and the members from the Indian Administrative Services be spared such onerous responsibilities? Why is it that the commission’s organization, as stated on page (i) of the report, which details 45 honourable members starting from Justice Shri Ashok Kumar Mathur, Chairman, to Shri Inder Lal Singh, SCD, does not include a single military mind? Is it about keeping the military at a distance from the process of decision making? Or is it that the military’s understanding of its own pay structures is suspect and others know better about military’s requirements?

ALLOWANCES ANOMALIES

The second argument that needs debate is that the commission has utterly failed in its task of identifying the real frustrations that lie heavy on a common military mind and has therefore been unable to deliver a fair pay and allowance package that the Indian Defence Forces so richly deserve. Like in case of the first argument, the commission was apparently aware of the issues at stake. In para 1.19 of the report it states that “person should not stagnate but should have fair opportunity to progress by dint of merit and secure better emoluments so that frustration does not set in.”

But sadly, as it went on with the process of evolving the military pay structure, it apparently ignored it. The anomalous understanding of the situation is apparent from the reading of the para 6.2.19 of the report which states that:

“The post VI CPC pay structure marks a complete departure from the earlier pay commissions as far as the pay parity between civilian and defence service officers is concerned. Not only has the starting pay of a defence officers been placed substantially higher at 29 percent more than his/her civilian counterpart, this gap continues to remain wide at over 20 percent for the first nine years of service. In fact the pay of defence service officers remains uninterruptedly higher for a thirty-two year period. Thereafter pay of defence and civil service officers are at par.”

The last part of the aforesaid contention is very easily contestable, and is in fact the core issue which frustrates the defence community. The fact of the matter is that the civil servant rises to be a joint secretary in about 17-18 years of service, while the military man may still be a Lt. Colonel or equivalent. So the whole equation changes rather dramatically in the 17th year of service. Moreover, the military officer in all majority of cases, starts receiving pensions in about 30 years of service, or sometimes even less. So how has this “uninterrupted edge for 32 years” been worked out?

Many can play with figures and facts, but what is required is to give the military the right compensation, both on account of their service conditions and the pyramidal nature of their organization. While each of the successive pay commissions have promised to deliver this, but facts on ground have always been otherwise. Two brief illustrations, from many available in the current recommendations, are appended below in support of the argument.

The first illustration relates to risk. The commission in para 8.10.67 of the report acknowledges that “no government employee faces more Risk/Hardship in his work than our Defence officers and jawans posted in Siachen Glacier. Hence, no RHA can have a value higher than this allowance.” The rate recommended is Rs 31,500 per month for Level 9 and above and Rs 21,000 per month for levels below. However, while discussing Special Duty Allowance (SDA) in para 8.17.115, the report states that SDA is “granted to attract civilian employees to seek posting in North Eastern and Ladakh regions, in view of the risk and hardship prevailing in these areas.”

The allowance has been recommended to be paid at the rate of 30 percent of Basic Pay to the All India Services officers. What it implies is that if an Defence Forces officer with say 19 years of service, serves on the Siachen Glacier, he will be receiving a risk allowance of Rs 31,500 per month, while his colleagues from the All India Services with equal length of service, and stationed in the North Eastern or Ladakh region will draw an allowance of more than Rs 54,000 per month.

Is this dispensation aligned to the high principles of righteousness talked about earlier in the report? An officer of the All India Service will certainly never be posted within the North East or Ladakh in places of hardship and risk akin to where the Defence Forces are deployed. But he/she will be compensated at a much higher rate!

Two other clear anomalies emerge with this allowance: The SDA is not listed under allowances related to Risk & Hardship (chapter 8.10), rather under Other Allowances (chapter 8.17); the SDA is linked to basic pay, ensuring uninterrupted growth, while its step-brotherly Risk & Hardship Allowances are rather constant, growing at 25% upon increase of dearness allowance to 50%. Is this dispensation of allowances to the brave men who risk their lives in the most inhospitable terrain obtaining in the world, aligned to the high principles of righteousness?

The second example also relates to the oft quoted but never given parity between the civil and defence pay structure. A simple comparison of pay matrix for civilian and defence employees for Level 13A can prove very helpful. Both levels deal with the erstwhile grade pay of Rs 8,900 per month. However, in the new pay matrix the civilian officers in Level 13A have been given a rationalization index of 2.67, but their military counterparts have been given a rationalization index of 2.57 only. It implies lower pay fixation for military officers in comparison to their civilian equivalents in grade pay. The report attempts to justify this disparity in the most unacceptable manner in para 5.2.8 and para 5.2.9 of the report.

What the justification implies is that - since the Lt. Colonels were well compensated by the 6th Pay Commission, a rationalization index of 2.57 was applied for them (Level 12 A). The Major Generals in Level 14 have been equated with their civilian counterparts and a higher rationalization index of 2.72 has been applied to them, in recognition of significant higher degree responsibility and accountability. And then, realizing that the Colonels and Brigadiers were also to be dealt with, the commission felt appropriate that they be kept at a distance from the SAG and therefore fixed them at parity with the Lt. Colonels at 2.57.

Do Colonels and Brigadiers not have higher degree of responsibility and accountability, just because there are no All India Services equivalents for their ranks? Doesn’t this reflect a total gap in understanding of the command and staff assignments that the Colonels and Brigadiers hold?

Grant of a fair pay and allowance package to the Defence Forces, which takes into account their service conditions, operational environment, pyramidal structure, early retirement age, is something which a democratic government should earnestly strive for and is a mandatory prerequisite for building a strong and resilient nation. The Central Pay Commission needs to be conscious of this fact but also needs to ensure that this requirement translates into actuals, at all costs. And this can happen only when the military participates in the exercise.

TARGETING RATIONS

When Central pay commissions are set up to revise the pay and allowances of Central Government employees, the nation witnesses a turf war between various government services promoting individual service causes and aspirations while running down others. While competing with one another, the civil services show a rare collectivity in running down the military. This happens during their formal presentations before the members of the pay commission, as also through their lobbyists misusing the platforms of mass media.

The 7th Pay Commission has recommended doing away with the ‘free rations’ supplied to soldiers serving in peace areas. The commission failed to understand that peace areas are places where soldiers undergo rigorous training and battle preparedness. That kind of regimen requires proper, scientifically designed rations which may not be always available at sub zimandis and kirana stores

The oft repeated theme is to attack perceived advantages military men have on account of cheap groceries and liquor through military canteens, club facilities, golf courses, and of course ‘free rations’. While all these can and should be contested by the military, yet service norms and imposed bar on free public expression deprives the military from effectively countering the false propaganda unleashed on it by ‘friendly forces’.

DEFINING FREE RATIONS

‘Free Ration’ is a euphemism. The correct terminology is ‘Entitled Rations’ as applicable to the Indian Armed Forces. The US Army calls it ‘Basic Allowance for Subsistence’ or BAS. BAS is meant to offsets costs for a service member’s meals. Its current rate for US Army officers is $253.33 per month and is subject to annual revision based upon changes in the food price index. All professional militaries in the world have this allowance including many in the underdeveloped world. It must also be stressed here that BAS is applicable to all military personnel irrespective of their place of deployment. The fact that even in the UN Missions the cost of meals is included in the Mission Subsistence Allowance (MSA) should reflect that it is an international practice.

The propaganda unleashed over several months to which the 7th CPC has fallen prey to, is believing the ‘Entitled Rations’ are some sort of ‘free mid-day meal scheme for the underprivileged’. Since officers in the military are not to be considered underprivileged, the CPC has recommended discontinuing with facility/ allowance for them in ‘peace’ areas. The CPC has though shown some mercy in continuing to believe the JCOs &Jawans are still underprivileged and has not tampered with this facility for them.

The ‘Entitled Rations’ has nothing to do with ‘peace’ or ‘field’ areas. These are based upon scientifically derived requirement of calories, protein etc for an officer or soldier to subsist and sustain his daily physical regimen in different climates – scales for those deployed in extreme cold climates are thus higher.

There exists a fallacy amongst most people, uninitiated to the military’s roles, tasks and life in general (and members of the CPC have not displayed any better understanding either), that the military in ‘peace’ locations are only engaged in ceremonial and routine administrative activities. It cannot be more far from the truth. ‘Peace’ areas are classified as such only on grounds that such areas are found to be appropriate for families to stay with military men and where certain basic facilities exist, like secondary schooling facility for their children. They are not classified so on grounds of any reduced operational or training responsibilities or dilution in physical proficiency levels required of officers and jawans.

PEACE AREAS

In fact, the military in ‘peace’ is perpetually and intensely engaged in training for war either to maintain or upgrade their operational readiness; exercising with troops at unit and above levels for prolonged periods, with battle loads of weapons and equipment, in far off places in terrain similar to their assigned operational areas. At individual and subunit levels, they are engaged in a series of intense training regimen of courses and cadres to achieve and enhance proficiency in multiple battle and combat skills in handling of multiple weapons; communication and surveillance platforms; tactics; battle and field craft; mine laying and breaching; bridge construction and so on.

The basic minimum requirement of each individual including officers, is to continuously practice and qualify, once every quarter, in Battle Physical Efficiency Tests (BPET) as well as Physical Proficiency Tests (PPT). It may be appreciated that qualifying standards of these tests are so exacting so as to justify special regimen of diet. Should the military officers, against all international military norms and requirements of keeping up with intense training and operational regimen, be asked to forego ‘entitled ration’ in so called ‘peace’ areas?

Has the 7th CPC been wise in its deliberations or has it displayed an ill-informed unprofessional bias in recommending such a retrograde measure, against international military norms and practices?

Would the country prefer to see its military officers every morning and evening doing the rounds of ‘sabzimandis’ and ‘kirana stores’ instead of being with their men attending morning PT/BPET/ PPT parades and evening and night parades (Roll Call, Night Guards, Night Firing, Night Drills and rehearsal etc)?

Further, the military, often in ‘peace’ areas, is called out for rescue, relief and restoration operations in times of disasters and natural calamities. Should the officers, having become dependent for subsistence on same local markets which would not exist, act like disaster victims themselves or, assured of personal subsistence, respond effectively and lead columns to provide relief to the affected populace (including to the members of civil administration in distress). Doing away with ‘entitled ration’ for officers in ‘peace’ areas will make them ‘disaster victims’ and candidates for seeking relief rather than leading their men to provide relief to others. Doing away with the provision will also kill the existing well developed system and supply chain of central procurement and distribution network which cannot be recreated overnight during disasters.

Has the 7th CPC been wise in its deliberations or has it displayed an ill-informed unprofessional bias in recommending such a retrograde measure, against international military norms and practices? After all, it costs a mere Rs 2000/- per month per officer at current rates (unlike $253.33 which is about Rs 1,68,000/ in the US Army) deployed in ‘peace’ yet, undermines essential standards of officers’ physical prowess and his operational effectiveness to lead rescue and relief operations during disasters.

Summary

  • The report of the 7th Pay Commission has again underscored the lack of understanding and empathy for the Armed Forces
  • The commission had no military representation, which is odd given that every other government service has a presence
  • The report claims to uphold the principle of civil-military parity but does precisely the opposite when it comes to pay and allowances
  • Any pay and allowance package for the forces must take into account their pyramidal structure, operational needs and early retirement
  • The 7th Pay Commission has recommended doing away with the free rations supplied to military personnel serving in peace areas
  • It reflects the perception that military personnel have no work to do in peace areas and do don’t deserve free rations
  • Peace areas are actually where officers and jawans undergo a rigorous regime of training, and battle preparedness
  • SPECIAL FORCES VS POLICE COMMANDOS

    Army Special Forces (SF) and their equivalents in the Navy and Air Force have roles requiring them to be inserted in small teams into enemy territory to operational and strategic depths, execute strategic tasks by raiding vital installations, headquarters, communication nodes, vital road and rail bridges, air bases and harbours.

    All such insertion is to be executed through ground infiltration, over difficult terrain held by the enemy or through helicopter borne nap-of-earth flying or by skydiving from aircraft flying at super high altitudes, or through under water and deep sea diving in seas, lakes, reservoirs, rivers and canals.

    While doing all this, they are meant to carry extremely heavy battle loads of multiple weapons, ammunition, surveillance devices with backup batteries, emergency medical kit and emergency rations to survive few weeks. The skills and proficiency required of them are comparable to the US Green Berets and Mossad of Israel.

    Neither that role, nor the skills or risks are required from the COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) units of the Central Para-Military Forces. In fact they are not comparable to the SF. Yet the 7th CPC has sought to equate allowance for both categories at par. That speaks volumes on the competence and awareness of the members and Chairman of the CPC.

    Is this a return to the good old days of post-Independence euphoria, when Nehru and his coterie believed national security interests could be addressed by the men in khaki?

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