Brig Anil Gupta
Ever since the Seventh Pay Commission report has been made public there has been a sense of great resentment and let down in the armed forces community. While the veterans were battling for justified grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP) the men in uniform were hopeful that the impending pay commission report will deliver justice to them and will set right the unsettled anomalies of the fourth, fifth and sixth pay commissions as promised by their political masters. The battle hardened soldiers were not only surprised by the bomb shell delivered by Mr Mathur Chairman of the Seventh Pay Commission but were also highly demoralised. Having learnt from the previous experience of the Indian Air Force, the three service chiefs immediately swung into action to not only douse the simmering fire amongst the rank and file but also to plan a joint strategy to address the government. The seventh pay commission not only failed to resolve the pending anomalies of the previous pay commissions but added further salt to the injury by equating the status of the Armed Forces of India with that of the Central Armed police Forces. It is a pity that the bureaucrats in our country fail to draw the distinction between the Armed Forces and the Police Forces. The Pay Commission also went beyond its charter and has tried to tinker with the terms and conditions of service of the rank and file of the Armed Forces. The armed forces were harmed both monetarily as well as status/protocol.
Much has already been written in the media on the subject. The basis of the report is a study carried out by Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, a strategic think-tank, comparing the pay of Indian Armed Forces with that of certain foreign armies of developed countries. The competence of IDSA to carry out such a study is questionable. Moreover, why only the armed forces have been singled out for such a comparison and why not other services like IAS, IFS, Forest, Railways, IPS to name a few? The answer is simple; the study was motivated and designed to reduce the salary, perks and status of the armed forces. But what worries the soldiers is the possibility of history repeating itself. Though every pay commission since 1973 has been unfair to the armed forces major resentment surfaced after the announcement of the sixth pay commission report in 2008. It led to a major showdown between the three service chiefs and politico-bureaucratic establishment. The services requested the then government to appoint their representative in the Committee of Secretaries appointed by the government to look into the various anomalies in the 6th CPC report that were brought to the notice of the government. The request of the Service Chiefs was based on the logic that 30% (nearly 1/3rd) of the central government employees affected by the pay commission belonged to the three services. The request was not granted but an assurance was given that their concerns would be addressed with sympathy and without prejudice. In keeping with the apolitical stance of the Armed Forces the service chiefs conceded but were taken aghast when the report of the committee was announced after approval of the government. The services found that not only were their major grievances not addressed three more glaring discrepancies were introduced in the final Cabinet notification. The three service chiefs not only felt let down in front of the forces they commanded but also badly humiliated. They took up the matter separately with the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister and conveyed the concerns of the Armed Forces. But they learnt to their dismay that real villain was none else than their own Ministry of Defence (MOD) which presented a very weak case without relevant supporting documents to the PMO and Finance Ministry.Incidentally, this was worse than the aftermath of 5th Pay Commission ten year earlier when the armed forces pointed out 48 anomalies out of which only eight had been resolved during the decade preceding announcement of 6th Pay Commission Award. Fortunately, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, a no non-sense officer, was the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee then. He convinced his other two colleagues to delay the implementation of flawed 6th CPC Report in the Armed Forces. Accordingly, the decision was communicated by the respective service headquarters to their rank and file through a signal message. The message was received with great jubilation by the subordinate units which sent jitters to the politico-bureaucratic nexus as well as received adverse comments from certain quarters in the media. It was Nitin Gokhale who came in open support of the service chiefs and wrote, “If the said signal, as the communication is called in military parlance, is defiance, then no military chief will ever be able to give assurances to, and take, his men in confidence. Anyone who has dealt with the armed forces will tell you that there is not an iota of truth in the canard that is being spread about the three Chiefs ‘defying’ the civil authorities. Yes, they questioned the bureaucracy’s attempts to wittingly or unwittingly introduce pay and status disparities between the armed forces and their civilian counterparts. Yes they took the matter to Prime Minister but in no way did they defy the government.” The bold stand taken by the three Chiefs had the desired result and the Prime Minister appointed a group of ministers to resolve the grievances of the armed forces. A couple of main points were immediately settled and the services accepted the implementation of 6th CPC. But true to its traditions the MOD continued to play the spoilsport and number of unresolved anomalies were referred to the 7th CPC. As mentioned earlier 7th CPC report rather than assuaging the hurt feelings of the armed forces has further aggravated the anger and resentment.
The continued apathy of the bureaucracy towards men in uniform is perplexing. World over Armed Forces are considered as the last bastion of a nation and are always held at a different pedestal but in our country under the garb of ensuring civil supremacy the politico-bureaucratic nexus has been working against the interests of the armed forces. The soldiers are remembered and honoured at the time of crisis but forgotten soon thereafter. It is the sheer sense of patriotism which continues to motivate the armed forces personnel to continue to shed their blood for Bharat Mata despite the neglect they suffer at the hands of politico-bureaucratic authorities. Knowing fully well that the armed forces are unhappy with the treatment meted to them by the 7th CPC, effort is being made through the media to spread lies. The latest attempt is an article in a leading national daily titled “Our service chiefs may earn more than US generals.” It states that for the first time, the Indian Army Chief and his counterparts in the IAF and Navy will draw more salary than the top general and equivalent in the US based on purchasing power parity (PPP) terms when the 7th CPC report is implemented. PPP based comparison is misleading and flawed. Also, how can the pay of officers of two different armies having different terms & conditions of service be compared? Moreover, the figures quoted in the article were exaggerated as was evident from another news item published a few days later by Asian Age titled “Indian service chiefs earn less than top US general reveals new data.” Such articles are aimed at creating confusion among the rank and file and create distrust among the officers and other rank. No nation, more so India, can afford to have disgruntled armed forces. It is thus necessary that the history is not made to repeat itself by prudent political intervention at this stage and all genuine grievances of the armed forces are addressed sympathetically and without prejudice before approving the flawed report of 7th CPC. The Prime Minister needs to intervene to ensure that the justice is done to the armed forces and the trend of widening rift in civil-military relations is halted without further delay. There is a murmur already doing the rounds among the rank and file that if history repeats itself who will don the mantle of Admiral Sureesh Mehta this time?
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)
Brig Anil Gupta