Date: 12 Feb 2009


the pioneer

Shameful neglect

The Pioneer Edit Desk

Former servicemen deserve better

If we thought that we were a nation that respected our armed forces, what happened last Sunday should force us to introspect. On that day, more than 300 retired soldiers marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan and returned their medals of honour to the President as a mark of protest. Their demand: One rank, one pension. Asserting that they had been given a ‘raw deal’ by the Sixth Pay Commission — which is a fact — the retired servicemen said they were left with no option but to take this drastic step. They blamed successive Governments for ignoring their demand and threatened to emerge as a potential vote-bank and contest elections to teach politicians and bureaucrats — the main beneficiaries of pay commissions — a fitting lesson. The Sixth pay Commission has given rise to four classes of defence pensioners: Pre-1996, post-1996 to December 2005, post-January 2006 to September 2008 and post-October 2008. What this means is that a Havaldar or a Lt General who retired before 1996 will draw less pension than a Sepoy or a Lt Colonel who retired after 2006. Needless to say that such disparities in pension, crafted by bureaucrats to ensure they alone get the best deal, are totally unjust and need to be immediately rectified. The UPA Government has feebly argued that implementing the ‘one rank, one pension’ policy will entail an expenditure of Rs 3,500 crore. However, given that the Government did not hesitate in announcing the directionless Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver last year to cover up its failure to give the agriculture sector a much-needed boost, financial costs can hardly be a valid argument.

There can be no denying that the armed forces comprise a vital institution of our country. The sacrifices that our defence servicemen have rendered to this nation can never be computed or compensated. It is a matter of shame that things should have been allowed to come to such a pass, for which politicians and bureaucrats are entirely to blame. Just how callous Government is can be gauged from the fact several recommendations of parliamentary committees to resolve disparities in pensionary benefits of ex-servicemen have been ignored while babus have been pampered. The failure to protect their interests ultimately lie with the political class — before every election, politicians and their parties promise to solve the grievances of ex-servicemen; after the elections, our veterans are forgotten. Surely, those who have given the best years of their lives protecting the nation deserve far better. This on-going spat between the Government and the babus on one hand and the defence personnel — retired or serving — does not bode well. Clearly, the Government has gone wrong somewhere if our defence officers have to take to the streets in protest.