PARITY IN RANK & PENSION LONG OVERDUE
Date: 26 Feb 2009
For ex-servicemen, parity in rank, pension long overdue
By Shankar Roychowdhury
Feb 25 2009
Three hundred or so weather-beaten old military veterans returned their medals to the President of India on February 8 as a mark of protest against official apathy in the matter of “one rank one pension” (OROP) a feeble flapping of wings by an irrelevant group which barely made any ripples in the public domain. Nevertheless, it should serve as a small, perhaps miniscule, reminder of the continuing dissatisfaction and unhappiness of a forgotten community. It is, of course, no secret that the defence services have been bitterly resentful of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission with respect to pay scales and, perhaps, more significantly in terms of downgraded equivalence with their civilian counterparts.
Whatever dissatisfactions on these and other aspects may have been expressed within the services, they did not find their way into the public domain, and the service chiefs too maintained a stiff upper lip, though they were undoubtedly concerned about its effects on their respective forces and with good reason. They jointly chose to highlight their unhappiness with stunning and totally unprecedented gesture of not accepting the new pay scales until anomalies had been looked into and ironed out and chose to continue with the existing pay scales in the interim period, a unique “Gandhigiri” in uniform, something unheard of earlier, which must have caused a flutter in the bureaucratic and ministerial dovecotes of South Block. Some in the print media, and at least, one irascible former diplomat were perhaps nudged to fume and splutter that it was really uppity for the services to “demand” pay scales, parity of service and protocol with the civil servants and all that — bad for discipline, don’t you know! Better keep these soldierwallahs at heel!
The moral courage of the service chiefs was exemplary during their undoubted crisis of conscience, and fully in consonance with the second stanza of the Credo of the Indian Military Academy — “The honour welfare and comfort of the men you command come next”, which ranks below the safety, honour and welfare of the country, but well above “your own ease comfort and safety” which comes “Last — Always and Everytime”.
Ex-servicemen were most supportive, anxious and fully concerned, but wisely refrained from raising issues pertaining to their serving comrades who were best left to the official hierarchy. They focused on issues pertaining to ex-servicemen for which they adopted the prevalent customs of the strange world outside the service — meetings at Jantar Mantar, processions, slogans, fasts and even intended self-immolation. All this was alien to their traditional environment and something that many within the community were themselves uncomfortable with. Throughout the whole proceedings, the armed forces — the “Fauj” — maintained total impassivity, but their silence was deafening in its own context. They watched, listened and noted because the present generation of soldiers no longer conform to the traditional public stereotype of dumb-driven cattle. They are intelligent, highly-trained and highly-skilled craftsmen in a deadly trade. They are not mercenaries or contract soldiers fighting for pay.
The government came out with two amazing statements: The government did not have the resources to grant OROP and if granted to ex-servicemen, the public sector, the paramilitary forces and the civil establishment would also want the same.
To take the second point first — ex-servicemen of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force are not, repeat not, from paramilitary forces, the public sector or the civil establishment. In their own time, they constituted the “Ultima ratio regis” — the King’s last argument, India’s last resort when all else has failed, and they have the track record to prove it. Comparisons are, therefore, ill-informed and odious and should not be made.
As for availability of funds, India is no longer a “poor” country and while financial resources at the disposal of the government may not be unlimited, there is certainly no crippling shortage either.
Extensive investments have been made in the social sector and it is, indeed, right that this should be so, yet it is also undeniable that there is massive haemorrhage of public funds from flagship projects like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. With proper supervision and oversight, funds for OROP can certainly be found if the haemorrhage is staunched, and proper accountability enforced.
The OROP movement by ex-servicemen is perhaps not a desirable development, but there has to be some other credible alternate method of drawing attention of the government to an intrinsically social issue. However, it is the possible long-term implications of such agitations which should be of concern to present and future governments — its effects on the serving soldiers, sailors and airmen, including their officers, who constitute the rigidly-disciplined world of defence forces. The relationship between the serving and former soldiers is umbilical and their perceptions and values fundamentally identical. The OROP agitation by ex-servicemen presents a complex paradox of service values and ethos impacted by the realities of the world outside the services. At this stage all that can be said is that matters are seriously wrong and require to be looked into.
In the midst of all this comes Mumbai 26/11, with its 24x7 breaking news coverage of commandos from the Special Action Group (SAG) of the National Security Guard (NSG — all Army, by the way) dropping onto Nariman House and excited chatter about surgical strikes against Pakistan on chat shows. Also around this time, almost unnoticed, the “Bharat sarkar” makes an announcement granting, amongst other benefits, a separate Pay Commission for the defence services, one of the very long-standing demands of the armed forces hitherto dismissed out of hand by the bureaucracy.
Coincidence? Am I reading things into it or might there be (as is whispered) a connection between Mumbai 26/11 and the sudden change in attitude of the government on Sixth Pay Commission awards to the defence services?
Meanwhile, reports out of Pakistan indicate that the Taliban are on the move and are headed our way. So be glad India, that you have one of the finest armed forces in the world — on land, sea and air. Look after them, even pamper them a little, but above all, be thankful, because if you have to call upon them again, they will be there.
Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury (Retd) is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament
Published on Deccan Chronicle (http://www.deccanch ronicle.com)