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Friday, June 12, 2015
Soldiers are expendable without financial approvals and no outlays on used up soldiers – the govt policy? by Brig V Mahalingam (Retd)
June 12, 2015, 11:21 AM IST
There is an unwritten contract between the soldiering community and the people, represented by the government of the day. Under the deal, the soldiers are expected to walk into perilous and hazardous situations unhesitatingly and be prepared to risk their life even at the cost of his family losing his support for the rest of their lives. The government on the other hand is expected to take care of the veterans, families of the soldiers and the disabled unquestioningly.
Soldiers of the Indian Army and the helicopter pilots of the Indian Air Force carried out swift and precise surgical strikes at two locations on June, 09, 2015, to inflict heavy casualties to the North East militants, preempting a terror attack on the Indian soil. In a country where the bureaucrat is unwilling to take a decision for fear of being implicated in a scam, the soldiers went into the operations knowing fully well that at the end of the day, they may not return alive. They set aside all considerations about their family, parents or young children that might have crossed their mind when they were ordered to participate in the operations. To them their commitment to the country was all that mattered. In a similar way, how does the government view their commitment to the soldiering community?
Notice put up at the Command Hospital (Western Command) says it all. This is the latest bureaucratic salvo to pawn a soldier’s life in the name of exercising financial control, supposedly a measure to exercise political control over the military. Had one of those soldiers who participated in the operations landed in the hospital with severe wounds, he would have faced the music of the bureaucracy.
One more wheel inserted within the already existing ring to confuse, delay and deny legitimate medical treatment to a soldier when he lands in a hospital with pain and agony. The serving soldiers, their families, military veterans, the disabled including the war disabled and a soldier’s widow are the ones who come to the Military Hospitals or ECHS and then get referred to Command Hospitals for specialist opinion and treatment.
The ordeal gets started after a specialist examines the patient, goes through a few important test results and prescribes medicines. The Military’s medical supply chain does not stock a number of medicines primarily on considerations of infrequent usage and cost considerations. Shortages also occur in some limited supply and frequent usage medicines. Such medicines are locally purchased within the financial powers of the Commandant of the Hospital concerned on as required basis based on the recommendations of the Specialists. Such purchases are controlled and monitored by the head of the hospital.
With the introduction of the Integrated Financial Advisor (IFA), every time a patient including those admitted in the hospital is required to be administered some medicine which is not available in the hospital’s pharmacy, the process for procurement of the medicine will have to be set in motion.
The purchase procedure envisaged will involve obtaining administrative approval of the competent authority, getting three quotations, preparation of comparative cost tables and forwarding a comprehensive case with full justification explaining the disease, the need and the urgency of the medicine’s requirement besides the quantum of medicines being sought to be purchased. This will amount to the preparation of a statement of case for onward transmission to the IFA for approval. The procedure will require an officer to process and coordinate documentation relating to medicine purchases besides a computer, printer, photocopier, additional stationery and a clerk to handle correspondence and keep a tag of the letters and files being sent around. A courier with a two wheeler would be a requirement to move letters and files from one end to the other.
The IFA cannot be expected to be a one man army. He would need a clerk and a peon to convey files and letters from his office to the other. His location in relation to the hospital and the requirement of sending files from one place to the other would have its own implications in terms of a vehicle for movement and the inevitable time delay. If the IFA is required to be located within the hospital premises, an office will have to be found for housing him and his staff and that will be at the cost of patients’ requirements, the purpose for which the space would have been constructed. One is not clear if the IFA concerned would be exclusively designated to exercise control over the hospital or will be looking after the hospital in addition to his other assignments. That will have implications on his priorities and the time required for scrutiny and according financial approval.
One cannot also expect the IFA to be a signing machine. Being accountable to his own department the IFA would definitely want to satisfy himself of the need for the said medicines besides the possibilities of administering cheaper medicines. The dosage, the quantity proposed to be purchased and the cost factor will also be a matter of his concern before according approval. Being a general cadre bureaucrat, he would neither be wiser about the disease, the treatment, medicine nor the cost.
IFA would therefore have no option but to raise queries to understand the requirement. Being a specialised subject the officer processing the medicine purchase would have to refer the file to the specialist concerned for his clarification. The onus of educating the IFA and making him understand the requirement will then fall squarely on the specialist. Thus the specialist doctor will start writing notes on the file to explain the case. Three to four cases in a day will keep the doctor sufficiently busy to subordinate and side track his primary job to the new found bureaucratic ordeal. In the process, one would have to be prepared for the file to keep moving back and forth.
Has the government taken into account the additional establishment, additional expenditure, space, time delays and its effect on the lives and comfort of patients, frustration and morale of the soldiering community, the rift that it will cause between the civil and military and the costs involved in instituting this spoke? How would all this save tax payer’s money? Would it be a mistake to call this a hare – brained initiative in the wrong direction? One thing is clear – the government trusts a junior generic bureaucrat much more than an experienced and a professional medical officer of the defence services with about 20 to 25 years of service!
As for patient, he is still in pain awaiting financial approval for the medicine. The doctors would only be distributing excuses and sympathy to keep him going. Since this procedure is also applicable to expendables, one can expect the hospitals to remain partially cleaned and dirty. Since halfhearted sanitation is not acceptable in operation theatres, essential and lifesaving operations may have to be delayed awaiting cleaning and other expendable material.
What happens if the patient dies because of the delay in the treatment or surgery? What about the pain and his physical discomfort? Who will be accountable? None need to fear because soldiers are expendable and one does not need financial sanction or approval for causing pain or expending a soldier’s life.
A soldier is tasked to assault across a minefield against an enemy entrenched in a well prepared position. He is commissioned to go on a patrol and walk into a position held by the enemy to ascertain his location, the layout of his defences, etc., as happened in the case of Captain Saurabh Kalia. No questions are asked or financial approvals obtained before launching a soldier on such risky and dangerous tasks. If unfortunately he happens to sacrifice his life in the mission or is captured as a Prisoner of War, the government shows no scruples by disowning the soldier.
Take the case of a PIL filed by Lt Gen JS Arora of 1971 fame in 1999 before the Gujarat High Court. The litigation sought that the 54 Prisoners of War believed to be in held in Pakistani jails be not treated as ‘presumed dead’ but treated as ‘on duty’ for all purposes till the notional date of their retirement so that the next of kin could receive financial benefits as applicable to a serving soldiers. The litigation also sought that the issue of release of prisoners from Pakistani jails be taken up with international institutions for justice.
Accepting his plea the High Court in 2011 directed the government to grant all service and retirement benefits to such Prisoners of War by treating them as being alive, and more importantly, directed the government to approach the International Court of Justice on the issue of non-release of our Prisoners of War. Guess what the government did? Instead of implementing the court order, the government filed an appeal on 02 May 2012 in the Supreme Court against the Gujarat High Court ruling and obtained a stay order. Is this not iniquitous and disgraceful? The government seems to have made up its mind to abandon the desolate families of soldiers who had died, gone missing, held as Prisoners of War or the survivors and spend no more money on them. Isn’t this the reason why though compelled to retire at an early age no ‘golden handshake’ kind of package or enhanced pensions are paid to soldiers unlike public sector or bank employees?
Will anyone in the world, excepting the suicide bomber, be prepared to risk their lives and make the supreme sacrifice knowing fully well that the government will make their families run around in circles over legitimate financial and other support after their demise? Wouldn’t the government’s inaction to the atrocities committed on Captain Saurabh Kalia expose the reality that if something similar happens to him he too would be abandoned as in the case of Captain Kalia and his family consigned to a state of penury and misery? Can a country hope to build a motivated fighting force ready to make the supreme sacrifice with this approach of the government? Make no mistake; we are moving the fighting forces of the country back to 1960s.
A respected bureaucrat and a nationalist MR Sivaraman, IAS, who when informed of the development states: “As a responsible former finance secretary of the largest state in India for 5 years and the longest serving revenue secretary to the government of India with around 30 years of experience in state government, national, international and private sector finance, if the notification is true, the officer who framed these rules should be hanged on the nearest tree or shot for endangering national security”. He goes on to add “In my view the Chief should call for its immediate withdrawal and if they do not do so resign in protest”.
The Service Chiefs have an obligation to care for and safeguard the interests of the soldiering community. They have abdicated their responsibility by acting as a mere post office. Imagine the impression of the Chief that this inaction would have created in the minds of the rank and file. Is this good for the Army’s morale and the relationship between the commander and the commanded?
Did the Prime Minister or the defence minister order this bottleneck? I am sure they have not. Certainly this is not part of ‘Good Governance’. Who then is responsible for creating this hurdle? The political leadership needs to realise that such inappropriate actions will drown them in the discontent and anger thus generated amongst the people.
Will the Prime Minister and the defence minister initiate appropriate action to reverse the orders? Can they do it? Many veterans feel that though the Prime Minister has a vision, he appears to lack the ability to reign in the bureaucracy which believes that politicians come and go but they are the face of continuity and hence the real government. It is a test for the country’s leadership.