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As it is, a military career is not seen as a lucrative option. Now, the Seventh Pay Commision’s decision to downgrade the Armed Forces from an All India Service will worsen the situation and widen the already existing disparity between the Armed Forces and the Civil Services
Those familiar with Dante Alighieri, the 13th century Italian poet, and his enduring work, The Divine Comedy, will be aware of the nine layers of hell. The ninth level, symbolised by the three mouths of Satan, was reserved for traitors. One can, but speculate, as to who would occupy them, if the poem had been set in India.
Raja Jaichand of Kannauj is a certainty; his assistance to Mohammed Ghouri led to Prithviraj Chauhan’s defeat and death, ushering Muslim rule in India. Another certainty is Mir Jafar who was instrumental in Robert Clive’s victory at Plassey; ensuring subsequent British rule in India. The third choice, if left to the serving and retired military community, would unanimously be the Seventh Pay Commission.
The reason for this is that the Commission has systematically and with malevolent intent, downgraded the Armed Forces from an All India Service that it was considered to be. That its actions have been cloaked in ambiguity and hypocrisy, with blatant disregard for facts, suggests arrogance and an utter contempt for propriety.
That the Commission’s recommendations suffer from major lacunae is in no small measure because the Government continues to insist, despite forming the largest cadre affected by its deliberations, that the Armed Forces is incapable of providing expert representation and requires a Civilian Defence Audit and Accounts officer to represent them. This in itself is abhorrent.
Benjamin Disraeli, the former British Prime Minister, once said, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Table II of the Commission’s report illustrates this in full. It has compared component-wise defence expenditure in percentage terms of 10 selected countries and drawn two conclusions.
First, that “Increased expenditure on personnel has been at the expense of operational and maintenance expenditure”. Second, that “The need to calibrate growth in expenditure on pay and allowances for defence forces personnel so as to ensure that the composition of defence expenditure — between capital and revenue and within revenue between pay and allowances and others is not skewed so as to adversely affect the operational and strategic objectives of the defence forces”.
From these conclusions, the Commission has clearly shown its intent as to how it wished to proceed regarding emoluments for the defence forces. This raises the fundamental question as to the rationale for selecting countries for comparison: Was it of similar size or threat perception? Comparisons with our neighbours, especially those inimical to us, would be helpful, despite the fact that every country has its own unique circumstances that needs consideration.
Moreover, how can we compare component-wise expenditures in percentage terms, without comparing defence Budgets as well as that would it put things in perspective? The Commission itself points out that defence expenditure as a percentage of the gross domestic product and as percentage of Government expenditure has declined from 2.19 per cent in 1995-1996 to 1.80 per cent in 2012-2013 and from 14.50 per cent in 1995-1996 to 12.89 per cent in 2012-2013 respectively.
In contrast, China’s defence budget for 2012 was two per cent of its GDP. As its GDP is approximately six times as that of ours, expenditure on its defence forces was more than seven times than ours and as their forces are about double our strength, in real terms, their defence expenditure has been triple ours.
The logical conclusion, given our adversarial relationship with China, would have been for the Commission to have recommended an increase in the defence budget, in which case, it needn’t have focused on the “skewed revenue-capital expenditure” to the extent it has.
Take another statistical anomaly, the Commission has compared pay progression of a service officer vis-à-vis, Civil Services and concluded that “Not only has the starting pay of a defence officers been placed substantially higher at 29 per cent more than his/her civilian counterpart, this gap continues to remain wide at over 20 per cent for the first nine years of service. In fact, the pay of defence service officers remains uninterruptedly higher for a 32 year period. Thereafter, the pay of defence and civil service officers are at par”.
However, these figures only tell a part of the story, as the picture changes dramatically if we were to also compare the service/rank profile and promotion opportunities for both cadres. The fact is that by 16-18 years all in the Civil Services are at the level of Joint Secretary while only 50 per cent of any given batch of Service Officers will reach the rank of Colonel by then.
Subsequently, only four per cent of that batch are likely to reach the rank of Major General (equivalent of Joint Secretary) after 33-35 years of service and only about one per cent will reach the rank of Lt Gen or equivalent unlike the Civil Services in which over 95 per cent retire as Secretaries. This is truly a case of comparing apples and oranges.
There are numerous other infirmities, beyond the scope of this article, but the trend is clear from the fact that while the highest risk and hardship allowance in the Services is for operational service at Siachin and amounts to Rs31,500, a Group A officer is eligible to 30 per cent of basic pay as Hardship Allowance for serving in Leh, Guwahati or Shillong which will be in the range of Rs50,000 to Rs75, 000.
Similarly, paratroopers, who are the core element of our rapid deployment force required to carry out “out of area contingency” tasks apart from being trained to operate behind enemy lines in a conventional war, will receive 40 per cent of Risk Allowance as compared to Commando Battalion for Resolute Action personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force, who are deployed in Maoist areas.
Changes to the Disability Allowance have been suggested on the specious grounds that senior officers are availing of this prior to super annuation, while the Civil Services have been left out.
All of this clearly smacks of bias. Finally, despite the Commission noting “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”, it has made every effort in all aspects of compensation to disadvantage the Armed Forces in comparison to the Civil Services.
We would have been better served if the Commission had concentrated on dealing with the challenges faced by the military in attracting talent. Not only are the forces deficient of officers to the tune of 20 per cent to 30 per cent, but what is alarming is that for the past three years, more than 40 per cent vacancies at the Indian Military Academy and the Officers Training Academy remain unsubscribed.
Clearly, despite all lip service to the contrary, the Armed Forces are not perceived as an attractive career. By its actions, the Commission has only worsened the situation further. We will pay heavily for this in the future, unless the Government takes corrective action, which given its track record is unlikely. Let us not be under any misapprehension, the only ones laughing at the discomfiture of our military are the Chinese and Pakistani Armed Forces, and they have every reason to be satisfied.
(The writer is a military veteran and a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation)