Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Given the huge gap in pay and perks, and the disparity in service conditions between the military and civil services, it’s high time that we restore the pride and honour of our men and women in uniform
Our God and Soldiers we alike adore, even at the brink of danger; not before: After deliverance, both alike required; our Gods forgotten and our Soldiers slighted.”
The above quote symbolises two contrasting facts; one, the sacrifice a soldier makes in defending his nation; two, the most pathetic and callous public response in not fulfilling the national resolve to look after our men and women in arms. English poet Francis Quarles who penned these lines centuries ago would never have imagined that in the 21st century his prophesy was realised by India.
Our country has the dubious distinction of causing the perennial emasculation of the Armed Forces. One incident set the course of future civil-military relations immediately after independence when General Robert Lockhart, the then Commander-in-Chief, presented the “National Defence Policy” to Jawaharlal Nehru who summarily rejected it. India’s first Prime Minister is reported to have said: “Rubbish, total rubbish. We don’t need a Defence Policy, our policy is non-violence, we foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army! the Police are good enough to meet our security needs.”
Though the exact words that were used are contested, it was symbolic of the mindsight of the civilian administration at the time starting from the highest level and it sowed the seeds of anti-military policies that spiraled into a politico-bureaucratic onslaught over the decades against the Armed Forces inflicting upon the latter multiple vagaries ranging from tarnishing their prestige and status to erosion of the age-old military ethos, and diluting their protocol status to denying them their rightful perks and privileges, not to mention failing abysmally in the resettlement of veterans.
The Warrant of Precedence (WOP) that lays down the seniority and protocol at the national level is grossly subjective as it clubs various military ranks and those of the civil services without taking into account the cadre strength, disproportionate number of vacancies and the length of service put in by the incumbents of respective organisations.
To elaborate, the Armed Forces with officer strength of 60,000 with 9 ranks in the “Line of Promotion” is pitted against the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) with a cadre strength of 4,920/6,500 having 10/8 ranks respectively. It does not require a math wizard to conclude that the civil services with a luxurious “cadre-to-rank ratio” are better poised for faster promotions than their military counterparts.
For example, a service officer who takes 32 years to become a Major General is bracketed with the Inspector-General and the Joint Secretary who get promoted to those ranks with 18 to 20 years. There is clear differential of 10 to 14 years in favour of the civil services. Further, unlike the steep hierarchical pyramid in the Armed Forces, even sharper than the North Col of Mount Everest, just 10 per cent make to the top five ranks.
In contrast, in the civil services, thanks to liberal promotions, approximately 80 per cent qualify for the top ranks. It may sound like a wild exaggeration but it is a hard reality that in one instance an entire IAS Batch was promoted to Joint Secretary; can the Armed Forces ever dream of such a windfall? Lately, the IPS has gone in for massive cadre expansion as almost every city now has Police Commissioner (equivalent to Director General) which further tilts the balance in their favour. The agony does not end here. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), with a strength of just 8,000 personnel with a proposal to increase the strength to 12,000) is headed by DG-rank officer.
Conversely, except for the Area and the Sub Area headquarters (HQs) there is no upgradation for the Armed Forces. Though it does ease out the protocol glitches to some extent, most crucially the operational and the internal/general security aspects which are handled by the Army’s Field Formations ie Brigades/Divisions HQs are not upgraded.
This asymmetrical equation despite diverse core competencies, measurable professionalism and longer service puts military officers at grave disadvantage. In the light of these realities, the current ‘inter se’ seniority between the Armed Forces and the civil services is grossly unjustified and must be rectified.
Most importantly, based on the recommendations of the K Subramaniam Committee post-Kargil, the additional ranks of ‘Colonel General’ for Army Commanders and equivalents and the ‘Chief of Defence Staff’
(CDS) for more effective coordination among the three services must be sanctioned. Now, the disparities created by the Seventh Pay Commission and its bias against the Armed Forces have further accelerated the disparities between civil and military personnel.
Further, in another first for India, the National Security Guard (NSG), the elite counter-terrorism force, in general has the extended task of infantry and that of Special Forces in particular; rightfully, two-third of the manpower is drawn from the Army, but most intriguingly the force is commanded by an IPS officer.
Besides lowering military prestige, this practice is professionally untenable. In order to maximise the NSG’s operational competence as also to restore military pride, the command of NSG must be given to an Army officer from the Special Forces. Incidentally, post 26/11, the Army had taken up the case for change of command; as usual, it is enjoying the bureaucracy’s “back burner hospitality”!
Finally, a recent development made me hang my head in shame. I learnt that while the Army was running from pillar to post to get sanction to replace SAF Carbines with new Close Quarter Battle (CQB) weapons, the Border Security Force (BSF) had already acquired this weapon. This is not to deny the fact that the BSF needed the weapon but it must be remembered that such decisions would further demean the honour and pride and lower the already sagging morale of the Armed Forces.
The time has come for the nation to address these sensitive issues and initiate immediate redressal to ensure that not only the prestige of the defence forces is restored but they also get their share of honour and glory, which has been denied to them since long.
While the principle of the Armed Forces’ functioning under the civilian set-up in our democratic system is inviolate, it must not be overstretched to disparage their honour, glory and pride. At the same time, the top military hierarchy cannot escape from its duty to safeguard and restore military pride. The moment is apt to remind them about the Chetwod Motto.
(The writer is a retired Infantry Officer with vast operational experience)
(Source : The Prioneer)
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