Saturday, 19 April 2014

CDM Seminar: The Logic and Reasoning behind Status and Functional Equivalence


From the seminar held at CDM on 5 Mar 14

Words in parenthesis ( ) are inserted by Aerial View to make for easier reading.

Certain parts, such as salutations have been edited out but the gist has been re-typed

The Logic and Reasoning behind Status and Functional Equivalence

Mr Amit Cowshish IDAS (retd)
(Former FA (Acquisition) and also Additional Secretary 

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1.       A very strong opening knock in cricket reduces the pressure off the later batsmen. But, unfortunately, I am expected to play the role of Gundappa Vishwanath which can be dicey since, if you remember he got out for a duck in a famous first innings. Fortunately, this is not my first innings in CDM and tehn if I cannot score a century I know that I will run up at least a good score. It is again a great privilege to come to CDM and it is no different this time. This time I an speaking on a subject which thrives by casting people into stereotypes which I am not comfortable with. Major (retd) Navdeep also stereotyped many types during his (video) speech.   

2.       There are more nuances to it. You have professional, unprofessional, uncompromising, snooty and so on, so forth. That is not the end of it. In fact there are more nuances to it. Even within the category of civil servants, you have the executive types and the finance types. The second category is different. Just imagine someone from that category to speak about status and functional equivalence. It can be quite difficult. From memory and experience, I can draw upon one of the discussions in one of the think tanks where a retired service officer, getting very emotional said, rightly so, “it is unfortunate that nobody from the Ministry who have retired ever comes for these seminars,” and when somebody pointed out at me, he said, “oh, no but he is from finance.” Therefore, a subject like this you start with an issue you are seen as a protagonist of the category to which you belong. I may disappoint you on that score because that is not what I am going to do, though I may still end up reinforcing the view of the stereotypical civilian way of thinking.      

3.       I am also not here to point any logic or explanation or rationale for the existing status and the functional equivalence, because the history of this issue is too muddled for me to be able to make any case for or against the existing equation, if at all it is possible to make out a case. However, as somebody who has been watching this debate for the last three and half decades, there are certain perspectives that one is bound to develop and I basically will be sharing these perspectives with you with reference to a concept paper circulated by the CDM to us.

4.       The perspective that I want to share with you is based on far too many bugbears that are there in this discourse of the larger issue of civil-military relations in which status and functional equivalence are important aspects. I also believe that these bugbears have distorted the discourse to such an extent that now self-righteous indignation has become the most defining feature of the discourse over-shadowing cold logic and reasoning. There are, of course, various reasons for this but, let me say at the outset and this is where I agree with Major (retd) Navdeep Singh in that you know the discourse must be purged of these bugbears without emotional issues, so that the real issues come up, because it is easier to deal with real issues than issues laced with emotion.  

5.       Broadly speaking, there are two reasons in my mind which account for these bugbears. The first reason is the methodology of historiography of looking at the present through the prism of the past historical development. You know there are various problems with such (a) methodology. One is that it assume that what was the ideal model and what is, is inappropriate to the extent that it deviates from the ideal model of the past. Two, it allows the freedom to invoke the past selectively by picking up factors that buttress one’s argument and ignoring those that do not.    

6.       Three, this approach is based on the complete negation of the possibility that what might have been iniquitous might have been faced with an attempt to set right that inequity. Four, it also views history as static. The fact is that society and governance have changed over the years bringing in some inevitable changes in the whole notion of status and equivalence. Five, while it is easy to conjure up historical wrongs, not enough can ever be done to set them right because of the permanent change that comes along since the time those historical wrongs were committed and the timing when their redressal is sought. Six, this approach, to my mind, is flawed since it considers conspiracy if it stays effective which determines the present, conjuring up an immortal demon slaying the goat and last but not the least, these historical dimensions of the issue are not robust enough to lend itself to objective analysis.         

7.       Let me illustrate this from the concept paper. It is mentioned that after the unification of the provincial armies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras Provincial armies into a single Indian Army in 1895, the supreme authority of the Indian Army vested in the Governor-general in council subject to the concept on ground which was exercised by the Secretary of State for India. It goes on to say that two members of the council were responsible for the military affairs, one of whom was the military member who supervised all administration and financial matters, while the other was the Commander-in-chief responsible for all operational matters. There is a subtle twist of facts here. I am not saying that it was intentional. Actually, it was (the) Indian Council Act of 1861 which converted the Viceroy’s executive council into a cabinet run on portfolio system.    

8.       The cabinet had, at that time, five ordinary members in charge of various departments which were home, revenue, military, law and finance, and in 1874, the PWD was added. The C-in-C was not a permanent member. The military member sat as the extra-ordinary member and the 1861 Act actually allowed the C-in-C to be appointed as needed by an ex-officio post to the Viceroy’s Council while the military member alone was the permanent member. In fact this led to the differences between Lord Curzon and Lord Kitchener who fell out with each other and both, in fact, resigned. This kind of twist can result in wrong inferences. Also, if the C-in-C was not a permanent member at the Council and yet was in protocol second only to the Viceroy, then how did he figure at 9A in the Warrant of Precedence of 1937 is a question mark? If he was a de-facto defence minister then there would have been no row between him and the Viceroy on the role of the permanent military member.   

9.       Therefore, it comes from the Warrant of Precedence that there were senior civilian dignitaries above military personnel. The paper recognises the distinction between de-facto authority and de-jure authority of the C-in-C. But the later analysis in the paper and the present discourse does not recognise the fact that there could be some such distinctions. Service Chief was, at serial (number) 12A in the Warrant of Precedence mentioned by Dr Mishra. Then we can have a thought …could that be because of the entry of new appointments like Vice President etc that have come up?

10.     Only Cabinet Secretary is figuring one notch above the Service Chiefs but is drawing the same pay. Warrant of Precedence is only for ceremonial occasions and little else of any importance you would agree. This does not affect the de-facto status of Service Chiefs to my mind. We can see that the Secretaries to the GoI figure at number 23 and which is some 10 notches further below. Joint Secretaries figure ate 26 along with Maj Gen, while Addl Secretaries figure at 25 below Lt Gen, all of which, to my mind, looks OK. Hence there may be flaws in basing the genesis of the present grievances on historical inferences alone!  

11.     I have many other examples in mind. Using historiography at all times may not be the answer. It can be surmised that history is not always the benchmark. In the Armed Forces also some new posts have come up as have on the civilian side. There are new realities of the Republic which necessitates changes in old equations. What we see today is more a result of these changes, rather than some grand old conspiracy. The second reason which has distorted the discourse on the subject of functional equivalence is in fact not factoring in the ground realities, or the de-facto scenario as referred to in the paper.    

12.     Again going back to the concept paper, it is brought out that the dilution in the status of the service officers has started affecting the rank and file and has become highly pronounced in those organisations where the Armed Forces officers rub shoulders with All India Services and G ‘A’ service officers and this issue has been pending for quite some time now and has been adversely affecting the harmonious working relations between the two categories. I feel that it is not such an open and shut issue and even if it is, I am unable to agree with the contention that it is affecting the harmonious working condition between Civilian officers as a class and Military officers as a class.  

13.     And to explain the same, let me ask the question as to where do this rubbing of shoulders actually take place with such regularity that any dissonance between those rubbing the shoulders would adversely affect the harmonious relations of these two classes. To my mind the only place rubbing of shoulders takes place is the MoD. At the lower levels, be it Command or the Area or the Sub-Area, Corps, Bde, Battalion etc, there aren’t any All India Services officers posted there. The only Gp ‘A’ officer who can be found there are from the IDAS, IDES and Indian Information Service etc.   

14.     They do not enjoy any de-jure or de-facto status which can adversely affect harmonious relations between them and the service officers posted there because the ultimate authority, both de-jure and de-facto lies with a Service officer. When I say this I exclude the disharmonies arising due to personal traits of individual officers. I suspect that this feeling of harmonious relations coming under strain stems from the difference in ethos of the two set-ups, because of which the same incident is perceived differently by the civilian officer and the services officer.

15.     In 2001, I was holding additional charge of the officer of PWA Northern Command. One day a young officer came to me and after exchanging pleasantries and coffee, politely pointed that there was some case in which I had probably over-looked the fact that the issue had already been approved by the Army Cdr before objecting to the same. I told him that I have not over-looked anything but had some views which I have expressed on file, he was aghast. He repeated himself. I said then there was no need to send it to me, and if it was sent to me, then I am required to say what I have to. I am sure he would have left my office with a feeling that I am spoiling the harmonious relation, which obviously was not the case.    

16.     I do not know if the perception we have now is also based on some such incidents, that I have just mentioned. All that I can say is that it is impossible to avoid such situations or incidents in organisations. It is not as if the service officer is always at the “receiving” end. Take for example the Border Roads Organisation where I was sent as CDA for 2 years. I have some understanding of the ethos of the organisation. The senior most GREF officer there can only aspire to become Additional DG at the best in his career. The number one there is always the Service officer who is the DG, though both of them are in the same pay grade, or at least they used to be till I was there. The GREF officers are at places in a higher pay grade also. There was a time when the Service officers posted in the North East were drawing counter-insurgency allowance while GREF officers were not and there were differences in the scale of rations, between the two categories of officers serving in the same place. Of course some of these anomalies have been set right now.     

17.     Such differences are not purely unheard of in most organisations. Even in purely military organisations like MES or the Military Engineering Services, the Special List officers and other officers had an issue. Their pay and pension used to be depressed by some amount such that officers of the same rank were not getting the same pay or pension. So, one can argue that there have been issues across the spectrum. Hence, just taking up such historical packages can actually be debilitating.  
18.     Returning to my earlier postulate since I am running out of time, the only place I feel that civilian officers really rub shoulders only in the MoD level. Accordingly, as I look at this, I asked a question – has this relationship become sour to such an extent that now there is a threat to harmony? Honestly speaking, I don’t think it is a fact. My experience of about 7 recent years in MoD till as late as 2012 does not really support this view.

19.     Difference of opinion is not always a sign of lack of harmony. I feel it will be very erroneous to generalise things in such a manner. In fact, my experience has been to the contrary. The most abiding memories of the years that I spent in Defence Accounts Department are of extremely nice relations that I had with countless Service officers. It does not mean that there were no unwelcome incidents or problems.

20.     I look at them only as aberrations and not as a lack of systemic harmony. From a finance perspective let us look at it. Roughly one third of the defence budget is spent on pay and allowances where there is no need of any regular interaction between the two sides. Another one third is spent on objectives of expenditure which are according to scales authorised, entitlements and standing authorisations which are not changed often and hence again do not entail much interactions between Civilian and Service officers. Even in the large scale financial delegation of powers, the parameters are clearly spelt out and even in cases where for powers are in concurrence with the IFA, the CFAs are at liberty to over-rule the IFAs where necessary and the remaining one third is spent on capital acquisitions, where in my opinion, the kind of harmony that prevails today is the best example of how things should be or ought to be in future.  

21.     It is often argued that the Services have been kept out of policy making. At a time when everyone is talking about policy paralysis in the Govt, it is odd to talk about the Services being kept out. I do not know as to what kind of policy making is taking place. On a more serious note, this juxtaposition can well be questioned. There is no umbrella defence policy today. There is no well-defined National Security Strategy or National Security Objective. So the question of Services being kept out of policy making is moot at this stage.

22.     At the MoD level some kind of inherent policy making does take place. The entire policy as of now is Services driven. I am referring to the RM’s op directive etc. At the level of planning also issues like LTIPP are formulated by the Services. In the National level also like in the case of AFSPA where the Home Minister says that though the Govt would like to lift it, they are not doing so in deference to the wishes of the Services. Similarly, such case has been developed with respect to the operations against Naxals in Maoist infested areas where the Services have expressed reservations against being drawn in.

23.     Hence, my point is that the system is running smoothly by and large. Functional equivalence issues are due to a host of reasons like the process of decision making, quality of decision making, inefficiency in decision making, and even budgetary constraints. Even within the MoD. Where no Service officers were present, the thinking was that we want to do so many things but there is a budgetary constraint. In the Ministry of Finance, the feeling used to be, “we want to give you so much money but we have not been able to do it.”   

24.     So there are these huge constraints in doing a lot of things which are genuine and justified but have not been done so far. Gentlemen, the real world is often smaller than the imaginary world and it is true of the organisations to which we belong as well. Going by the theory proposed by one Chester Barnard, there is an informal organisation within every formal organisation which keeps the wheels of the formal organisation going. These issues like status and functional equivalence are irrelevant in those informal organisations and this as I see in surroundings is true even in the reality of semiformal organisations as well. To sift real issues from imaginary issues, to sift logic from rhetoric, sift workable and pragmatic solutions from aspirations this, in my personal view, is the way ahead.    

25.     I cannot end the story abruptly here. So let me add a brief epilogue. Gentlemen, you have to permit me a moment of emotion. I think, going by my own experience, when I was a small boy the 1960s war happened and in ’71 war we were students and performed home guard duties and one has seen some of the worst encounters in the post-independence ear and I can tell you that the citizens of this country hold the Armed Forces in the highest esteem. Although every section of the government, be it Services or PSUs or Banking services etc an so on work hard one common thing is that every one has grievances. They are all related to pay, allowances, promotion aspects, working conditions etc.

26.     ………………But I also concede that the nation owes it to the Services to accord highest priority to address their grievances. It will make it easier for the Govt. The opportunity has arisen now with the 7th CPC set up. It will be easier for the Govt and the CPC to look into their grievances if they are de-linked from prejudices and articulated based on cold logic.   

27.     My entire narrative was actually aimed at driving home this point and to sign off with a post-script, “Please remember. All those who say something that you do not like are not your enemies, just as all those who always agree with you are not necessarily always your friends! 

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