Monday, 7 July 2014

Will the NDA Government address the Angst of Armed Forces

Will the NDA Government address the Angst of Armed Forces

Kautilya reminded the king that his safety and security as well as of his empire depended on the trust and sacrifice of his soldiers.
“The Mauryan soldier does not enrich the Royal treasuries nor fills the Royal granaries. He does not carry out trade and commerce nor produce scholars, litterateurs, artistes, artisans, sculptors, architects, craftsmen, doctors and administrators. He does not build roads and ramparts nor dig wells and reservoirs.             

The soldier just ensures that the tax, tribute and revenue collectors travel forth and return safely; that the farmer tills, harvests, stores and markets his produce unafraid of pillage; that the trader, merchant, and financier function and travel across the length and breadth of the realm unmolested; that the savant, sculptor, maestro, and mentor create works of art, literature, philosophy and astrology in peace; that the architect designs and builds houses without tension; that the tutor and the priest teach and preach in peace; that the sages meditate in wordless silence; that the doctor cures and prescribes medicines undisturbed; that the mason and bricklayer work unhindered; that the mother and the wife go about their chores and bring up children in harmony and tranquillity; that the cattle graze freely without being lifted or stolen.

Pataliputra reposes each night in peaceful comfort, O King, secure in the belief that the distant borders of Magadha are inviolate and the interiors are safe and secure, thanks only to the Mauryan Army standing vigil with naked swords and eyes peeled for action, day and night, in weather fair and foul, all eight praharas (round the clock), quite unmindful of personal discomfort and hardship, all through the year, year after year.

While the citizenry of the State contributes to see that the State prospers and flourishes, the soldier guarantees it continues to exist as a State! To this man, O Rajadhiraja, you owe a debt: please, therefore, see to it, on your own, that the soldier continuously gets his dues in every form and respect, be they his needs or his wants, for he is not likely to ask for them himself.

Then Chanakya gave his king this blunt warning: “The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be King!”

(Quoted in part by Justice (retd) Markandey Katju in his order in Writ Petition (C) No. 291 of 2010 – in his order on an Armed Forces Redressal Grievance Commission (AFRGC) which was since recalled)
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The hopes of personnel of Armed Forces were re-awakened at the Ex-Servicemen rally at Rewari addressed by then PM candidate, Shri Narendra Modi. The promises made there, and thereafter, with oft stated affirmation of the importance of India’s Armed Forces, have given rise to high aspirations, hopes, even prayers not only for the washing away of past injustice, but also for amelioration of anomalies, pay, allowances, pensions and, compliance with Armed Forces Tribunals, High Courts and the Supreme Court of India’s orders and judgments. In other words, Armed Forces personnel, present and past, look for justice and fair play and an acknowledgement of the immense sacrifices, in life, limb and deprivations put up with by personnel of the Armed Forces and Veterans. They do not look for yet another reference to a Committee of Secretaries, where the Armed Forces are neither represented nor understood.

Politicians respond or react to briefings and situations by promising a better tomorrow. Example: - a reputedly hard-hearted and hard headed politician like Shri Chidambaram promised One Rank One Pension to the Armed Forces. But his decision had a caveat - that one carrot (of Rs 500 crore) is better than a full meal of about Rs 5000 crore.

So Shri Antony and the Treasury Benches rewarded Shri Chidambaram with smiles and desk thumping. Shri Chidambaram, in turn, bestowed that rarest of his commodities, his smile, on the members in the House and over electronic media. Shri Chidambaram alone knew what that smile revealed and how much it concealed.

Some self-appointed leaders of the community called, variously, Ex-Servicemen (ESM) or Veterans thumped their chests (and nearly fractured their arms patting themselves on their own backs) that a hard fought victory was won and OROP was a given. 

But, politicians are never held to blame for not fulfilling promises, simply because their promises are to be implemented by the bureaucrats, who are some steps ahead in thinking and, if one may be permitted to state the truth bluntly, weakening what the politician promises.

The bureaucrats, like pathologists, have the luxury of time to dissect the promises to see the most important factor “what’s in it for me?” So they take their own time, because bureaucrats are never called to explain delays. They use every tactic in the bureaucratic book of stratagems, with some even inventing more to add to that book, to delaying or denying – a sort of “Politician proposes, Bureaucrat disposes” game, [reversing a proverb from a translation from "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): "…..For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands."]  

It is axiomatic that bureaucrats think that benefits promised to Armed Forces are either undeserved special privileges or are advantages that the Armed Forces do not deserve. When something has to be sanctioned for the Armed Forces, the bureaucrats look for “precedent” (which does not appear to them to indicate the “sheep” mentality, though they take pride in being the best of the civil services). The finale is that, if they cannot deny the Armed Forces, bureaucrats must gift themselves something better – lack of precedent notwithstanding.

Today, we can look back to almost a decade of benign neglect by A K Antony, one of Congress party’s revered and respected leaders, and of bureaucratic shenanigans. One would be kind to Antony if one called his tenures as Raksha Mantri as insipid or tame but then it would not be Satyam ev Jayate.

Or one could, becoming less charitable, credit him with the dubious distinction of slowing down, if not stopping altogether, supply of critical equipment and modernization by referring every, if not every alternate, requirement for investigation. The list of firms black-listed is longer than the long arm of the investigating agencies! It is reported that about Rs 22,000 crore of funds have been surrendered by the MoD. Wonder why Chidambaram did not thank Antony for his contribution to lowering the Current Account Deficit (CAD)!        

Angst of the Armed Forces – serving personnel and Veterans – over their pay, pensions, perquisites and allowances is now something of a perennial condition because their sacrifices are never matched by oft-repeated promises of dignity, benefits, improvement of the quality of life, edge over, let alone parity with the Civil Services, justice and a fitting memorial to those who sacrificed their lives for the greater glory of the Nation.
Antony has stirred moral outrage by promising much (made famous by late Kamaraj with his “parakalaam” (we’ll see) but not fulfilling any of his promises. There has been no display of a sense of decorum, let alone responsibility and accountability by his bureaucrats for they have overtly defied him. Disclosures through RTI reveal his meek approval of, or acquiescence to, notes placed before him without a single question, an intelligent one at that, or even a demur.

Antony has outdone all his predecessors. Just look at this small list of abject failures of leadership of a Ministry that demands responsibility and accountability from the Sepoy (and equivalent) to the Chief: - 

Rank Pay,

Non-Functional Upgradation,

Implementation of decisions/orders/judgments of the Armed Forces Tribunals, High Courts, even the Supreme Court of India, and

One Rank One Pension announced with such fanfare by the UPA-2 and reiterated by NDA Govt.

Interestingly, despite repeated reiteration by NDA on implementing OROP, and even after a meeting taken by Defence Minister on 12 Jun 2014, the CGDA, who is chairperson of the Working Group is nowhere near furnishing an implementing order.

MoD’s bureaucrats do not inform the Courts of decisions taken when matter is sub-judice, blithely stating that it was not done. Bureaucrat/deponents solemnly swear that they have not concealed any material facts when they are comprehensively aware that it is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Bureaucrats make statements on file which are contrary to sworn affidavits and get away unscathed because Shri Antony approves those notes without even a demur, let alone questioning the bureaucrats on the contradictions.

Bureaucrats state, almost as facilely, that the matter (NFU) has been “decided to wait,” perhaps used to being placed on “compulsory wait.” By awarding themselves a considerable amount by way of NFU, they have nullified the Military Service Pay given to Armed Forces Personnel for risking, and quite often losing life and/or limb, to protect the sovereignty of India.

Review Petition in the UoI Vs Capt KJS Buttar case was dismissed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 21 Jan 14 but the decision of the Apex Court is yet to be implemented. Again, the Apex Court upheld the Civil Appeal in the NANA (not attributable to, not aggravated by military service) case but its implementation is still not evident. In fact, MoD/Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) issued an ill-considered and unilateral order to Armed Forces HQ to go ahead and contest any and every decision not in its favour without approval of DESW, ostensibly because the “Department is over-burdened” (source: disclosure to RTI application).

That it was ill-considered and unilateral became apparent when the Ministry of Law declined to accept any references direct from Armed Forces HQ. The only time Shri Antony took a decision was when he had the order withdrawn because of the adverse publicity it had drawn.

The strict rules and regulations of the Armed Forces ensure quick disciplinary proceedings, exemplary and deterrent punishment, no matter if it is a Sepoy or a Lt Gen (and equivalent). The latter, though Additional Secretary level officers, did not have the benefit of the Single Rule that Joint Secretaries and above enjoyed, which was recently struck down, yet again, by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The Single Rule ensured indefinite postponement, if not permanent shelving of sanction for investigations and, if necessary, prosecution of these high officers. And the reason – allegations could be frivolous, vexatious and hamper decision-making!   

So, the MoD’s bureaucrats, under the omnipresent umbrella of “RM’s approval” have trampled over the genuine, even Court approved, requirements of Armed Forces. And, not a single bureaucrat has been proceeded against, let alone punished.
Access to information through the media and disclosures to RTI applications has made it easier for the cloak of secrecy that surrounded the working of MoD to be removed (not without MoD fighting it, one might add). There is a growing disenchantment, discernible to all but the politicians who make the promises at Services functions and conferences and, at every ex-Servicemen rally. The disenchantment is made worse by the bureaucrats using every stratagem to deny fulfilment of those promises.

This growing disenchantment is evident from the increasing number of fratricides and disobedience of rules and regulations. Defence Minister AK Antony told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply to questions from members that the army lost 1,082 personnel to suicides since 2001. The suicide data from army for the year 2000 is not available. The navy has had no case of fratricide during this period, while it had 27 suicide cases. The Indian Navy is a force of about 60,000 personnel. The Indian Air Force, with nearly two lakh personnel, has suffered three fratricides, while it has recorded 253 cases of suicide (source: dna newspaper).
Do Armed Forces – serving and Veterans- have some hope from the Government?

Just look at one item in the terms of reference for the 7th CPC for Defence Forces: -

Item 8.2 In what manner should the concessions and facilities, both in cash and kind, be taken into account for determining salary structure in case of Defence Forces personnel. 

What are these Concessions?  Let me quote from a Government source: -

o                   75% on air travel to Chakra series holders or their NoK

o                   50% on air travel to NoK of those killed in anti-terrorist or anti-extremist operations

(How many times do they travel annually?)

o                   Benefits of re-employment for 10% in Gp C and 20% in Gp D (now extinct) in Central Government,

o                   Reservations in PSUs’ for 14.5% in Gp C and 24% in Gp D and 10% as Asst Commandant in para-military forces when even lateral absorption has not been done because MHA objected (was Chidambaram Union Minister for Home Affairs?);

o                   8% quota for oil product agencies and 18% quota for LPG agencies

What are the facilities? Let me quote one - Rs 79.93 per day for entitled rations per head.

The scale of rations (with market price in Bangalore in brackets), amongst other things

Atta/rice 450 gms (Rs 45/kg), dal - 40 gms (Rs 120/kg), Oil – 80 gms (Rs 344/kg), sugar – 90 gms (Rs 35/kg); Milk fresh – 260 gms (Rs 36/kg toned milk), Fresh veg – 170 gms, potatoes – 110 gms (Rs/kg), Onions – 60 gms Rs /kg, eggs – 2 nos (Rs 4/per egg), LPG – 150 gms (Rs 450/15 kg cylinder)  etc etc.

Armed Forces should thank them for it is somewhat better than Rs 32 in rural and Rs 47 in urban areas, respectively, per day that attracts the Below Poverty Line (BPL) tag defined by the Planning Commission. 

Every Armed Forces personnel – serving and retired - will look and hope and pray that the NDA Government will reverse the ‘Antony process’ whether in not providing critical equipment or in ill-treatment of personnel, especially  pensioners, as is evident in the MoD’s and CGDA’s respective procrastination in implementing payment of Rank Pay arrears, which impact the One Rank One Pension, either on the basis of “large financial burden to the State” - notwithstanding the opinion of the Ld Attorney General in the Rank Pay case and the order in PB CAT OA No. 655 that once the Govt announces a scheme, it is not for functionaries of a Ministry to decide on the financial impact or because “UPA Govt’s Interim Budget states an amount of Rs 500 crore, so we will trim OROP to fit into that figure.”   

Armed Forces personnel (who have to retire some day) and pensioners, who have retired already, hope and pray that NDA’s Finance-cum-Defence Minister and its Prime Minister will be true to their words of implementing OROP fully and also addressing the angst of the Armed Forces personnel and the shortages in critical equipment to fight.

Will the NDA Government do it – bite the bullet?

Jai Hind

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