The sixth pay commission is now about midway in their task of preparing their recommendations for the revision of wages of more than 33 lakh central government employees, including the personnel of the defence forces.
The latter constitute the biggest chunk of employees, at nearly 40 per cent, yet they have no representation in the commission. This is despite a long standing demand of the defence forces for military representation in the commission and its reiteration at the highest military levels before the commission was appointed.
On an average, the number of army personnel killed in active operations is nearly 415 annually; a very high figure indeed, when there is no war being waged.
This not only indicates the lack of concern of the government for the welfare of the defence forces, but also the disdain with which legitimate demands of the military are treated, even when they are articulated at the highest military levels.
This article is meant to focus on the justified demands of the defence forces, with the hope that these would be taken note of, both by the pay commission as well as the government. Although the expectations of the defence forces are in many spheres, I will confine myself to discussing only a few inter-related but major issues, which I feel form the core of the expectations of the defence forces.
Let me start with the contentious issue of ‘relativities’, which rankles everyone in the defence forces. Despite the absolutely different conditions of service of the defence forces and no similarity with their civilian counterparts, the defence forces have always been clubbed with civilians by all past pay commissions. Despite repeatedly raising the issue, the sixth pay commission is also mandated to follow this oft-travelled path! Military life bears no comparison to any other category of government employees. Yet, each successive pay commission has made comparisons artificially.
In the bargain, defence personnel have suffered. The dissatisfaction is clearly reflected in the huge shortages in the officer’s cadre, as the current emoluments are not at all attractive to young aspirants. As far as personnel below officer rank (PBOR) are concerned, although there are no shortages, more and more personnel are refusing promotions as they want to leave as soon as they earn their pension. In addition, the services no longer get the best and the brightest, both in the officers ranks, as well as the PBOR. The adverse effect on the professionalism and efficiency of the defence forces and as a consequence on the security of the nation needs no elaboration.
Most advanced countries recognize that military life bears no comparison to any other employment. Accordingly, suitable compensation and enhanced emoluments are built-in while fixing the pay and allowances of the military. Table I shows details of special provisions made for the defence forces by a cross-section of countries the world over.
The defence forces had projected the need for an ‘X’ Factor, on the lines of the UK military, for their pay and allowance in earlier pay commissions, but it was not considered. It is hoped that this lacuna will be set right in the recommendations of the sixth pay commission. The defence forces are believed to have projected it as ‘military service pay’. This is the second important issue that needs to be understood; an elaboration is being attempted in the succeeding paragraphs.
Despite the absolutely different conditions of service of the defence forces and no similarity with their civilian counterparts, the defence forces have always been clubbed with civilians by all past pay commissions.
The defence forces are unique as they view service in the different wings of the military as a commitment, not a job. They are also aware that they are the last bastion of hope and hence have neither the liberty nor the luxury to fail. Whether in peace stations or in field areas, a soldier is ready twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. There are no defined working hours for them. In addition, they are the only citizens of the nation who have restrictions on their fundamental rights.
Two other aspects need to be highlighted here. Firstly, the defence forces are constantly and continuously exposed to hazardous situations and there is always a threat to their lives and limbs. On an average, the number of army personnel killed in active operations is nearly 415 annually; a very high figure indeed, when there is no war being waged. Secondly, throughout their careers, they have to maintain stringent physical standards. This is as much applicable to a jawan as to those holding the highest ranks in the service. On account of the stringent physical standards the services demand, a large number of personnel are invalidated out on medical grounds; the average is over 5000 personnel every year. Here again, there are no comparisons with any other service, including the central police forces.
There are many drawbacks in family related and professional aspects as well. Military personnel have regular transfers and consequently frequent dislocations to family life, children’s education, as well as additional expenditure. Over half the service of defence personnel, particularly those from the army, is spent in field areas, where families are not permitted, resulting in long separation of soldiers and officers from their wives, children, parents and other kin. Even in peace stations, family life is disrupted on account of lack of married accommodation.
The Indian Army has heavy commitments in counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations. Average length of service of soldiers in such operations amounts to 10.87 years, when compared to soldiers of most Western nations, where it is not more than one year.
Statistically, the average separations endured during their army careers work out to nearly 78% for jawans and nearly 68% for officers. Another way of putting it is that army personnel suffer separation of nearly 18 years in a career span of 24 years. An extremely turbulent life by any standards! It is a miracle that our officers and soldiers, as well as their families ‘soldier on’ regardless. What is worse is that there is no monetary compensation for this dismal quality of life.
The impact of separation, non-participation in social and family events and inadequate upbringing of children in their formative years, leading to psychological problems, hardly needs any elaboration. Well documented data relating to stress caused by separation and a low quality of life makes startling reading indeed.
The Indian Army has heavy commitments in counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations. Average length of service of soldiers in such operations amounts to 10.87 years, when compared to soldiers of most Western nations, where it is not more than one year. Even those who volunteer for additional duties in some western countries, do so for a maximum of two to three years throughout their career.
A look at how military personnel meet their personal responsibilities is revealing. Although personal responsibilities of both military and civilian personnel are similar, but unlike the civilians, the bulk of military personnel have to retire when their responsibilities relating to their children, as well as aging parents are at their peak. Our PBOR generally retire between the ages of 35 and 40 years and the bulk of officers around 50 years of age, while their civilian counterparts continue to serve, get extra emoluments and promotions and retire at the age of 60 years. Thereafter, because of their longer service, they also earn higher pensionary benefits. Thus, defence forces personnel lose out both in pay as well as pension.
Let us briefly focus on the career prospects of defence personnel. All defence personnel undergo a most rigorous selection process, in an organisation that is so pyramidal that large numbers keep falling out at every rank. The reason is not that they are professionally inadequate, or are found wanting in personal qualities, but because of the acutely declining number of vacancies as they progress in their careers. The result, for a very large number of personnel is bleak in career prospects.
The pyramidal structure of the army can be gauged from Table II. From a total cadre of 46,615 officers, only 4239 make it to the rank of colonel, i.e., a mere 10 per cent. For the next rank, only 20 per cent are selected. Thereafter too, the attrition rate is extremely high. Out of a total of 866 brigadiers, as many as 650 are weeded out. Such statistics bear no comparison to persons serving is any other service, government or private. This state of affairs continues at each successive rank, till only one out of 67 lieutenant generals attains the rank of General. Need one convert it into a percentage!?!