Will soldiers get pay commission benefits?
It has been almost a year since the pay commission was implemented for all central government employees. The initial report of the commission had itself hurt military pride. Apart from lowering its status, it had also reduced its allowances, ensuring those occupying plush offices in secure zones in Guwahati from the IAS and allied services would draw better allowances than soldiers deployed in the highest battlefield of the world, the Siachen Glacier. The pay commission had created a rift between various central services, especially the military and the bureaucracy. The military’s demand has always remained one, status quo with other services. The military feels it was the bureaucracy that was responsible for lowering its status to that of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), well below the IAS, IPS and other allied services. Such was the anguish across the military that service chiefs were compelled to jointly reject orders for issuing directions for the pay commission’s implementation. Such an action has been unprecedented in the history of Independent India.
The hue and cry rose to such levels in media and social media circles that the Prime Minister had to intervene and refer the pay commission of the military to a separate anomalies panel under the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT). The DOPT functions under the PMO. The PM's directions were issued despite orders by the Defence Minister to service chiefs to accept the report as released, while the anomalies could be handled subsequently.
Had the service chiefs accepted the directions of the defence minister, not a single anomaly would have been rectified. Anomalies of the fifth and sixth pay commission continue to remain unresolved; expecting the anomalies of the seventh to be cleared would be farfetched. Had the pay commission not been released till a viable and satisfactory solution was arrived at, involving all affected parties, the present scenario of one service still awaiting its release would never have arisen.
It has been over six months since it was referred to the anomalies commission and there are still no inputs of when it is likely to be announced. If it takes a department under the PMO over six months to implement his directions, then there are serious doubts on what can be expected. While every other central service has enjoyed the benefits, the military quietly remains hopeful. The announcement of elections in five states and the kicking in of the code of conduct made any release of the final report unlikely till the announcement of results. However, everything should have been concluded, the findings discussed with service chiefs and the report ready for release. No inputs on the same seem to flow till date. Similar is the case with another anomalies commission, concerning allowances, under the secretary of finance. Why should there be a delay now? The elections concluded almost a fortnight ago, results were announced, new governments have assumed power, hence the code of conduct no longer exists.
The Justice Reddy commission report on the OROP was submitted to the finance ministry in October last year. It was for the government to study and announce its final recommendations. To continue to keep the issue alive, the agitation by the veterans continues at Jantar Mantar. Again, there is absolute silence on the part of the government. This raises the question of whether it is serious on implementing it, or was it just a ploy to garner votes in elections.
Both anomalies commissions have no representative of the military, the main affected party. It has members of other central services who are tasked to provide justice to the military which in reality may never happen. Is the government hoping that by delaying its release, it could push the military leadership to accept a midway mark, by which it could continue to maintain the protocol gap created by the original release? If that is the intention, then it may be a wrong action, as it would lower the standing of the chiefs in the eyes of the rank and file of the military and enhance the divide between the military and the bureaucracy as also within the military. The government is aware that there is unlikely to be any official bickering as military rules and regulations prohibit it.
Casualties in J and K continue to rise, while the summer has yet to commence. Army deployment would increase as anti-militant operations take centre stage. Morale in the army needs to be at an all-time high, especially as local support to anti-national elements is on the rise and encounters are only going to increase. One of the most important ingredients of high morale is pay and allowances and appropriate status and respect.
The military suffers a shortage of over nine thousand officers. Degraded status and an ignoring attitude would never help in making the service attractive for the masses. A change at the top, with the defence minister having moved to Goa, would stall the process of Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU), as also pushing for an early release of the pay commission. A temporary defence minister or a new appointee would require requisite time to understand the problems and grievances of the service, before attempting to address them.
The Prime Minister's words of praise in his speeches or spending time with troops on Diwali, are insufficient. It is time for him to act and openly prove the genuineness of his words, release the pay commission, clearing major anomalies. It is equally surprising that the opposition can question the Prime Minister’s silence on hate crimes in the US, but refuse to question the government on delay in releasing the military’s pay commission.
(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army.)