October 20, 2020
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When Protectors Turn Protestors

In a democracy there is a legitimate right to protest, but as former soldiers don this new avatar demanding more pay, it is time to question whether it is befitting for them to be taking recourse to such measures.

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When Protectors Turn Protestors
When Protectors Turn Protestors

On July 6, chances are that India Gate in central Delhi will witness protests by ex-servicemen demanding more pay. Ironically, the same men would have spent the better part of their service life quelling similar protests in the name of the state. Needless to say, in a democracy, there is a legitimate right to protest, but as former soldiers don their new avatar as protestors rather than protectors of the state, it is time to question whether it is befitting for them to be taking recourse to such protests. After all, the services enjoy a prestige and discipline that is far removed from government service, as it is understood in this day and age. In the services, one may question the decision of their superiors rarely, but if you must, then it must be through the "proper" channels. Coming on to the streets and shouting slogans like any other lumpen variety of protestors is hardly befitting the uniform that they have donned for the better part of their lives.

What is this proposed protest against? For the "injustice" meted out to the services by the sixth pay commission, they argue. Their demand for more pay is justified by them through their claims that they have to undergo severe stress and strain in carrying out their duties when they are serving in the military. And now they have added another justification for a higher pay hike:  

"…new threats and challenges are emerging on our national security scene. Aside from sub-continental conflicts, multifaceted internal threats put additional responsibility on the defence forces. For these multifarious roles, the soldier needs to possess a high degree of technical skill, qualities of leadership, a higher motivation, mental abilities to operate and precisely execute the allotted tasks and be able to work efficiently on complex equipment and weapon systems. A soldier is a specially selected, trained, maintained and motivated individual."

The above is a justification for a higher pay grade that a retired Major General heading an ex-serviceman's league sent out to journalists across the country. His point is that because of aforementioned new and emerging challenges, the fighting soldier must be motivated enough to defend the nation. If he is not motivated, then the country is likely to be swamped by its enemies.

If this argument sounds like a "pay us or face the music" kind of a threat, we should perhaps be thankful that it is not the serving but the retired soldiers who have decided to spearhead this attack on the 6th Central pay Commission's (6CPC) recommendations.

It is time to pause and ask: Is this how it works in the corporate world? Do employees go around threatening their employers, asking them to pay them more or else their company's profits would nose-dive? Or does the company make its own calculations working out neat formulae between earnings, revenues, annual growth, qualifications of the employees, their quantifiable inputs and their individual merit and brilliance? Doesn't the private sector award faster growth to the meritorious, promoting the men and women who bring in more business than their peers? Or are better at certain processes that earn the company more revenue, such as a brilliant software programmer as compared to a mediocre one?

If the answer to the above questions is "yes" then it's time to ask the military and those in it (or, in this case, those who have retired from it) if these conditions apply to the military. Is there scope for accelerated growth for a soldier/officer who has shown better results at work than there peers? Or will they all be tied down by time-scale promotions for the first 13 years of their service before that starts happening? Also, if there are mediocre performers, will they be fired from service or will they be allowed to continue for their mandatory 26 years before they pick up their time-scale promotions and then go home to a decent pension? Isn't that awarding mediocrity at the cost of merit?

The ex-servicemen have listed several demands. What follows is an unedited list of demands made by them::

  • Rejection of 6th PCR

  • Constitution of Separate Pay Commission or Pay Review Board with members from the Defence Services both serving and veterans. All future commissions/committees for Defence Services must have representation from both serving and veteran personnel.
  • Sanction of one rank one Pension. This demand had been recommended by the Parliamentary committee in 2004 but the same has been rejected by 6th CPC. 

  • Assured Resettlement till 60 years of age through the Act of Parliament.
  • Military Service Pay (MSP) sanctioned is inadequate. As recommended by the Chiefs, MSP for Jawans and JCOs be 62.5% of basic pay and 56.5% for officers. (A minimum of (Rs 3000 pm/- for JCOs and Jawans). MSP be for all ranks and effective from 01-01-06:

  • " Upward revision of Warrant of Precedence and removal of glaring anomalies such as the equation of a Joint Secretary Govt. of India with a Major General. Status and pay of military officers to be linked with length of service vis-à-vis civil services. As on date, The pay band reached and enjoyed by 100 % civil services officers in 14 years is reached by only less than 2% defence officers and that too in 33 years"

  • Year wise edge on pay package of Defence Forces personnel over other civil services is ensured.

It's all right to say that one's service conditions are very different and therefore the 6CPC should be rejected. But what if all the other services were to react like that and state that every service must have its own pay panel? The armed forces demand representation in every sphere of the pay panel. Then should the government now also ensure that all areas of interface between civilians and the armed services have equal representation from civilians with the same rank, pay and privileges of their uniformed counterparts?

The ex-servicemen not only want parity in pay with other services but are also demanding that they must enjoy a "year-wise edge on pay package of defence forces personnel over other services". But then, who will decided which service is superior to the others? There is great merit in the argument that the bureaucracy (read the IAS) has cornered most of the benefits for themselves at the cost of the other services. But there is also merit in the fact that the IAS has a much larger role to play in governance. One can question the quality of its work, but one cannot deny the fact that when one does get into the IAS it is through an open and transparent, competitive method.

The army has a rigorous and transparent selection process but it is aimed at recruiting physically fit, healthy robust individuals who are capable of handling a particular kind of job. On the other hand, the IAS concentrates on governance, which starts the moment they step out of the academy. The physical challenges of handling a platoon for an army officer is challenging, but for that young district collector or IPS officer, fresh out of the academy, every decision taken makes the difference between good and bad governance. Therefore, to compare the two services or the military with any other service would not only be unfair  but also dangerous.

And finally, the whole argument that better pay means better recruiting material for the armed forces is fallacious and dangerous. Does that mean that the best paying employer will attract the best talent irrespective of what the service conditions are? If that were so, then even the most pathetic service conditions could be compensated with fantastic salaries. But that's not the case here, is it?

The problem with the Indian military today is that it has forgotten the basic tenets of effective human resources development. Instead, at the time of selecting 16 year olds into the National Defence Academy, it demands them to sign up for 20 years. That prevents the officer from quitting the service and stunts career growth. The demands of the service are such that it prevents people from being recognised for exemplary work. The brilliant and the mediocre are treated on par for the first 13 years of their service. The selection to a higher rank is so opaque that it puts a black hole to shame. If a candidate knows that there will be no accelerated growth for all the hard work he will put in, for all the brilliant ideas that he may come up with, and that instead he will have to slog it out for 13 years before he comes up for a selection grade promotion, it is doubtful if a higher pay grade will solve the problem. It becomes worse when you have a situation when this individual knows that once in, he will have to wait for 20 years before he can get out. That too, if he is lucky or is the son of a serving general.

So, instead of seeking better pay, what the ex-servicemen should instead be fighting for is a better system of appraisal, better manpower policies for those who continue to serve and better welfare measures that actually work. And finally, an exit policy from service that actually rewards them for the five, ten or thirteen years they have served the army. This will ensure that when someone signs up for service, their service will look good on their CVs. It can be used to get better pay packages in the corporate world after they have done their bit for government and country. Perhaps, a good exit package, which comes with a golden handshake, will go a long way in improving the intake of officers. 

Finally, the Indian military is one of the largest volunteer forces in the world. Those not willing to serve should stay out. Better pay packages will not address those concerns. Holding rallies and protest marches, even by retired military personnel not only erodes the discipline of the armed forces, but also chips away at the prestige of a uniformed service. For a force that is made up of volunteers, cribbing about pay and service conditions is not an option.

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