Left High and Dry

447404096_ab8403e66f.jpgOn Thursday, the top brass of the Armed Forces met up with the Defence Minister AK Anthony, to discuss the sixth pay commission. The Sixth Pay Commission, which has been in news for the past two years, got the final approval last week when the ministry declared a hike of 40 to 60 per cent in the pay of government services.
All eyes were set on the Sixth Pay Commission, as there has been a shortage of enrollments in the Army. Last year, the force had a shortage of 11,500 officers. Worse still, almost two thirds of the seats in the military academies were not filled. The Commission was hoped to be a booster for youngsters to join the forces. But alas, it did not meet the expectations of the Army and they were left disappointed.

The Army’s primary role is to defend the territorial integrity of its land borders, including security of the highland territory. The neighbouring nations have had army dictators who toppled the government many times. This was basically due to lack of governance and a matured political structure of democratic government. India, on the contrary, has been a politically stable nation, but even at times when the military could easily take over the governance of the nation, it remained loyal and democratic.
India has never attacked any front, and the Army has successfully guarded our borders and safeguarded the civil population. It is sad that now-a-days the Army is facing a major recruitment crisis. The sixth pay commission did not address the aspiration of the Central Government in the correct perspective. There are a number of anomalies to be taken into consideration.
Firstly, when a junior officer gets promoted and posted to a new place his salary is reduced. Secondly, the middle rung officers, i.e. Lt. Colonel to Brigadier, who form the bulk of the Army now, are suffering due to the critical deficiency. The applicants outnumber the availability of the posts. As a result, deserving officers are rejected for a higher promotion. Thirdly, after a span of three years there will be no competition left for the officers for a higher promotion, as there will be a shortage of officers to fill in the positions. Consequence is quite predictable — the officer quality will diminish and deteriorate.

Another factor that rankles the military is the Pay Commission model, which seeks a balance between military and civil ranks. The army is solely responsible to the Civil Government, but the new sixth pay commission has not only left the officials unsatisfied but also brought down the status of the Army to its civil counter parts. A civilian IAS officer takes under 20 years to become a Joint Secretary with virtual certainty. And it takes army officers 33 years to reach the equivalent rank of Major General, and only three per cent make it to this rank. There is a large disparity when it comes to the military service pay. The hike in the officers pay is upto Rs. 6,000 and the OR’s (other ranks) is upto Rs.1,000, which when compared to their civil counter parts is peanuts.

The Commission fails the military at its middle rung — the level where many are queuing up to quit. Those with 20 years of service and more, get a real increase of less than 15 per cent. “We were expecting around 200 per cent hike”, Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor says. The situation is quite bad and a major crisis will be experienced by the Indian government if things do not change. There is a need to change the pay system as prices are changing. How do you expect an officer to meet up with the rising prices with a paltry pay of Rs.25,000. What education can he provide his children with such a pay scale? How do you expect him to run a household at times when the standard of living is rising day by day? My father was a part of the Indian Peace Keeping force in Colombo when I was born; he came to know about the delivery after four days. He saw me after two and a half months — Can the government compensate for that?

Perhaps, the Pay Commission has failed to sense the feeling of inadequacy in a seething military. It is important that they wake up before its too late.

Aakansha Ahluwalia

[image courtesy: http://flickr.com/photos/ravages/447404096/sizes/m/]