Defending India: No Compromise, No Concession
by N S Malik on 16 Apr 2009 1 Comment

If ever things come to a sordid pass when, on a given day, the Mauryan soldier has to LOOK BACK over his shoulder (simhawalokana) prompted by even a single worry about his and his family's material, physical  and social well being, it should cause you and your Council the greatest concern and distress. I beseech you to take instant note and act with uncommon dispatch to address the soldier's anxiety. It is my bounden duty to assure you, My Lord, that the day when the Mauryan soldier has to demand his dues or, worse, plead for them ,will neither have arrived overnight nor in vain. It will also bode ill for Magadha. For then, on that day, you, My Lord, will have lost all moral sanction to be King! It will also be the beginning of the end of the Mauryan Empire!!"
- Kautilya to Chandragupta on the Mauryan Soldier

Taking note of the deteriorating security scenario, at least one political party has issued a comprehensive manifesto covering all aspects of national activities for creating a modern, powerful, prosperous, progressive and secure India through the three main instruments of ‘Good Governance, Development & Security.’

National Security covers both areas of external and internal security. Today with state-sponsored terrorism through non-State actors and religious fundamentalists, internal security has assumed menacing shape and cannot be left to police and CPO forces alone. Armed forces and Para Military Forces (PMF) of the nation, therefore, face a much bigger challenge on both fronts simultaneously. Political parties must understand this and devise a Defence Policy based on the above threat perception. In simple words understanding the common citizen’s basic need of security, the mantra is “Fear shall no longer stalk this land.”

Armed Forces are the ultimate weapon with which the state is to fight the external aggressor and the internal insurgent. Thus the need to strengthen the armed forces to be ever ready to crush any attack on the sovereignty and integrity of India. Tragically, the armed forces have been ignored by the government and its failure to address legitimate military concerns has bred undesirable discontent among the serving soldiery and forced the veterans to come out in protest by returning their most precious possession, the war medals, to the President of India.

Thus the promise to ‘address all pending issues immediately’ is welcome, and must include:

1] The long-pending acquisition of military hardware must be expedited through absolutely transparent means in a time-bound manner.

2] Budget allocations for defense forces must be spent without being allowed to lapse. The criminal negligence of the defense forces so far has resulted in nearly Rs. 24,000 crores of budgetary allocations being allowed to lapse over five years. This endangers the lives of our soldiers and also the security of the nation.

3] Our forces are performing a service to the nation and deserve better pay and privileges. This includes:
a] Pending issues of pay and privileges must be revisited and resolved to the satisfaction of the defense forces. The modalities for setting up a separate Pay Commission for the forces must be expedited;
b] All personnel of the Army, Air Force and Navy, as also paramilitary forces, should be exempt from paying income tax on salaries and perquisites;
c] Honorarium for winners of gallantry awards like Pram Vir Chakra, which is abysmally low at Rs 500 to Rs 3,000, may be enhanced to Rs 5,000 to Rs 30,000, and made tax free.
d] The principle of one rank, one pension be implemented;
e] Incentive-based steps be taken to make joining the defence services an exciting proposition for young men and women to overcome shortage of officers; and,
f] Incentives be offered to State Governments for ensuring honourable settlement of retired personnel of the defence services.

4] Present shortage of defence personnel at all levels be met by making the Services an attractive career option through competitive pay and privileges and pension benefits.

5] Enhance capacities of Defence Research and Development Organisation; explore the PPP route for conventional defence production bearing in mind the nation’s needs and make India a competitive player in the global market by 2020.

The above has concentrated on four major issues directly effecting national security: a] Defence Budget and its correct use; b] pay and perks for the soldier and the veteran; c] shortage of officers in the services and d] independent strategic nuclear programme. 

There are basically two burning issues for the forces: Income tax exemption for Armed Forces and PMF personnel, and implementation of ‘One rank One Pension.’ Here a few points stand out and need to be correctly understood.

The point that the armed forces are unique and need to be dealt with on a special footing in matters of pay, perks and privileges is accepted by all. Income tax exemption mooted by a political party has been taken by some as a form of ‘bribe;’ they have opined that it was not really necessary as it could lead to other government and non-government employees demanding the same.

This argument is very unfortunate, as incentives given to the soldier in the form of Gallantry Awards, or to players in the form of awards and monetary benefits, besides a host of other bonuses in the corporate sector, can all be brought under the same argument. Besides, government schemes for relief or upliftment of some sections of society, such as loan waivers to farmers, could come under the same accusation. 

Reiterating that armed forces are unique, in that they are asked to sign a blank cheque to the nation with no limits up to and including the supreme sacrifice, why begrudge them a minor concession? More than monetary, it is psychological, to make the armed forces feel they are special.

Regarding the one-rank-one-pension demand, there is misunderstanding regarding its financial burden and a fear that civil servants will demand the same, making it unbearable for the government. First, only a small sum of Rs. 1500 crores annually is likely to go out initially and will taper off; secondly, conditions of service and retirement are quite different between the civil and the military and cannot be equated. A soldier is compulsorily retired after 17 years of service in the age group of 35-38 years, and gets a very meagre pension based on last pay drawn; other Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR) are also retired at various stages before they reach the age of 50 years. Similarly, the bulk of officers retire at the age of 54-56, only a miniscule number going to 58 and 60 (a mere 0.02%). In contrast, all civil servants retire at 60 years, having drawn maximum pay of grade and pension at the highest scale of grade. 

Then, service conditions often take the soldier away from his family and children; there are problems of education, among other problems.  

Another important issue bearing on the OROP principle is that a soldier retiring at the age of 35-38 faces many Pay Commissions in his retired life, but benefits from only the initial one; rest of the time being left out as his pension is kept at the bottom of his grade at the next Pay Commission. The civil servant having retired at 60 faces only one or at best two Pay Commissions before we all succumb to the laws of nature.

To conclude:
The Armed Forces are not like a limited liability Company to be reconstructed from time to time as the money fluctuates. It is not an inanimate thing like a house to be pulled down or enlarged or structurally altered at the caprice of the tenant or owner. It is a living thing; if it is bullied, it sulks; if it is unhappy, it pines; if it is harried, it gets feverish; if it is sufficiently disturbed, it will wither and dwindle and almost die, and when it comes to this last serious condition, it is only revived through a lot of effort and lots of money” (Winston Churchill)

Lt. Gen. N.S. Malik, PVSM, is former Deputy Chief of Army Staff

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