By-Kuldip Nayar : I do not know who in the establishment is to blame for the mess in the case ?of the armed forces’ salaries and pensions. Of course, the IAS officers have ?processed the demand and they are the twice-born service, always ensuring ?that they remain on top. They knit a net of procedures and precedents so ?skilfully that others give up in exasperation. But why do our political ?masters play into their hands? There must be an equation between the two, ?the reason why Ministers allow the IAS set-up to maul or mutilate any ?proposal if they decide to do so. In this case, their action is horrifying.
When ordinary soldiers and officers of the rank of lieutenant general want ?to return their medals won for bravery, they prove that a point has arrived ?where they have abandoned the hope of getting justice. It is time the nation ?realised that something is drastically wrong. Something has happened to push ?them into the domain of despair.
The establishment was not able to belittle the dignity with which hundreds ?of men from the armed forces surrendered their medals of individual bravery. ?They assembled at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to express their protest. All that ?they wanted was one rank, one pension. It was a fair demand which, ?surprisingly, the Government had spurned.
The other Sunday, the day of Sabbath, as many as 200 retired armymen packed ?their medals in transparent plastic bags, with their names written on them, ?put them in three cardboard boxes and sent them to the President of India. ?They wanted to meet President Pratibha Patil, but she was away in Mumbai. ?They were not satisfied meeting a deputy secretary. They want to meet the ?President who, after all, gives away the medals for extraordinary courage ?and bravery.
I do not think there is anything wrong in the demand for one rank, one ?pension. A lieutenant general who retired in January 2005 gets a pension of ?Rs 27,700. An officer holding the same rank but retiring after a year gets ?Rs 10,000 more — Rs 37,700. For brigadiers, there is a similar anomaly, in ?this case, Rs 5,000.
I believe that the Congress’ election manifesto in 2004 acknowledged the ?demand for one rank, one pension. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee ?too promised to remove such anomalies. Still, over the years, the disparity ?has grown. One officer contends that the gap has grown by 82%. The matter ?came up before Parliament’s Standing Committee when I was retiring from the ?Rajya Sabha in 2003. I am told that the committee recommended the provision ?of one rank, one pension. But the Government refused to act. On the one ?hand, we say the country is safe in the hands of the defence forces and on ?the other we treat them poorly.
My query to official quarters reveals that the Government is afraid to ?implement the demand because it may trigger similar claims from other public ?sector employees. This is not a fair comparison. The armed forces do a ?hazardous and life-threatening job. Those sitting in secure, cushy seats in ?air-conditioned rooms cannot even imagine what the front means, whether at ?peacetime or during war. I do not want to introduce emotional arguments like ?defence of the motherland etc. Yet, the fact remains that those in the armed ?forces give their life to help us live in peace. To deny them their due is ?not right.
I TAKE THIS opportunity to point to the serious disparities within the ?defence services. Some 85% of the personnel are from the category that ?comprises Persons Below Officer Ranks [PBOR]. They are the most neglected ?lot, because they have preferred not to raise their voice. Rations are free ?for officers and jawans. But there is a disparity in the quantum. For ?example, an officer gets 260 gm of meat, while a soldier gets only 110 gm. ?The Government can at least end such disparities.
The Government has no defence because grievances over salaries, pensions and ?the armed forces’ place in the protocol hierarchy have been piling up for ?years. Instead of improving their lot, it, or for that matter, the IAS ?officers have been downgrading them, emolument-wise and status-wise. The ?last Pay Commission’s recommendations were the proverbial straw on the ?camel’s back and hence the medals were returned.
Kuldip Nayar is an author and human rights activist