Douse the anger within

 In Civil-Military Relations, Deepak Sinha, Democracy & Governance, HomePageTopics

Deepak Sinha                                                                              Apr 18, 2019/Opinion

While the Government continues to celebrate the armed forces’ performance for electoral gains, it will do well to remember that the basic tenet of warfare is that the man behind the gun matters more than the gun. Its failure to grant non-functional upgrade is all the more hurtful.

For those innocent souls still blissfully ignorant of what Non-Functional Financial Upgrade (NFU) implies, in brief, it simply ensures that when an IAS officer from a particular batch (one that includes everyone who joins service the same year) is promoted to a certain rank, all batchmates from Group A Central services automatically start drawing the same pay-scale two years after that individual’s promotion. Even as those officials continue to discharge earlier functions, they are upgraded to a higher pay grade. Thus, nearly all civil services officers, regardless of what rank they may retire with, get pension at the highest level of HAG+ or what those few appointed as Cabinet Secretaries are granted. If that isn’t hitting the jackpot, then what is?

One doesn’t need to be a guru to figure out that such a system is contrary to all principles of management and without precedent anywhere in the world, either in the Government or corporate sector. As a matter of fact, Vivek Rae, the IAS member in the seventh Pay Commission, recommended that NFU be done away with on grounds that “to strive for uniform career progression across such a diverse set of services and cadres, with widely varying functions, violates fundamental management principles relating to organisational structures. Such a dispensation, with automatic career progression till the HAG level, completely buries the concept of merit-based career progression and undermines considerations of efficiency and accountability.”

Singh’s motivation for approving this, despite pretensions to intellectual and moral honesty, is not difficult to guess. Pragmatism required a veil to cover the scandalous actions of his coalition partners, which the bureaucracy willingly provided, obviously in exchange for a quid pro quo. That Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to do away with NFU, as the majority members of the seventh Pay Commission recommended, obviously suggests that he and his colleagues are as much a hostage to bureaucracy as was the previous Government, despite all his blather about good governance.

It is in the nature of the beast that when hogs are given unlimited access to the feeding trough, other hogs will follow, even those, who may not see themselves as hogs as well. It was just a matter of time before the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and the armed forces approached the Government for their inclusion and on  refusal, approached the courts. While the apex court has already directed the Government to commence NFU for CAPF — something the Government recently approved for implementation — the case of the armed forces still lingers with that august body.

The irony in all this is difficult to miss. NFU was granted in order to address the wide disparity in career progression across different Organised Group ‘A’ services (Central services) and to bring parity between them and the IAS. It was accepted despite its “wide-ranging financial, organisational and governance implications” as the seventh Pay Commission put it especially with regard to inter-se status between various services and their military counterparts, which had been sacrosanct till then since independence.

To quote Rathin Roy, the other member of the seventh Pay Commission, the “broad parity was disturbed by granting NFU to IPS, IFoS and organised group ‘A’ services after the sixth Central Pay Commission report, without a similar dispensation being extended to the Defence Forces.  Consequently, the Defence Forces officers, who are in no way lower in status or responsibility than Group ‘A’ Central services, though not classified as such, have fallen steeply behind IPS/IFoS and 49 organised group ‘A’ services.”

Again, as it was bound to happen, all of this has had a particularly disastrous impact on the “armed forces’ morale, status, cohesion and national security”, to quote the seventh Central Pay Commission. In the present circumstances, especially given that it is an election season, it is more than likely that the issues raised will be disregarded, more so in light of the extraordinary performance of the armed forces over the past couple of years, despite acute deficits in weapons, equipment and ammunition.  After all, it is not just coincidence that every party attempts to include “surgical strikes” in its outreach — be it the fight against poverty or the measure of the leaders’ strength of character, as Modi has so effectively done till now.

Unfortunately, this bombast by politicians, especially of the ruling party, is difficult to balance against the Government’s extensive efforts to deny NFU to the armed forces. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) on March 25 stated, “In the instant case, the recourse to judicial review was taken as per the existing policies and at the decision of the Government of India. Certain facts have been twisted and misrepresented in the media with the purpose of misleading the uniformed community and the general public. One, the Central Pay Commission has been incorrectly quoted to have recommended NFU/ NFU for the armed forces.

“Two, there has been no attempt to malign the uniformed community or quote them as staying in ‘palatial houses’ as the hardships faced by military fraternity are well-known and deeply respected by everyone, including those in the Government. The counsel of the Government of India has only read out the recommendations of the seventh Central Pay Commission as the argument of the case in the apex court….”

Clearly, the PIB’s statement is disingenuous. For one, it denies the existence of Para 17.55 of the seventh Central Pay Commission report that categorically states, “The Chairman is of the considered opinion that …the same will be available not only to all organised Central group ‘A’ services but also members of CAPFs, ICG and Defence forces.” Second, the PIB’s defence of the Government counsel’s arguments is at complete variance to the tweet by advocate for the litigants, Col Mukul Dev: “March 12, 2019, the Black Day in the history of Indian armed forces,  which I must observe it as, when I had to hear the most demoralising and damaging arguments of the Ministry of Defence (MoD)… the MoD babus have got objection to the CSD facilities, the Army public schools, the officers institutes, the free travel passes (in their terminology), the concessional air travel scheme, the grant of Military Service Pay, the free rations and the so-called palatial houses in which we are made to stay….In essence, the same very babus, who are entrusted to look after the interests of soldiers, are now trying to usurp everything. Times have definitely changed…..”

While the Prime Minister can hold forth on how much better we would have fared if the Rafale had been in our inventory during the recent spat with Pakistan, he would do well to remember that the basic tenet of warfare is that the man behind the gun matters more than the gun.

The writer is a military veteran, a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and Visiting Senior Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation. The views expressed are the author’s own.

This article was published earlier in The Pioneer.

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