July 10, 2007

INDIA : Payback time for Armed Forces


Blame it on low remuneration, tough working conditions and, above all, high risk to life, the armed forces today are not an enviable career choice. The forces are not only short of thousands of men but also troubled by a high attrition rate. Dejected with the poor compensation and lack of understanding shown by the successive pay commissions to their "career hardships", the three services have for the first time come together to demand their due. Vijay Mohan reports

Officers during a training session on electronic components of a weapon system. Poor utilisation of skills is one of the main reasons for the high attrition rate in the armed forces
The Indian military is short of about 35,000 personnel, including over 14,000 officers. That a career in the armed forces is no longer high on the options list of the present generation is a reality hard to ignore.

In the backdrop of the socio-economic changes sweeping across the country and a vibrant economy offering a vast range of lucrative career options and a high standard of living, there seem to be few takers for the tough service conditions and inadequate remuneration offered by a career in the defence.

By the government’s own admission, the majority of the aspirants who apply for a commission in the armed forces do not measure up to the requisite standards laid down by the selection boards. Besides there is a noticeable trend that even youngsters from families with a distinguished military tradition are no longer keen to don the uniform.

A growing nation seeking its rightful place among global powers cannot bank on its economic power and diplomacy alone. It should have the wherewithal to protect its assets and interests, and check external and internal threats.

Troops undergo training in unconventional warfare. In every democracy, the hardships faced by defence personnel are compensated through pay, perks and pension
A strong, professionally led military controlled by capable leaders having impeccable credentials, strength of character and integrity is vital to the national interest. A strong military would serve as an instrument of deterrence and support for the other arms of the government.

As the paradigms of geo-politics change and new geo-strategic equations emerge with security situations revolving around the activities of radical and militant organisations, threats to a nation may not be from nation states but more and more from organisations pursuing private agendas to fulfil their particular beliefs and needs.

With the battlefield environment now being dominated by sub-conventional warfare, our forces are engaged in combating a hidden and undefined enemy. The use of high technology and the ever-increasing stress levels call for leaders and men possessing a high educational standard, healthy body and mind and a strong personality. Technical and professional qualifications would also be a need of the hour in services other than engineering and medical.

Inadequate relief

Two factors are vital to ensure that the military gets good material for its rank and file. The first is to ensure that the system of military administration, increasingly being plagued with corruption, sycophancy and nepotism, is kept clean, transparent and fair. The other is making the pay and allowances commensurate with the tough service conditions and personal hardships faced by troops. The remuneration should also compare favourably with those given in the civilian sector.

As the Sixth Pay Commission is engaged in revising the pay and allowances of central government employees, including armed forces personnel, the three service chiefs have already submitted their memorandum to the commission. According to reports, the services are seeking a five-fold increase over their existing salaries to attract recruits and to check the growing exodus of officers.

It is for the first time that the three services have jointly submitted a report to the Sixth Pay Commission. The report was based on a study carried out by the College of Defence Management (CDM), Secunderabad, at the behest of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS).

A group comprising 12 CDM officers from the three services and headed by a brigadier made a presentation to Defence Minister A K Antony in May about the model, which talks about a "military compensation". The report presents a dynamic economic model created after studying the economic models of various developed democracies.

Job dissatisfaction

Successive pay commissions have made service in the armed forces so unattractive that there continues to be a deficiency of over 35,000 officers and men in the services. Between 2001 and 2004, more than 2000 officers applied to leave the Army. These included two lieutenant generals, 10 major generals and 84 brigadiers.

According to figures presented in Parliament in April, as many as 14,165 posts of officers and 20,432 posts of Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR) are at present vacant in the armed forces. Out of these vacancies, the number of vacant posts of officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force are 11,238, 1,399 and 1,528, respectively. Similarly, in the case of PBOR, a total number of 3,665 and 16,767 posts are vacant in the Navy and Air Force, respectively. There are no vacant posts of PBOR in the Army.

With a growing civilian aviation sector offering lucrative employment opportunities to trained professionals, a large number of IAF pilots and engineers are looking for placement with private carriers. The main reason for IAF pilots seeking pre-mature retirement is the vast difference in the emoluments of IAF pilots and commercial pilots. In some cases, commercial pilots earn as much as 10 times the salary of IAF pilots.

On an average, about 30 pilots join the IAF every six months. The number of pilots released on premature retirement has, over the past three years, seen a downward trend. According to MoD figures, 128 pilots were released prematurely in 2004, 77 in 2005 and 56 in 2006. This year till April, 16 pilots proceeded on premature retirement.

The IAF has also agreed to allow officers in the age group of 54 years and above to join the national carrier. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between IAF and Air India in this regard last month. This was to facilitate a second carrier option to the retiring IAF officers as well as to reduce the requirement of expatriate pilots for Air India.

Similarly, with better prospects and service conditions available in the private sector, more than one thousand scientists have resigned from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) over the last five years. This rate of attrition is marginally higher as compared to private sector industries.

The number of scientists leaving DRDO has seen a spurt in recent years. The number of scientists leaving the government establishment in the 5-year period preceding 2002 was just 400.

A comprehensive proposal of incentives to arrest the exodus of scientists has already been submitted by the DRDO and is under active consideration of the Government. A comprehensive proposal has also been submitted to the Sixth Central Pay Commission.

Need for better incentives

According to recent reports, the DRDO is seeking a four-fold increase in salaries for its entire staff, besides significant performance-based monetary incentives for scientists from the Sixth Pay Commission. The organisation is also seeking an additional 30 per cent hike in basic salary for scientists as intellectual capital pay (ICP) for generating intellectual property rights.

Several other incentives like increased participation in international seminars outside the country to keep them updated on technical developments, increase in study leave for scientists and additional grants for higher academic studies, are also being sought for DRDO personnel.

Among all the categories of the Army, it is said it is the doctors, followed by the engineers, who are the "most adversely affected". A study undertaken by two senior Army Medical Corps doctors, published in 2004, revealed that overall there was a low level of job satisfaction among medical officers. Besides other pay and allowances, all doctors are entitled to non-practising allowance, which is 25 per cent of the basic pay.

Noticeably, the study listed poor utilisation of skills as the main reason for job dissatisfaction, followed by poor promotional prospects. Over 48 per cent of the respondents in the study cited inadequate pay and allowances as a factor for job dissatisfaction. Inadequate redressal of grievances and organisational policy and administration also featured high on the list of factors.

There has also been a decline in recruitment through the Short Service Commission scheme and the National Defence Academy. In a report by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence released in May, a representative of the Ministry of Defence had this to say : "It is true that it is a difficult entry to manage because we are competing with whatever are the avenues in the rest of the country. Certainly it appears that with the present service conditions that the defence services are able to offer, we are not able to attract best of the youth."

The Defence Secretary, deposing before the committee, said: "Actually the number of people who are coming to either NDA or UPSC through other sources are continuously increasing. Where we find it difficult is that we cannot lower the selection criteria. So the number of people who are selected are less."

According to the Defence Secretary, there is a continuous sort of attrition also on those who are in the services, especially when they have certain type of skills which are higher in demand. There is a tremendous demand for pilots and doctors in the open market. Similar pressures are also coming in on some more technical branches because of the high demand outside.

"The arguments that we are placing before the Pay Commission will include all these because we want to have greater facilities or greater attractiveness in the services created," the Defence Secretary said before the committee. "On the other hand, we are taking up what can be done within the MoD or with the Ministry of Finance. There are about more than a dozen issues for which if we are able to get proper solutions with the Ministry of Finance, there’ll be some difference in the quality of the facilities available," he added.

Recently, the armed forces went in for a tie-up with the Indian Institutes of Management for conducting capsule courses for officers nearing retirement so that they could re-orient themselves in civilian management practices for post-release employment. Such officers are now well placed in the corporate sector and are drawing handsome remuneration. In many instances, more than what they were drawing in the services.

Case for separate Pay Commission

The defence community has been clamouring for a separate pay commission for the armed forces for a long time. Its stance is that no member of the armed forces is included in the pay commissions and civilians are unable to comprehend the tough service conditions, ground realities and military ethos which should be taken into account while working out the pay and allowances.

All major democracies have a separate pay commission for the armed forces. Even the United Kingdom, whose administrative pattern was followed by India post-Independence, has since then set up a separate pay commission for its soldiers.

In a letter written recently to the President, seeking his indulgence for ensuring better emoluments for the armed forces, former Lok Sabha MP, Lt Gen S.P.M. Tripathi (retd), and six other retired generals and air marshals have expressed serious doubts over the Sixth Pay Commission (SPC) meeting the aspirations of the armed forces.

"We have experienced that successive pay commissions have progressively wronged the defence forces in fixing their pay and allowances and apprehend that this step-motherly treatment may be repeated by the SPC," the letter states. "This has been essentially so because the pay commission members had no knowledge of the armed forces," the letter adds.

The Third Pay Commission was, for the first time, entrusted the task of determining the pay and allowances of defence services. The commission, like in the case of civilian employees, wanted to hear the case directly from the armed forces. However, the Ministry of Defence turned down the request on the grounds that the requirements of discipline in the armed forces did not permit such an approach.

Further, the pay commission was not required to go into the issue of service conditions of defence personnel, but was to take them as "given". Unbelievable as it may appear, the "untenable and preposterous" stance of the ministry was accepted by the pay commission. The commission, perhaps on MoD’s projections of the case, found service in the military advantageous and remained oblivious of the travails of a career in the armed forces, the letter states.

The letter has pointed out that the armed forces constitute nearly 40 per cent of the central government employees, with its officers forming the largest officer cadre among the central services. Yet the Fifth Pay Commission’s report, which ran into 2168 pages, had only 50 pages pertaining to the armed forces. The commission had a staff of 145 officers to assist it, which included those from the postal services, Border Security Force, Indian Forest Service, etc, but the commission declined to include a member of the armed forces. The committee of secretaries constituted to review the recommendations of the pay commission included an officer from the Indian Police Service, but none from the forces.

There were major anomalies in the Fifth Pay Commission’s recommendations, one of them being that it gave a brigadier more pension that a major general. It also removed the running pay band given by the Fourth Pay Commission to compensate for the very limited promotions in the armed forces.

For the purpose of pension, defence personnel remained equated with civilian employees. The condition of completing 33 years of service to earn a full pension stayed, placing the service at a great disadvantage. Given the very nature of the job and for keeping the profile of a fighting force young, more than 90 per cent of service personnel have to be retired at a young age and thereby they cannot fulfil the criteria of 33 years. Consequently, a sepoy in the Army gets less than half the pension of a peon in government service.

All in all, the Fifth Pay Commission, according to the letter, completely ignored the hardships of a career in the armed forces. These relate to truncated careers, extremely limited promotions, long separations from families, limited family accommodation, hard living conditions in remote areas, extreme turbulence and, above all, high risk to life and limb.

In every democracy, these hardships are termed as the "X" factor and compensated through pay, perks and pensions. However, either the meaning of the "X" factor is not understood by the pay commissions or they have been deliberately ignoring it.

The matter of pay and allowances of officers and men can only be ignored at the cost of the country’s security. All difficult and hazardous tasks such as counter insurgency, combating terrorism, checking internal and external threats, rescue and relief operations during calamities and disaster management fall in the lap of the armed forces. Yet the services are always ignored when it comes to their pay and emoluments, the letter adds.

Anomalies in the Fifth Pay Commission

The commission had a staff of 145 officers to assist it, which included those from the postal services, BSF, etc, but it declined to include a member of the armed forces.

The commission gave a brigadier more pension that a major general.

It also removed the running pay band given by the Fourth Pay Commission to compensate for the very limited promotions in the armed forces.

For the purpose of pension, defence personnel remained equated with civilian employees.

The condition of completing 33 years of service to earn a full pension stayed, placing the forces at a great disadvantage.

More than 90 per cent of defence personnel have to be retired at a young age and thereby they cannot fulfil the criteria of 33 years. Consequently, a sepoy in the Army gets less than half the pension of a peon in government service.


Anonymous said...

dez guyz r scoundrels....nvr undrstnd d aspirations of the armed forces..need sum hard approach 4 thez dumb headed 2 react..nd its fast approachn..mind it..!!..

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