Unveiling injustice: Have the armed forces been discriminated against? Hardly any doubt.

avatar Col Dinesh Kumar (R) Monday 6th of November 2023 07:49 PM

Defence minister Rajnath Singh (2R) with the Army chief, Gen Manoj Pande; Air Force chief,  ACM Vikram Ram Chaudhari; and the Navy chief, Admiral Radhakrishnan Hari Kumar. (Photo: MoD)

“Well fought Blue, Red is the Winner.” This situation aptly defines the situation the Indian armed forces find themselves in today. The three services of the Indian military have always been exemplary in their conduct and their achievements both in peace and war speak for themselves. Soldiers have exhibited exemplary courage in the face of the enemy and humanitarian side while dealing with natural calamities.

Despite their selfless service to the nation, often at the cost of their limbs and lives, never ever the servicemen asked for undue perks and privileges. They only demanded what was their genuine right. They have always been silent performers going about their tasks and duties in the most dignified manner.

However, when it comes to giving them their due, there is reluctance on part of the country’s political leadership, which this author prefers to call “rulers”. The one rank, one pension (ORPP), non-functional financial upgrade (NFFU), disability benefits and a dignified life while in service and post-retirement is all that they ask for. Is that too much to ask for? The attitude of the rulers points towards that and which is not good for the morale and efficiency of the soldiers.

To some, it may appear as an exaggeration of facts, but the following facts will prove its genuineness. Also, the fact is that the truth cannot be kept under wraps for long. Few illustrations may help clear the doubts in some people’s mind and hopefully, things change for the better.

Read also: Indian Armed Forces: Whose military is it anyway?

First on the list is the implementation of OROP. (Please do read my take on this subject on India Sentinels here, here, and here.) Suffice to say that despite too much fanfare and tall claims by the politicians, it is yet to be implemented in the correct manner. The peaceful agitation by the veterans has been going on at the Jantar Mantar for over five years and the government is not yielding. After the Supreme Court’s orders, the government released the arrears accrued due to the revision of pension, in four equal instalments, the last being in February 2024 when the next revision of pension is due.

Second is, the grant of NFFU to the armed forces. Due to the pyramidal structure, all soldiers cannot be promoted to the highest rank. Therefore, the grant of NFU helps an individual financially. It was introduced in January 2006 under the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission to offset the loss suffered by central government servants (CGS) for lack of promotion avenues compared to Indian Administrative Service. Over the years, it has been extended to 53 “Group A” services, including the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). Under this scheme, those who lost out on promotion are given the next pay grade as financial compensation. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of Delhi high court to grant NFFU to the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – both of which are central armed police forces (CAPFs) under the Union home ministry.

Read also: Today, the once-proud Indian Army seems like a crumbling edifice

However, the three services – the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and the Indian Air Force – have been denied NFFU, which resulted in a situation where civilian junior officers are enjoying higher pay grades. The Seventh Central Pay Commission urged the government to either do away with NFFU or extend it to the armed forces. However, the status quo is maintained. The matter is now in the Supreme Court and the government is avoiding the final hearing on some pretext or the other.

The reasons are obvious.

The disability pension is another big issue for the armed forces. The government wanted to tax the disability pension – something unheard of, and now wants to do away with it. The attorney general made a very nasty remark that there was a “disability racket” going on. Very shameful and disgusting but not spoken against by the military brass.

Understandably, such warriors operating out of airconditioned offices are highly ignorant. Defence ministry mouthpieces told media that the country needed a “leaner and fitter military” without attributing the quote to the-then CDS, Gen Bipin Rawat, which many believe the brainchild is the Agnipath scheme. With Agniveers? One wonders. Disability is something that goes with the service conditions. No one wants to get disabled but severe serving conditions affect personnel and there is nothing to feel ashamed about it. 

Now, the defence ministry has replaced the term “disability” with “impairment relief”, which became effective from September this year. Definition of invalidation changed drastically albeit in a regressive manner. Heart diseases are linked with stress and strain without any preconditions attached for civilian officers, but the defence ministry has linked it to service in high-altitude areas, which is ridiculous.

Read also: Now, soldiering in India has become unattractive profession

The Agnipath recruitment scheme, in which soldiers without rank called Agniveers are recruited for just four years, is another terrible step to downgrade our great and professional military. This is now the only route available to serve in the military below officer rank. (Please do read my detailed views on India Sentinels here and here.)

Despite the overhype, the consequences have begun to surface now with cases of Agniveers running away from the training. One of them recently died of an alleged “self-inflicted gunshot” with his service weapon. Perhaps the reality, or, rather, the hollowness of the scheme is finally dawning on them.

The most amazing and sad observation on these gimmicks of the government is the deafening silence of the military brass. The veterans agitating for OROP were beaten and manhandled by Delhi Police, which did not even spare the veer naris (war widows), while the senior officers, both retired and serving, and the brass remained mute spectators.

Even on the disability issue, the brass has remained silent by not even countering and protesting the remarks of the attorney general. The derogatory remarks by our very own are in sheer bad taste. This has resulted in the civilians getting encouraged and abusing Indian veterans and whoever raises their voice in favour of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen on social-media platforms. Same attitude is on display for NFFU and Agniveer issues where the three-star officers violated all protocols and shamelessly batted for the corporate sector.

Read also: Agnipath scheme: Government must come clean on forcing new policy

As if all these were not enough, the government has come up with another shocker. This time, it has asked soldiers to do social service while on leave. The latest shocker is the creation of “selfie points” near military hospitals and other facilities. Why? To advertise the government achievements?

The one of the dictionary definitions of the “discriminate” is: to recognize that there is a difference between people or things. As things have been developing for the armed forces, the government seems to be clearly discriminating against them vis-à-vis other central government organizations, and that too with the possible connivance of the military’s top brass. Inferences can be and are drawn that it is because of they receive enormous perks and post-retirement benefits. And they also receive OROP, etc. Even if not, it does not augur well for the soldiers as it violates the Chetwode Credo and ethos of brothers-in-arm and camaraderie.

One hopes and prays for the well-being of soldiers and the sacred uniform the veterans once wore.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of India Sentinels.

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