Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Of Matters Military: Veterans and Post-Retirement Employment
by Major General Mrinal Suman
Media reports of an increasing number of ex-servicemen acting as middlemen and lobbyists for arms dealers has caused considerable concern both in official circles and amongst the veterans’ community. Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has taken note of the issue and has recommended a cooling off period of five years.
Veterans constitute an invaluable pool of highly talented, experienced and disciplined manpower. As they retire at a comparatively younger age and possess good health, they can put in years of useful service in their second career. Therefore, their potential should be harnessed for the good of the country.
However, two major facets must be factored in. One, veterans should not let the environment misuse them for unethical, dishonest and illegal purposes. Two, they must exercise due diligence to ensure that the jobs are commensurate with their rank, status, dignity and expertise. Both the facets are discussed hereunder.
As regards undesirable conduct, it can be of various hues. Some serving senior officers cultivate big corporate houses, in the fond hope of getting post-retirement employment. They circumvent existing restrictions on reemployment with impunity by becoming consultants, advisors and counselors. Such veterans are de-facto agents and are guilty of flouting provisions of India’s defence procurement procedure that explicitly forbids use of agents.
Further, they visit offices of their erstwhile subordinate officers and craftily start probing about the movement of case files. While answering innocuous looking queries, some officers unsuspectingly divulge confidential information. To betray the trust of a trusting junior in such a deceitful manner amounts to treachery and breach of good faith.
Worse, some veterans brazenly attempt to tweak the procurement process by cultivating key functionaries. They corrupt the system by lavishing expensive gifts on them or inviting them to gala parties.
It is sad that many companies look at retired officers solely as liaison men to further their commercial interests. When a retired Brigadier approached a well-known industrialist for a job at an informal meeting, his response was symptomatic of the common misconception. “Can you use your acquaintances to help me get orders? If yes, join me tomorrow. CTC (contracts through contacts) is more important than your CV”, he said candidly.
A few years back, a retired Colonel approached Army Golf Club in Delhi for membership. When quizzed, he admitted that he neither played golf nor possessed a golf set. “My prospective employer wants me to get the membership so that I can host company parties in the club and thus save their funds,” he confessed honestly.
The second facet of the issue is equally solemn. It pertains to the frenzy for reemployment amongst the veterans. Many veterans are ready to accept any job that comes their way – status, remunerations and working conditions notwithstanding.
A few years ago, a well-known entrepreneur of Gurgaon infamously remarked, “I prefer to employ retired service officers. They are highly competent and cost the least. Where else can you get a Colonel with 30 years of rich experience for 10,000 rupees a month? Even my office staff demands more”. “I massage their ego by giving everyone the fancy designation. Even the Colonel who keeps a record of all the trucks that go out of my factory is called Vice President (Production Outflow)”, he declared with a mischievous smile.
There have been Chiefs who never hesitated in accepting ambassadorship to unheard of countries – appointments tenable by Joint Secretaries (Major General). It never occurred to them that it was a steep fall from the lofty heights of being a service Chief.
The case of Armed Forces Tribunal is symptomatic of veterans’ desperation for re-employment. Veterans of the rank of Lieutenant Generals (including Vice Chief/Army Commanders) had no inhibitions in lobbying for the jobs tenable by Major Generals, a rank two steps lower.
Some businessmen employ veterans as it gives them a high to have a senior veteran accompanying them with files and brief cases. Some employers get pleasure in ordering the veterans around in front of others for sundry errands. Being paid employees, the veterans dutifully endure. Thus it is not their merit but ‘display-value’ that determines their employment.
At no stage is it being suggested that veterans should not take up reemployment. Far from it. However, unless compelled by extreme financial constraints, veterans must consider all aspects before accepting employment.
An informal survey was carried out to ascertain reasons for veterans’ craze for reemployment. Most common refrains were – ‘I need to do something to pass time’ or ‘cannot sit idle at home doing nothing’ or ‘there is no harm in earning some whiskey money’ or even ‘wife wants me out of the house during the morning household chores’.
Some talk of peer pressure – “Everyone shows disbelief when I tell them that I am enjoying my retired life. They consider it to be an act of sacrilege”. As the pensions are quite adequate, lure of money is not a compelling reason for most veterans.
Notwithstanding the above explanations, it is the lack of hobbies that forces veterans to seek some occupation. Soldiering being a full-time commitment, most service officers fail to develop other pursuits. That is the reason why retirement hits them hard. There is a sudden vacuum and they do not know how to keep themselves busy. Whereas some join NGOs for community service or take to golf and card games, ‘time gets heavy’ on others. Consequently, they accept all sundry jobs, only to have a routine and be busy.
Finally, a word of caution – veterans should never breach the laws of the country by becoming commission agents, howsoever tempting the lucre may be. They should decline jobs that entail their visiting their erstwhile establishments. They will do well to remember the well-established proscriptive norm for ex-soldiers – “once out of office, never in again”.
Additionally, all officers should develop hobbies and other pursuits which can keep them healthily occupied (both mentally and physically). Instead of dreading retirement, they should look forward to it as the golden period of their lives. With family responsibilities duly fulfilled, it is time to spend quality time with spouses and make up for the long periods of separation during the service life.