Thursday, July 4, 2013

Armed Forces: bureaucracy’s ways and illusions

Does the country remember our soldiers only in times of crisis and forgets them in peace time? This was the poser put to the people of this country by the NDTV’s very well-orchestrated and articulated programme ‘We the People’ on 30 Jun 2013. The programme very aptly brought out the ‘use and throw’ attitude of our Government in dealing with the personnel of the Defence Services and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Time constraints as always, missed out a number of issues, provided space to conceal some of the misdeeds deliberately or otherwise, thereby misleading the people of the country into believing, at least partially, that the Indian government indeed was caring for its soldiers.  

Speaking on huge gap and disparity in the pay and perks between the Defence Services and the civil service, a former bureaucrat very articulately stated “You have chosen a vocation” “cannot disturb relativities”, “there are parities” etc. indicating that the parity that exists between the civil services and the military cannot be disturbed.  Yes the Defence Services are demanding the same, that the parity and relativity of status, pay and perks of the Defence Services in relation to the civil services be not disturbed randomly. Just see the status of the Armed Forces. Hasn’t the status of the Army chief been manipulated since independence beyond acceptable limits? Who decides the relative status? Why not a debate in the Parliament? What about the pay and pension of Armed Forces personnel? Hasn’t the relativities been disturbed surreptitiously? You disturb the relativity of pay and those of perks and status automatically gets altered. Hold a commission of enquiry to scrutinize the gradual degradation of the Armed Forces vis a vis the civil services since independence and you will get the answer. The fact that a soldier retiring at 30 plus is equated with a peon retiring at 60 does in itself reveals the myth of relativity which the bureaucrat is talking about. Imagine the huge difference in the overall lifetime income, retirement benefits and the pension due to longer service between a soldier and the peon. Is this the way hardship, risks on daily basis and sacrifices are rewarded. Amazing!!
Let me give just two examples.
While seeking review of the Supreme Court judgment (Hearing on 22 Nov 2011), the Union of India filed a distorted affidavit to mislead the highest court of the land lowering the status of Defence Services Officers vis a vis civil services. (See article titled ‘Rank Pay Case’ in the link) The mischief and the impertinence with which the relativity of status has been altered are apparent. Either the former bureaucrat is unaware of the happenings in the Ministry of Defence or is deliberately misleading the people taking advantage of the time constraints in the debate.
Take the case of pension issue of Honorary Naib Subedars, the lowly paid Non Commissioned Officers promoted to the honorary rank after their retirement. They have been deliberately denied their dues by manipulating the system despite the ruling by the Supreme Court.  Does the bureaucracy have any respect for the highest court of the land? Aren’t judicial appeals and administrative directions being employed to harass and hound this group of soldiers after their retirement? Article titled ‘Fairness hit, bludgeoned, buried!’ in this link will reveal the intrigue in all its details.
Anyone who has gone through these two examples with a bit of a patience would have understood the magnitude and the range of problems that the soldiering community suffers in the hands of the Indian bureaucracy forcing them to go to courts spending money at an age when they ought to be resting and enjoying at least their retired life. Will the people of India demand of the Government to mend their ways? 
When one of the panelists blamed the lower bureaucracy for working against the interests of the Defence Services during the course of the discussion, the former bureaucrat sounded contented and went on to give an example of how the senior bureaucracy is responsive and prompt in responding to the call of the Defence Services. Referring to the issue of authorizing free rations to the Defence Services the bureaucrat stated that the then Defence Secretary had directed that “by this evening we are going to give free rations to the Armed Forces everywhere” The speaker went on to assert that the note was prepared and got signed from the Prime Minister within 24 hours.
Anyone hearing the debate would have been awestruck with the speed and the positive attitude of the bureaucracy especially in matters relating to the welfare of the troops and the Defence Services. What the bureaucrat failed to mention was that the free ration issue was initiated some time when Field Marshal Manekshaw was the Army Chief (1969 -1973) or earlier and it was sanctioned during General Krishna Rao’s time (1981 – 1983). Since the bureaucracy had procrastinated over the issue for well over a decade, another month for the issue of government sanction and letter would have hardly mattered or felt – such was the frustration. 
The question of the lower bureaucracy delaying or coming in the way of the proposals from the Defence Services is bizarre to say the least. Such a belief only implies that the senior bureaucracy is not accountable to the doings of the lower bureaucracy. Isn’t this lack of accountability on the part of the bureaucracy? Is India’s lower bureaucracy out of control and on their own? Or are we trying to suggest that the lower bureaucracy is responsible for all that go wrong in the Government and its functioning? Isn’t it a part of the duties of the senior bureaucracy to train, guide and educate the junior lot. At least in the Armed Forces when a subordinate commits a mistake the Commanding Officer of the individual is taken to task. How many very bright officers’ careers have been put to an end on accountability grounds!!
Debating a point relating to gross disparity in pay and perks of the Defence Services compared to the civil services and the risk factor, the former bureaucrat stated “there is such a thing as a civil administration in a democracy” and went on to add that the “it (civil administration) represents democracy and that “we are not ruled by military”.  
Sorry, the belief that the bureaucracy represents democracy is a misconceived perception and an illusion. Any psychologist would have read through the mindset of the speaker and based on the statement, would have defined the logic, attitude, behaviour and their resultant effect on Governance. How can a set of paid Government employees who are not leaders or members of elected bodies represent democracy? Bureaucrats are nothing more than staff officers who are expected to silently give shape to the ideas and proposals originated by the political heads, state governments, the Parliament, expert bodies, and various departments and arms of governance. It is another thing that our political class is what they are. But that doesn’t mean that democracy in a country is represented by its bureaucracy. No wonder the bureaucracy assumes that civilian control of the military to mean bureaucratic control of the forces. It is time that the Indian bureaucracy realized that it is the Parliament, the President and the other elected bodies in the government which represent Democracy. Yes, we are not ruled by the military but at the same breath let me add the country is not meant to be ruled by the bureaucracy either.
No wonder someone said power corrupts and corrupts absolutely.

Acknowledgement: My grateful thanks to Major Navdeep Singh for his tireless, painstaking and incisive research work on these issues besides a number of areas affecting the soldiering community.

Brigadier (retd) V Mahalingam, has held varying command and staff appointments in his 35 years of Army service. He specializes in security related matters and is a leadership trainer. His areas of interest include national security, defence and security forces, governance, and politics.

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