Sharad Y Savur (Retd)
SOUTHERN AIR COMMAND Perhaps Ms Sushama Nath, the Expenditure Secretary (IAS MP cadre) could not tell the most powerful Committee of Secretaries (CoS) that as the erstwhile Secretary to the 6th Central Pay Commission, they were exceeding their brief. Perhaps our Armed Forces Chiefs must be wondering what they have let loose on themselves to invite a few biting editorials perhaps believing in what Groucho Marx (or was it some one else) wrote – that “military intelligence is a contradiction in terms”?
In the heat of what the IAS sister and brethren believed to be extra-constitutional powers and the Chief Editor propounded on the indiscipline of the three Chiefs, most of us have lost sight of the basic truth. That undeniable truth was that the CoS was tasked to review the recommendations of the 6th CPC not to usurp and overturn those recommendations of the 6th CPC that were unpalatable to the IAS.
It does not help any bystander, biased or otherwise, to understand why the Expenditure Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, who was the erstwhile Secretary of the 6th Pay Commission, did not find the moral courage to tell her fellow-Secretaries that they were exceeding their brief. The Government had neither promulgated nor gazetted the CoS to overturn the recommendations of the 6th CPC, constituted and its constitution was gazetted by the Government.
Now why did the Chiefs behave the way they did? Let us go back a decade, to the 5th CPC. There was a near mutiny in the IAF because the then CAS propounded and got the Govt to approve higher flying pay for fighter pilots, simultaneously downgrading flying pay of the transport and helicopter pilots and navigators. Transport and helicopter pilots refused their flying pay, they off-loaded fighter pilots from their aircraft/helicopters.
The problem was further compounded because the technical officers got only a marginal increase and decided to sue the IAF. They contributed to hire a lawyer.
It took some inhuman treatment of many technical officers in a place called Hasimara to subdue the unrest. Many technical officers were removed from the IAF. Yet more were mentally and physically tortured; their families suffered worse fates, not knowing where their husbands were.
This Chief was in the team that went around the IAF in 1998 that was trying to put out the fires that were burning, simmering and embers flying from places as far apart as Chabua, Agra and Jamnagar.
The present Chairman of the Chiefs of Staffs Committee and the COAS were spectators of that 1998 fire and must have realised the implications of the recommendations of the 6th CPC. Their apprehensions must have turned to reality when the CoS decided, in whatever wisdom any dispassionate bystander would not understand, to bestow their meanness on the Armed Forces. The IAS dominated CoS, in their unhindered vision for establishing supremacy beyond pale, having sudued the IPS and placed the IFS in foreign climes, no pun intended, perhaps forgot, what Hegel said, “We learn from History that we never learn from History.”
The Chiefs must have discussed as to what would happen if every soldier, sailor and airman sat down and calculated, using their intelligence much to the horror of Groucho Marx, that the Armed Forces were being given not only a short shrift in status but also a debilitated pay slip and that the lateral transfer remaind on paper, not even considered by the CoS, let alone the Govt.
So they approached the Raksha Mantri, to convince him that the Armed Forces were being denigrated in pay and allowances and status, enough damage having already been done elsewhere, like the Warrant of Precedence, that had no place for a Field Marshal, 35 years after he was appointed.
They must have informed the RM that the IAS dominated CoS introduced differentials in pay and status of the armed forces vis-à-vis- the para-military and Coast Guard. Perhaps the did not expect any substantial protests which had the signs of deteriorating to a crisis, perhaps because the most intelligent public servants forgot the not so distant past 1998.
That is when the Chiefs must have decided to inform the Raksha Mantri that there was something seriously wrong in the CoS mandated offerings. They must have decided that they must take some drastic measures to prevent a fire that would spread to the three services.
The Chiefs had Hobson’s choice – implement the CoS recommendations (mark that it is not the 6th CPC recommendations) and face revolts in their respective forces or decline to implement the CoS recommendations accepted by the Govt but neither notified nor Gazetted by the Min of Def.
That is where the situation took a different dimension – the inability of a Chief Editor to correctly interpret two aspects.
The first misinterpretation was that the Chiefs were disobeying the Govt. How could they if MoD had not notified the CoS dictat? What Govt orders were the Chiefs disobeying? A look at the National Portal will prove that there are notifications for the IAS, followed by those for the IPS etc and there are those for civil pensioners. But none for the Armed Forces for the Resolution also stated that orders for Defence Forces would be issued by the Min of Def.
The second misinterpretation was that the Chairman COSC and CNS was stoking/encouraging “disobedience” by asking the rank and file of the Navy to accept with patience that it would take some time for the CoS bestowed ‘largesse’ to be corrected. He asked them not to pay heed to speculations and rumours. Was such a pre-emptive action (to prevent a 1998 like situation) disobedience?
Now the IAS and the Armed Forces are firing salvos at each other. Leaks to the TV of a vituperative note traveling the corridors of the Armed Forces HQ was aired. The person who leaked that forgot something called “Minor Staff Duties” which makes it mandatory that Armed Forces write their notes in a certain manner.
Flawed logic followed. Some ‘Civilian Officer’ wrote on another blog that because a person enters the IAS cadre at a later age (say 24 years) and having 11 years of service must be equated with an Armed Forces person who enters the Service at 20 years of age and has 15 years because both are now 35 years of age is laughable if not downright foolish.
The author further argued that candidates for IAS have graduated, have degrees in engineering and medicine and therefore should get seniority invite a riposte – why did they waste the opportunity to serve humanity in remote villages building water harvesting ponds or treating the rural folk? Because, to face the truth, an engineer or a doctor is at the mercy of a bureaucrat in any guise, with the IAS at the top of that heap. So why not have the cake and eat it too?
So where does all this take us? Perhaps it is not too late for the Group/Committee of Ministers to consider the anomalies with an open mind. Have the courage to tell the Armed Forces they are right and punish the CoS or tell the Armed Forces they are wrong and why and punish the Chiefs.
The need today is for the Govt to answer a few fundamental questions –
Will it let the 6th CPC that it appointed be superseded by the CoS thereby hold the 6th CPC to ridicule? Why does the Finance Ministry say that it cannot give 450 crores for the Armed Forces when it gave Rs 71,000 crores to the farmers, Rs 450 crores to rescue the UCO Bank, Rs 30,000 crores to rescue mutual Funds? Now the King of Good Times and Jet Airways want 47,000 crores of the tax payers money to bail them out of the self-created mess. Can the Govt provide as much confidence to soldiers, sailors and airmen that they are shedding blood, sweat and tears by not letting them be ridiculed by a bureacracy that has usurped the powers that the Govt should and must exercise?
That the Govt has as much if not more confidence in the Armed Forces as the Armed Forces have in the Govt when they carry out orders that should have been carried out by the bureaucracy (providing succour in natural calamities), the police (restoring law and order) and the CPMF (attempting to quell insurgencies and terrorism)?
It is not a matter of status or monetary benefits. It is a matter of whether the Govt has confidence in the Armed Forces or whether the Govt has lost confidence in the Armed Forces and therefore agreed with the CoS to lower the status of the Armed Forces and consequently their rightful status and monetary benefits.
(Air Marshal Savur retired in 2006 as AOC-in-C, Southern Air Command. A decorated transport pilot, Air Marshal Savur has flown several VIPs, including former PMs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. He now lives and works near Bangalore.)