Grave injustice to SSC Officers; A Need for Introspection

"Yet, those youngsters who opted for the SSC scheme, at that moment are oblivious to the fact that their prized possession, the uniform, will be taken from them just when they have completed difficult tours of duty"


Grave injustice to SSC Officers; A Need for Introspection

Introduction

The sight of young Officers throwing up their Peak Caps in jubilation, on graduation from various Academies, stirs the hearts of all, whether one served the Flag, or not. Yet, those youngsters who opted for the SSC scheme, at that moment are oblivious to the fact that their prized possession, the uniform, will be taken from them just when they have completed difficult tours of duty and when they have completely adjusted to the wonderful environs that only the Services can provide.

Just when they reach a senior rank of Lt Col, they would be pitch forked into civvy street, where the ethos and the culture that they have imbibed and indeed learned to cherish, could well be their undoing. At that time a realisation will no doubt dawn on them that they are the only Govt servants, who having served the Govt in the most trying environments and conditions, are deprived of any form of sustenance thereafter, apart from the standard terminal benefits given them; and, that they are treated differently from any other service in the Govt, including the para-military forces, where, a Govt job means job-security.

I would like to point out that our politicians who have served even a single term in a State or Central legislature would be entitled to pension. I wonder what kind of a photograph this would make, if a batch could be brought together on the eve of their departure. In this paper I intend to bring out various aspects of this Scheme, as it is envisaged that over 50 % Officers from the Armed Forces, will be SSC Officers.

Historical Perspective

Emergency Commission (EC) and Short Service Commission (SSC) have always existed in all Armed Forces, across the globe. These are particularly relevant when a country is faced by a serious external threat. At that time, training establishments for permanent regular commission Officers, are converted to 'shops', where cannon fodder, is trained in large numbers to feed the war machine. Training time is compressed to approximately 3 months, before young officers are allocated to various arms and services.

Entrants to this Scheme could either be voluntary or through conscription. In the Second World War, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and the Indian Military Academy, at Dehra Dun, stopped all permanent commissions, but these restarted taking in PRC officers, after the war.

In India, 1962 and 1965, saw a large influx of Emergency and SS Commissioned Officers. A sizeable proportion of them made the supreme sacrifice; and we even today, honour their memory in the various Military memorials spread around the country. These selfless individuals went to war, knowing that they had no career ahead of them and the then compensation for the loss of life or limb was little or nothing.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, recognizing the yeoman service of these individuals who answered the call to arms voluntarily, made certain concessions in the entry level exams for the civil services and a large number retired as Ambassadors and Secretaries to the Govt of India. This bonanza was not available to Permanent Regular Commissioned (PRC) Officers.

In a number of countries today there are Short Service Commissions, but it is my view that none can compare as unfavourably as ours. In welfare States, such as the UK for instance, all service not counting for a service pension is added to the time spent in other jobs, for pension determination, when an individual attains the age of 65 years. Now let us look at the various attributes of our SSC Scheme.

Rationale for SSC Scheme

Three areas stand out prominently, to justify the Scheme:-

(a)   Reducing the financial burden of the Government.

(b)   Making good the shortfall in 'numbers' at the junior level.

(c)   Creating better promotional opportunities for permanent commissioned Officers.

There is yet another factor that is never spoken about, as it would boomerang on the Services; but, I believe it needs to be brought out into the open. Consequent to the induction of women as officers into the Armed Forces the Service Headquarters are very cagey of offering permanent commissions to SSC Officers, even though vacancies exist, because it is largely believed that there is no place for women as Officers in the in the senior ranks. The fallacy of these assumptions is brought out in the succeeding paragraphs.

Reducing the financial burden of Pensions on the Central Government

It has never ceased to make me wonder, as to when the Armed Forces Headquarters (AFHQ), took upon themselves the onerous task of helping out the Government in solving the pension burden of the exchequer. If so, can they justify the following:-

(a)   Can denial of pension to a large percentage of Service Officers make a meaningful difference to the Indian economy?

(b)   Is it not a fact that the Indian economy is poised for growth, that the Government claims is 7.8%.

(c)   Whether or not the reduction in subsidies and most importantly, the correct evaluation of resources and their auction can more than compensate for giving a righteous deal to the Armed Forces Officer.

In a TV chat show between Mr MJ Akbar, the famous editor and Dr (Prof) Subramanian Swamy, the erudite scholar, renowned economist and former cabinet Minister, the latter has advocated abolition of Income Tax not only on the grounds that the revenues realised were a mere Rs 2 lakh crores; but also on the grounds that levying of Income Tax has given rise to mass corruption by the Officers of the Indian Revenue Service.

Dr Subramanian Swamy has assessed that if the coal blocks could be correctly auctioned, the Government could realise Rs 11 Lakh crores. His assessment was amazingly accurate as in the last week itself, the leading dailies reported that 32 coal blocks out of approximately 200, brought in Rs 2 Lakh crores as revenue.

Hence there is no reason for any serving service Officer to jump to the rescue of the Government and at the same time short change his own kind. Having served in the Naval Headquarters, I can visualise some planner seeking greater benefits for the PRC Officers and justifying their action by working out cost savings from the platter of the SSC Officer.

Making good the shortfalls in Junior Ranks

Whereas it is true, that there are considerable shortages of Officers at the junior levels of the Army (approximately 8000), this does not justify why the Services should induct, train, use and then discard  these Officers, without pensionary benefits, when they attain  the rank of Lt Col (or its equivalent in the Navy & Air Force). If indeed there is a justification, then the Services need to explain their re-employment policy that permits Time Scale Colonels (or its equivalent in the Navy & Air Force) to serve up to 58 years of age. This is because these Officers perform the functions of officers of the rank of Lt Col or below.

Creating better promotional avenues for PRC officers

I wonder how justifiable is the fact, that SSC Officers are inducted not only to fill vacancies at the junior level, but also to populate the base of the triangle, so that PRC Officers have a better chance of climbing the ladder. And while we in the Armed Forces are labouring on how to solve this problem, the Civil Services [All India Services (AIS) and organized Group A Services] have not only succeeded in enhancing their vacancies at the top, by successive Cadre reviews, that by now bear no semblance to any pyramid, but also by pooling in vacancies at the top echelons.

Not with-standing this, their greatest innovation was the Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) of all their cadres to the HAG level, so that, though they do not function at that level, get the pay and pension of that post. And our solution to solve this problem is to enhance the quantum of Short Service Commissioned Officers and save the Govt some funds.

Recruitment of Women as Officers in the Armed Forces

Induction of women as officers was done with much fan fare, to show to the Nation that even the Armed Forces recognised the worth of women and that they could do as well as their male counterparts in virtually all fields. However, deep rooted feelings, that there is no room for this gender at the higher levels, has resulted in the firming up of a dividing line between the SSC and the PRC officer.

It is for this reason, that even the male Officers have to (if I may put it in strong words) face expulsion, so that no gender discrimination can be claimed. This was not so in the past. Many women commissioned as SSC Officers meet and marry PRC officers, but surely this cannot be the ‘raison d'etre’ for them joining the Services.

SS Commissions in the support role

The nearest description would be 'to act in a subordinate role'. How fallacious therefore it is for the Services to state that these Officers function in a subordinate manner. They, like their PRC counterparts are employed in every conceivable operational role and take their position as per their rank and seniority. While it is true that women officers are not employed on ships, submarines, in extreme high altitudes and as fighter pilots, they are seen everywhere else. In fact, the first reported death of a woman Officer was when she was actively employed as an Observer (navigator, in naval parlance) on the Dornier that crashed off Goa, recently. Incidentally in the Navy, the senior most aviator on board (pilot or observer) is in command of that aircraft.

Short Service Commission: Terms and Conditions of Service

Today, the short service commission offers an initial engagement of 5 years, extendable to 10 and then again up to 14 years. All extensions are given, based on their performance. Recently, in the Army, this has been further extended up to 18 years. The limit of 14 years is on account of the fact that, Other Ranks (OR) get pension on completion of 15 years service and therefore these Officers, would not be able to claim pension since they had not completed that quantum of service.

This is an artificial limitation, created only to deprive these Officers of their true desserts. The Army by enhancing, short service upto 18 years has also artificially kept them below the 20 years limit, that qualifies them for pension. I am quite sure, that these Schemes, will fail to impress any court in the country and especially the Supreme Court, if asked to rule on the subject.

In my opinion the Services will be asked to condone the shortfall in service, to give these Officers pension, as it was not up to the Officer to complete the entire term that qualifies him/her for pension. More so, there can be no differential in application of rules between Officers and Other ranks. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that a shortfall of one or two years can make such a sea change in the entitlement of these Officers as compared to the PRC Officer.

Pension as a deferred wage

In the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court, in the celebrated DS Nakra vs the UOI, the SC has stated unambiguously, that pension cannot be considered or denied, at the will and whim of an employer, especially when the employer is the Government that should be a model employer. This judgment decreed, that pension is a deferred wage. Since this is now, a widely accepted view, then the question that will arises is, 'where has that deferred wage element', contained in the wages of an SSC Officer disappeared? Since there is no difference between the pay of a PRC Officer and an SS officer, then that element, if not translated to a pension should be reimbursed to him/her either while in service, or on superannuation.

Age of professionalism

The Armed Forces of today have undergone considerable changes in the manner in which wars are fought, with a considerable emphasis on technology. Every soldier, sailor or airman, not to mention Officers, have to undergo arduous training at considerable cost, in order to keep abreast of the advances in an ever changing battle environment whether it be conventional, nuclear or asymmetric warfare.

Every single Officer or man has to develop certain mental and physical attributes to acclimatise him/her to a new environments, at each posting that poses new challenges. In the end, after a decade in the Military, certain qualities develop and are nurtured, that do not lend themselves to civvy street, although they are more confident of themselves after all the training that they have received.

Yet, it is difficult to break the bonds that have been established after a decade and then re-adjust to a completely new environment. At the end, they are aware that their services are still needed, but have to be curtailed, so that they cannot lay a claim to pension. Not a very comforting and pleasing thought.

Lateral Absorption in Government Service

It needs to be remembered that the Armed Forces inducted men & women as SSC Officers to fulfill a certain need. These Officers thereafter fulfilled that need; and, they like any human being have aspirations and needs that cannot be wished away. That being so, it is incumbent for the Service to find an alternative employment for them in a Govt job, so that their military service could count towards pension and they are not left to fend for themselves, in other words ‘thrown to the wolves’ which is what is happening today.

If no alternate employment can be offered then they have to be monetarily compensated so that they do not suffer penury on their discharge from the service. After all, they too, are Ex-Servicemen and are therefore entitled to a livelihood, after they have given off the best part of their life to the Service.

Pre-release Courses

When I left the service in 2010, there was no special consideration shown to SSC Officers, (as compared to any other Officer leaving the service on superannuation, or for reasons of their own) for pre-release courses. The AVSC Committee (cadre review of 2002) had made certain recommendations on this account and if I recall, had specified pre release courses of two years duration in their 9th year of service.

All costs to be borne by the Govt. I do not think that this has seen the light of day and this is because the Director General of Resettlement has too wide a scope of responsibility that includes all Officers and men .This is no consolation for an SSC Officer, when he leaves the service.

It is recommended that these Officers, if released without pension, need special consideration and that an exclusive Organisation be setup to look after their welfare and re-settlement. This new Directorate should be headed by a 3 star flag officer in rotation from all the three services.

Short Service Commissions in the Navy

Like any other service, Short service commissions are on the increase in the Navy. At present they constitute about 25% of the Officer strength. However, these SSC Officers are generally better placed than their counterparts in the Army, as they have certain marketable skills when they leave service, that are desired in civvy street.

This is particularly so, for the Executive and Engineering Branch Officers. However, the Service has done very little, to have them qualified, with the necessary certifications to facilitate a seamless transfer into the merchant Navy or the Coast Guard. This needs to be done urgently. More so, some Navies in the world, depute their Officers, whilst in service, for sea experience to the merchant Navy, so that they become au-fait with ocean passages and other subjects, that are not a part of the Naval curriculum.

It is also well known that the DG (Shipping) certification is made difficult as the examiners are not well disposed off to an Officer from the Indian Navy. I believe a similar situation prevails in the Air Force as well, when it comes to their certifications from the DGCA. Today, it is possible and even not expensive, to have our Officers apply to and receive certification from the UK.

If this is a way ahead then this avenue needs to be explored for all Naval Officers. In addition, the Navy has the advantage of a Maritime Academy that is certified by the DG (Shipping) for conducting certain short course to keep 'in-date' Officers of the merchant marines. Such courses need to be offered free, to all short service Officers demitting the service.

Today, the largest numbers of SSC Officers are evidenced in the Education Branch (50%) that hither-to-fore, never saw an SSC Officer. This is followed by the Logistics Cadre of the Executive Branch, at 40% and the Medical Branch at 39%. It could be well argued that there is a need for the Service to have fresh blood, but it is illogical to ignore that this norm also applies to the permanent commissioned Officers, where the Services have consistently tried to enhance their length of service and if there is a need to lower any age, it must start from the Chiefs and percolate downwards.

If today Battalion Cdr's (Cols) are selected in their 18th-20th year (at the age of 38-40 years) then there is no reason why the age of retirement of Chief's be pegged at 60 years, which was the norm earlier and Army Cdr's, 58 years.

Conclusion

The number of SSC officers will keep going up, if the targeted intake of 55-60%, of the overall Officer strength of the Officer Corps is achieved. This will not only give rise to heartburn, but will also create two classes of Officers, that in the long term will not auger well for the Services. Prior to World War-2, King's Indian commissioned Officers, from the Sandhurst, received liberal pay and allowances, as compared to those commissioned from the IMA, Dehradun. The disparity in pay is as shown below:-

Rank            KCIO (Married) KCIO (Single)         ICO (Consolidated)

Second Lt             Rs 495 Rs 405 Rs 300

Lt Rs 620             Rs 530 Rs 350 - 400

Captain  Rs 795 -955 Rs 660 - 810 Rs 450 - 650

Major Rs 1105 - 1235 Rs 965 - 1090           Rs 800

Lt Col                   Rs 1300 Rs 1300 Rs 1000

There was no provision in the regulations for pay beyond Lt Col. As a result there was a lot of bickering during the war and a serious undercurrent that was soon realised by the British Govt. Thus during the war, the pay of ICO's (regular and emergency commission was raised. On 1 Jul 47, the scales were once again raised.

In 1920, the minimum period of service, required for pension was 18 years. In 1935, this was reduced to 15 years. Pension after 15 years of service, for Subalterns and Captains was restricted to Rs 300 per month. For Majors it was Rs 450 and for Lt Col's was Rs 600. It may also be mentioned that the pension of a Civilian Officer was 50% of his last pay.

In the case of the Armed Forces, it ranged from 67% to 100%. Post independence, pay scales were revised by the AFPRC (Armed Forces Pay Review Committee), where there was a drastic reduction in the rates of retiring pension. Periods of 'standard service' required to earn pension was brought into force on 1 Jul 1953 and varied from 20 years for a Captain, to 30 years for a Maj General and above. The guidelines for structuring the pension formulae, was as under:

(a)    As a reward for good service, varying with the length and quality of service rendered.

(b)    As an inducement for 'right" men to continue in the service.

(c)     As a compensation for early termination of career.

(d)    As a compensation for recall.

(e)    As a compensation for disability, attributed to or aggravated, by the service.

(f)     As an element for the maintenance of the discharged Officer and their family.

All the reasoning for making the Armed Forces an attractive career exists even today. While it is true that the industry has picked up and there are many fields/career openings, the Services have always offered a way of life, as against just another job. The mental and physical attributes required of a young Officer are quite different to what is required in civvy street and it is only such Officers who manage to qualify in the Services Selection Board, that is no different for those who join as regular Officers.

These Officers however, have acquired the requisite qualifications required by the Services, at their own cost. They are then fitted into a Branch or specialisation that is determined by the Service concerned.

In truncating these Officers’ careers, the sole aim is not for any reason, other than depriving them of a pension. It is understood that a few leave the Service before the final contractual term expires. This indicates, that they hold on to the last, hoping for a permanent commission or because the Services offer them better remuneration (especially post the 6th CPC) than they can receive on demitting the service earlier.

Notwithstanding this, any prudent SSC Officer would need to look out for alternative employment after his 7th year or so and that would divert his attention from his assigned duties, especially if he is not located in a peace station. This again, will have its long term effect on the morale of both the Officer and the men he commands.

And all this is because the Services are attempting to cut costs on pensions or put another way, denying an Officer of certain rights that is a time honoured commitment, by the country, who expects the same individual to put his life and limb, on the line.

Rear Admiral Alan O’Leary (Retd), son of  late Brig Frank O'Leary, AVSM, of the Indian Army Medical Corps and a fifth generation Officer, has had the privilege of holding prestigious appointments while in service, viz. Chairman, Pay & Anomalies Review Committee (PARC); Asst Chief of Personnel (ACOP) (Civ); Asst Controller of Logistics (ACOL); and, Project Director (Personnel & Administration) ATV

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