After a disastrous spell, the Armed Forces were very pleased to welcome the second senior-most minister in the cabinet as the Raksha Mantri. It was he, as the President of BJP, who brought Narendra Modi as a Prime Ministerial candidate in 2013/14 against strident opposition from the old guards and also from new aspirants like Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. His strategy paid handsome dividends to the party.
The massive mandates in 2014 & 2019 is a vindication of Rajnath Singh’s decision-making skills as well as Modi’s performance thus living up to the trust that was reposed in the latter. Rajnath Singh was a dynamic Home Minister in Modi’s first tenure. He was voted as the Best performing Cabinet Minister with more than fifty per cent of those who took part in the survey, conducted by India Today Karvy Insights. He had brought in so many privileges and perks to the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) such as giving them additional allowances, housing notwithstanding his oft-quoted statement of ‘kaddi ninda’ as and when Pakistan resorted to its mischief.
He instituted three new medals to CAPF which will not be limited by quotas. He also started a fund ‘Bharat Ke Veer’ mobile application to enable the public to donate to their cause.He announced that a CAPF personnel killed on duty would get a crore of rupees. He ensured that the BSF personnel killed on the line of duty would get the status of ‘battle casualty’ as in the Armed Forces. He also raised ‘Bastariya Battalion’ in the Bastar Region of Chhattisgarh to generate employment to the young men of the region so that they do not fall into the lap of insurgency.
However, sad to say that the same dynamism is absent since he stepped in the Defence Ministry. His first fall was when the withdrawal of Income tax exemption for the injured and disabled was being discussed in the parliament. He remained silent and allowed the greenhorn Finance Minister to respond, where she defended the step, which she said is based on a letter purportedly written by the service headquarters. With Gen Rawat being the then Army Chief, the letter was no surprise to the army as a whole and to the veterans in particular; still, it should bear a signature lest the FM has got it typed on her own and tweeted its existence; a possibility I do not rule out knowing her antipathy towards the defence of her own country.
Now is the question of Siachen troops not having rations and clothing due to budgetary shortfall. The shortage in snow-goggles was up to 62-98 per cent and the caloric food intake was as low as 18 per cent of the authorised intake. The snow boots were recycled and old version of jackets and sleeping bags were supplied to the troops. The Army Chief has said the report is outdated and pertains to the period of 2015 and 2016. He further clarified the situation is not the same now. While agreeing to his version the real question is; how did such a thing ever happen?
What the CAG has highlighted is a testimony to absolute apathy, neglect and couldn’t care less attitude of the MOD. It is these persons who are sitting in South Block who enabled it. Those, who do not know about the Army logistics; a system of ‘In Lieu’ operates for rations in High Altitude and Siachen operational areas. The dry fruits are essential supplies in those inhospitable areas where a soldier has to combat the climate and the enemy.
At most times the ‘In Lieu’ system operates; and one gets lentils in place of cashew nuts or some such absurd equivalence; mostly such items which are generally lying surplus. I am thankful to the CAG for bringing to light the issue. I sincerely hope the RM takes cognisance to the fact that such things can happen to the troops who fight for the freedom of our country; if he does not grip his portfolio.
The recent statement of the CDS to News 18 is most damaging: He said “Officers are talking about themselves. Please think about your men too”. Look at his subversive statement? It goes on to imply that the officers are not bothered about the troops. This goes against the very fabric and ethos of the Armed Forces, where they lead from the front and incur on themselves the highest casualties in the war in the whole world.
In 2nd World War; among the Commonwealth armies; one officer died for every 27 other ranks. In Wars fought by independent India; one officer died for every 24 other ranks. In Kargil War; one officer died for every 20 other ranks. Lower the ratio indicates higher the risk-taking ability of officers. I am sure Gen Rawat was serving in the Army during the Kargil Conflict. The high ratio of officers’ death is a vindication of their care for troops.
His statement belittles the sacrifice of these young officers and sows divide between officers and troops of the Armed Forces. Has he been made CDS to talk like a bureaucrat or to raise the morale of the Armed Forces? The RM should take note of his statement and adequately caution the General against making lose, inaccurate and disruptive statements.
Now coming to the economy; I understand; without a credible economic growth, nothing can be achieved. However; the Government is only thinking of nipping at the defence budget. Let me give some recommendations.
The total strength of the Armed Forces of India is 14.39 lakhs. The total number of Civilian posts in the MOD is 5.85 lakhs (585476); 40 per cent of the fighting force. The total number of armed forces pensioners are 25.87 lakhs and the number of Civilian pensioners in MOD is 6.01 lakhs. The pensions bill of the Civil pensioners in the MOD is a third of Defence Pensions though they are only 23 per cent of the Armed Forces pensioners in numbers.
Obviously, they not only serve for a longer period but also take a higher per capita pension than the personnel of the Armed Forces. Please clip the civilian posts in MOD, which has grown phenomenally. I am quoting Deepak Sinha from his recent article entitled “Rightsizing the Military: The Need for a Comprehensive Examination” in which he has quoted “the accounts branch in the Airforce has 492 civilian officers and 7000 civil personnel to maintain pay and accounts of 1,60,000 officers and troops of Indian Airforce”.
The average works out where an accounts person is looking after the accounts of just 21 personnel. Most ridiculous; isn’t it? Yes; why are we not reducing the civilian strength in the Armed Forces? Each of these organisations has created an empire for themselves. The Shekatkar Committee Report had given out 99 recommendations to optimise the defence organisation. The MOD has promptly accepted 65 of them and took actions to reduce the number of Armed Forces personnel to effect saving. However, the remaining 34 of them that involves performance audit of civilian set up under the MOD have not been touched as yet. Please implement these recommendations and cut them to size.
However, what I don’t understand is the outcry on rising costs of defence pensions? Have the 32.86 lakhs of central government employees foregone their pensions? What about the politicians; have they donated their pensions? Do not forget the rising cost of pensions for the bureaucrats who have sanctioned ‘One Rank One Pension’ (OROP) and ‘Non-Functional Upgradation’ (NFU) for themselves, where their pensions increase exponentially every year including the usual increase in DA with the rise in the price index.
Again; the NFU enables every laggard bureaucrat would get the same pay and pension as those who have been promoted to higher grades of pay. I think across the world, India is the only nation that rewards inefficiency. A mechanism has been created to enable them to get regular increments/higher pay grades/promotions irrespective of their performance. Ever heard of it? Then, the government talks about the rising burden on government expenditure.
Let us take the politicians who get pensions. A lawmaker can claim several pensions as Corporator/MLA/MP/Ministers separately; if has risen up the political ladder. Isn’t it ludicrous that a hullaballoo has been created on defence pensions as if the veterans are stealing the money? The Punjab and Haryana court has ruled that the financial crunch is no reason for holding back on pensions. The Honourable court has also ordered that the pensionary dues should be given to them with a 9 per cent interest.
The Government denying the veterans OROP that was passed in the parliament is in contravention to Right to Livelihood under Article 21 of the Constitution. Even after five years after the truncated OROP the entire future of 26 lakh veterans which was due for automatic revision every year has not been revised for the last five years. Why there is no political intervention? Because it serves the politics of our country to belittle the Armed Forces and deny them their dues citing resource crunch.
A retiring serviceman, retiring at 40 years of age or below should be reemployed in CAPF at appropriate seniority where he can serve for the next 18 to 20 years. During this period, he would not get any army pensions. Once, he retires at the age of 58/60 years; he should be given pensions of the Armed Forces and CAPF as per the prevailing pension rules.
In this way, the Armed Forces remain young and their vast experience and professionalism would be available to the CAPF. The Army would continue to recruit young soldiers and remain young. It will ensure the reemployment of the retired armed forces personnel besides providing a steady source of trained manpower to the CAPF. It will reduce the pension bills of the MOD.
Terminate OROP for all government servants and politicians; the normal increases in DA should suffice to meet their retirement needs.
Banish ‘NFU’ as it breeds complacency and lethargy with no incentive to performers.
Ensure the Lawmakers only get one pension irrespective of the number of terms that they have served. If one has been elected representatives/minister; he should get only one pension. The minimum length of service to become eligible for pensions should be the entire life of the house. They should also not be given OROP.
Each ministry has created special posts for retiring bureaucrats to milk the government collectively both while in service and after retirements. Please abolish them. No additional posts are required beyond what is mandated by DOPT.
Please form a Committee for Reorganising the Government and to cut flab and duplication. It should not be headed by a Supreme Court Justice and not a bureaucrat.
The RM would also do well to review the proposed direct distribution of pension by PCDA(P) Allahabad. The office is already overburdened and will definitely not be able to take on a load of disbursing over 26 lakhs pensions directly. It would be a disaster in making. Please see its latest performance audit by the CAG before a mindless misadventure.
Please let not the nation hear once again of the shortage of ration and equipment for troops on the borders. It shames our nation that we cannot look after a handful of soldiers who serve at heights up 22000 ft at (- 55 degree) Celsius. Please stop these shenanigans of the MOD trying to issue items in lieu. It is a subterfuge to hide their colossal indifference to the soldiers, who serve our nation.
How can any RM, who has his heart in the right place let this happen to the soldiers whose welfare and fighting fitness is his sole responsibility? How can the RM be silent on gross discrimination meted out to his Armed Forces in NFU issue and perpetuate such discrimination without any qualms or not even giving out his reason for not accepting the blanket provision that has been given to all other central government officials?
The RM very well knows about the variation in OROP and still does nothing about it and spends his time in bringing up his party but not his subjects for which he has taken an oath? The RM pretends he does not know about the unresolved anomalies in the 6th and 7th Pay Commission projected by the Service HQs. How can any RM look the other way when the Defence Budget has been slashed time and again and has reached the pre-1962 level, being 1.4 per cent of the GDP? How can an RM accept a Defence Budget that is not able to sustain the committed liabilities let alone new modernisation?
If not my appeals; at the least hear the PM, when he says that “we can destroy Pakistan in 7-10 days”. The intention is well-meaning. We need to develop capabilities to accomplish this as China would not be watching the spectacle from the side-lines. Let us be clear; any future conventional wars would be fought against China and Pakistan. I wonder; why Doval and his team have not been able to brief the PM and apprised him about the most likely geopolitical alignment in a future conflict?
National security cannot come cheap especially for a country like India, which needs the required strategic autonomy to take a decision in its national interest. We are not a small surrogate client state who can be under a security umbrella of a bigger state. We are an economic force to reckon with. We need to develop a credible conventional and nuclear deterrence. This capability cannot come by saving on rations of the troops in Siachen and other High-Altitude Areas. Isn’t it a sad augury for the nation?
A nation of 1.3 billion people, which is the fifth biggest economic power on the earth is not able to feed and equip a handful of forces, fighting glacial warfare high up in the sky? I cannot understand our constraints. Can You? The Defence Ministry is not meant to be run on autopilot. It needs active political monitoring and interventions.
Tail Piece: Ultimately, wars are won by the men behind the gun. Do not demoralise them, and kill them before the enemy does.