Indian soldiers on alert near the Line of Control in Jammu. Photo: PTI

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How many days in a year does the Indian Parliament function? A Google search reveals very little, and even getting an average will be nearly impossible. Perhaps frequent adjournments could be the reason, when pandemonium breaks out as legislators descend into chaos regularly on the floor of the house.

So citizens continue to wonder why Parliament doesn’t function on all the earmarked 200 working days, or why 75% attendance is mandatory for Indian parliamentarians.

The spectacle of certain members of Parliament (MPs) excelling in absenting themselves permanently or making an only occasional appearance has been frequently witnessed by India’s hapless citizens. The media inform us that of the 4,582 MLAs (members of legislative assemblies) and MLCs (members of legislative councils), 1,581 lawmakers including 228 MPs are facing serious criminal charges.

At the same time, we also see the phenomenon of a “whip” being issued by political parties when a select discussion or voting is scheduled. What could be more important for MPs to absent themselves from the limited days when Parliament sits down to make laws in a year? And why can’t the MPs be forced to seek leave before they decide not to show up?

Imagine a day when soldiers followed the example of their political masters, and showed full presence only in insurgency areas or in the case of a war breaking out and a “whip” being issued by the leadership. The disdain shown to soldiers by the current government certainly merits such thoughts.

The talk in the military barracks today is worrisome. Serving soldiers are wondering if they can risk becoming a martyr or being disabled in battle, when their kith and kin cannot be looked after by a callous government.

Of course there are some politicians like Bharatiya Janata Party MP Nepal Singh, who publicly issued a statement that soldiers are meant to die anyway. Another BJP-backed legislator from Maharashtra raised questions about how the wives of soldiers were bearing kids when their husbands are on the borders. The federal government ignored these barbs by its legislators and is busy counting votes while notching up electoral victories in the states.

The talk in the military barracks today is worrisome. Serving soldiers are wondering if they can risk becoming a martyr or being disabled in battle, when their kith and kin cannot be looked after by a callous government

Recently, the naval chief in his capacity as chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) wrote to the defense minister to seek reversal of a government decision to change the decision to withdraw the support to these children. Concurrent to the letter, Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) member Rajeev Chandrasekhar also appealed to the defense minister on the same issue.

Captain Amarinder Singh, chief Minister of the state of Punjab, has also written to the defense minister seeking a reversal of the decision to cap educational expenses of these children. He pointed out that it would affect around 32,000 students in various institutions while saving the central government a mere 40 million rupees (US$630,000) per annum. He called for an immediate review and revocation of the decision, which he said was “immoral” and “unprincipled.”

Former army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh, the current minister of state for external affairs, also approached the defense minister to seek reversal of the decision.

What has been missed by many is that the Ministry of Defense (MoD) letter was issued after the affected children had already commenced the current academic year. The MoD letter promulgating the decision to cap educational reimbursement for children of the martyrs was issued with an older date going back to July 2017. This shows the callousness of the MoD’s bureaucracy. Earlier, there was no ceiling on funds for the education of the children of soldiers killed or disabled in battle.

The seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC) capped educational expense to 10,000 rupees per month for children of martyrs. Significantly, the CPC also brought the pay and allowances of Armed Forces personnel “below” that of the central armed police forces. But most countries don’t have a situation where police and military personnel are forced to seek parity in compensation.

After the letter from the COSC chairman, an MoD official told the media on December 6 last year that the ministry was “seized with the matter. The order was passed based on MoD’s ex-servicemen welfare department based on the recommendations of the seventh Central Pay Commission.”

There was silence on this issue until Dr Subhash Bhamre, junior minister of state for defense, informed Parliament that the cap of 10,000 rupees ($158) per month would stay in accordance with the CPC recommendations.

Clearly, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not seem to care if the some of the children of the martyrs and disabled soldiers will be forced to pull out because of the lack of finances midway through the academic year. The decision is an insult to the martyrs and disabled soldiers considering that a paltry sum of 40 million rupees is involved.

When it comes to lawmakers, there is enough money in the coffers. But the government does not seem to value India’s martyrs and disabled soldiers. Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has apparently submitted to the bureaucracy – much like her predecessors.

The earlier defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, excluded his junior minister from important decisions, showing the internal contradictions in a crucial ministry. Obviously, defending the nation or the welfare of soldiers and their families does not seem to be a priority for this government.

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Prakash Katoch

The author retired as lieutenant general from the Indian Army's Special Forces.

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