Indian army recruits wearing ceremonial uniform march during their passing out parade in Rangreth, on the outskirts of Srinagar February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
Indian army recruits wearing ceremonial uniform march during their passing out parade in Rangreth, on the outskirts of Srinagar February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

The Indian Army is actively considering abolishing the rank of brigadier as part of its plans to restructure the officer cadre. It reasons that this will provide younger commanders, which is absurd; colonels promoted to major-general (instead of brigadier) but commanding brigades will be at the same age. But the question is, where will all this stop? Will a subsequent cadre restructuring after another decade recommend brigades to be commanded by lieutenant-generals?

In the past, colonels in the infantry were directly promoted as brigadiers. Those promoted as colonels commanded regimental centers and went home. Later, the lieutenant rank was abolished, which buried the concept of a senior subaltern. Colonels, instead of lieutenant-colonels, started commanding battalions, while the latter commanded infantry companies.

Many posts on command and staff positions were upgraded. For example, the command of a cantonment sub-area went from a brigadier to a major-general, and of a cantonment area from major-general to lieutenant-general. Successive upgrades made the army top-heavy while shortages of young officers increased as army positions became less lucrative. Politically motivated actions like opening a second Officers Training Academy at Gaya, Bihar, didn’t help address the chronic shortages of young officers in the Indian Army.

There are many reasons armed forces seek equivalence with the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service and other civilian services. Unlike in other countries, the IPS and Central Armed Police Forces wear the same badges of rank as the military in India and have a common pay commission. Earlier, an officer in the Central Armed Police Forces was promoted to the rank equivalent to a brigadier after only seven years of service, as compared with 27-28 years for their army counterparts.

IPS/IAS officers posted to such cities as Guwahati or Leh also draw a monthly hazard allowance of 75,000 rupees (US$1,100), while an army officer’s monthly hardship allowance for being posted in areas such as the Siachen Glacier is a measly 42,500 rupees ($620). Civilian-defense officials and those in other government services get non-functional upgradation (NFU) allowance and One Rank, One Pension (OROP), but these benefits are denied to the armed forces. The Armed Forces Headquarters-Civilian Service cadre, who come directly under the Ministry of Defense (MoD), recently obtained upgraded ranks from the federal cabinet. The military has been repeatedly denied this benefit as well.

Government services including IPS and the Central Armed Police Forces are classified as Group A to determine their pay and benefits. However, no such classification has been given to the armed forces. Against 1.4 million armed-forces personnel, there are 400,000 civilian defense employees – this is a ridiculous ratio of 1:3.6 for any fighting military.

India’s 41 defense ordnance factories have more than 200 joint secretary-level officers, while civilians in Military Engineering Services have 11 high-pay-grade officers. If there is a sharp rise in defense pensions, 36% of it goes to civilian employees. Even the finance wing of the MoD are shown as “attached” and get their pension from the defense quota. This adds to the defense budget’s burden, reducing money for the serving military personnel as well modernization of an increasingly obsolete force.

Above are only few examples. Ironically, governments over the years have lowered the prestige and emoluments of the armed forces. However, the army’s deployments have increased exponentially and are being tasked to do a variety of jobs – from garbage cleaning to clearing encroachments.

The state of Haryana has four directors general of police, equivalent to army commander, and seven additional directors general of police. But despite being so top-heavy, when the state was hit by a violent agitation, the army became the first responder. However, there has been a plethora of derogatory political statements against the armed forces, even by the erstwhile chairman of the seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC).

The gap in seniority vis-à-vis the armed forces gets wider as the IAS-IPS get faster promotions. Civilian defense employees also promoted faster and paid more. The roles of the armed forces, IAS and IPS are different, but the Indian government remains unconcerned about these glaring anomalies. Why is the Indian military being lowered in the federal order of precedence consistently? Why are the police and Central Armed Police Forces cadres permitted to wear the same badges of rank? Why is the common pay commission discriminating against the armed forces, and why have anomalies since the third CPC not been resolved?

Responding to the no-confidence motion in Parliament on July 20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the opposition to “stop insulting our jawans,” or soldiers. But the government needs to acknowledge that the denial of adequate pay and institutional dignity to the armed forces is a sustained insult, through government oversight, or misrepresentation by the current military leadership.

The current cadre review is a shoddy patchwork of different concepts, leading to a disjointed inflation of the ranks while sidestepping the actual problem. The military and the government are equally responsible for resolving it quickly. The requirement is: same pay for same length of service in government services; restore order of precedence of armed forces; and de-link ranks of police and Central Armed Police Forces cadres from those of the armed forces.

They should also establish a separate pay commission for the armed forces. Japan has a standing pay commission for its military that submits recommendations to the Diet (parliament) on an annual basis.

All this needs joint government-military review, not just a tri-services committee without government representation, as is the case currently.

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

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