The Army's Pay Commission Demands!

The slide to the right is from the 82-slide presentation made by Army General J.J. Singh to the Defence Ministry today (click to enlarge). The slide shows what the Army demands from the Sixth Pay Commission, one of the most discussed topics on military forums now. It was part of a special show we did on Headlines Today tonight with guests Maroof Raza, former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramaniam and former IAS officer Harsh Mander. What follows is my script of the special report:

By Shiv Aroor

Embrace austerity, serve with simplicity. This was the seemingly odd-timed advice from Defence Minister AK Antony to the Army this week. What he probably hadn't bargained for was the inspired presentation the Army chief made to the Defence Ministry this morning demanding never-before pay hikes for Army officers and soldiers as part of the upcoming 6th Pay Commission.

A copy of the General Singh's comprehensive 82-page presentation, made available to Headlines Today, is in one sense a desperate one. Ignored for decades by successive pay commissions that have tipped the balance in favour of the civil services, and labouring on with a shortage of a staggering 5,200 officers, the Army has finally had enough and decided to pull out all the stops this time.

For example, while the starting pay in the Army is currently a quite uncompetitive 8,250 Rupees in the Lieutenant rank, the Army now wants its boys to start off on a decidedly plush 43,650 rupees per month under the new system, a good deal better than start-up packages even in the IT industry. A Colonel, who takes home a modest 17,000 rupees today should rake in 90,550 rupees a month, the Army demands, and a three-star General a cool 1.2 lakh rupees a month, instead of 22,400 rupees he earns today.

Even those in the Army admit that their demands for a five-time increase in pay is indulgently wishful thinking. And yet, after being shortchanged by successive pay commissions for years coupled with booming salaries in the private sector, it's probably reasonable that the Army is aiming so high.

The attractiveness of the armed forces as a career has steadily waned, and shows no signs of letting up. Officers still leave in droves. And yet, no one will reasonably doubt the honour and nobility of volunteering to guard the country with your life.

Apart from a the Army's recommendations to the government today that all personnel get a five-fold jump in pay, they have also for the first time put into focus that unidentifiable something that makes military life so completely different from anything else. The Army wants special risk-related allowances, a separate military incentive pay and, interestingly, what it actually calls X-Factor pay. This of course has a huge number of dimensions.

Personnel deployed in field formations, especially in the North East and Jammu & Kashmir are constantly in danger of bodily harm. Those who patrol the unforgivingly cold and hostile heights on the Saltoro ridge and Sikkim have other enemies to plough through. Helicopter pilots, like the two who were killed last week, have to brave blizzards in tiny metal machines. The element of risk and the X-Factor of walking a thin line for most of your life, is something the Army now wants quantified, and rewarded well.

Armed forces personnel always complain in private that bureaucrats in the civil services persistently flush down hopes of salaries that would put the military on par with not just the private sector, but other services within the government itself... like the IAS or the police.

This time around, the IAS has demanded a pay scale revision of just over three times from the sixth pay commission, which is probably why the armed forces have aimed at a five-fold increase in compensation to bring in at least some semblance of parity. So if junior to middle rung officers of the IAS are hoping for revised salaries of between 35,000-57,000 rupees, defence officers of corresponding seniority are looking at adjustments that will allow them to take home between 43,000 and 90,000 rupees. Cynics in uniform will always affirm however, that the past seldom passes.

The armed forces history with pay commissions is a dismal one. For the third pay commission in the 1970s, the services were barred from making recommendations by a government that was afraid it would affect discipline. To the astonishment of everyone in uniform at the time, the commission actually decided that advantages of a military career outweighed the downside. In the fourth pay commission, another rude shock was to follow. The promising rank pay introduced for officers uptil the rank of Brigadier was quietly deducted from their basic pay, a decades old goof that has hoardes of retired officers now thronging the civilian courts for redressal.

They won't admit it out loud, but most in the Army feel they've been shortchanged all along by apathetic governments and the civil services lobby eager to keep inflated revenue expenditures all for itself. There's no reason to believe this time will be any different, but there's little left to do for those in uniform but hope for a sympathetic ear. And as they're saying in the forces these days, no matter how much the economy booms, peanuts will only attract monkeys.

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