EXCLUSIVE: Veterans' appeal to Sonia Gandhi

Former Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi will head a delegation of senior military veterans to meet UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at 1400HRS on October 18. Headlines Today got a copy of the 28-page presentation that will be made to her by Gen Oberoi, a report is on air. Following is the appeal that will made to Sonia Gandhi during the interaction.


On behalf of the Indian Ex-servicemen League (IESL) and other military veterans, I thank you, Mrs. Gandhi, for taking time out from your extremely busy schedule to listen to the viewpoint of all military veterans of the country, whose numbers are in the region of over 4.5 million or 45 lacs. I am Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi. I had retired as the Vice Chief of Army Staff about seven years back.

Since Independence, there has been steady erosion in the status and emoluments of the Indian Military, but the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission (6th CPC) are so disastrous that there is a major uproar by the military against the injustice done to them. This anger and a sense of frustration are across the board, in all ranks and amongst both serving personnel and the veterans.

We, the military veterans, want that the bias against the military comes to an end, so that the nation, whom we all love, is both secure and prosperous. This can only be done if our viewpoint is understood by you, as you in your own right and as the head of the biggest political party of the nation, have a great say in the affairs of the nation. You have also always displayed a commitment to the best interests of the nation and would undoubtedly be able to prevail on the government to give the military their legitimate and well earned dues.

The armed forces constitute the biggest segment of government servants, as well as the biggest chunk of retired personnel. Their conditions of service are also unique and have no comparison with any other segment of the government. Yet, the government did not permit any representation from the military in any of the pay commissions. When there was furore amongst the serving and retired personnel of the military, a review committee was appointed, but again without any military representation. How strange, in a nation where the military has always risen to the occasion and has not flinched from the most difficult tasks, even sacrificing their lives for the nation, on a day to day basis?

Is the military of this nation a pariah that they have to be kept isolated when their own emoluments are being decided?

Before we hand over our projections, I would like to give you an overview of the main issues that are weighing so heavily on us that we have had to take recourse to public demonstrations to project our just case, which is a major departure from the military norms which we the veterans have always followed. Despite this compulsion, we have done so in a gentlemanly manner as befits the military, but if our voice is not heard, it may not be possible for us to restrain our more fiery comrades, who really feel cheated and are not willing to accept an arrangement where the military continues to be down graded.

Let me give you a few examples:

* Both serving personnel and veterans have been short charged in relation to their 'status', 'emoluments' and 'compensation' for an extremely harsh working environment. These are briefly elaborated:

Status. At each successive level, from a soldier (jawan) to a lieutenant general, the status of all military personnel has been brought down by the 6th CPC, by lowering their Pay Bands as well as Status Pay, when compared to the civil government officials in all classes,as can be seen on the slide. If morale of the military is to be maintained and the best and the brightest are to be inducted in the military, then the status of all military personnel must be restored to at least the current levels, although justice demands that they be restored at the levels as had existed when the nation achieved its independence. 'Izzat' is extremely important in a hierarchical organization like the military. This must never be eroded, merely to please the bureaucrats, technocrats or others of the same ilk.

Emoluments. Despite repeated reiteration, including by the Service Chiefs, that the conditions of service of military personnel have nothing in common with other government servants, at each stage an artificial relativity has been created. This completely ignores three important facts, viz. that promotions in the military are much slower than all other government cadres; the number of ranks in the military are much more; and to maintain the youthful profile of the military, the bulk of officers and jawans have to leave the service at younger ages. Consequently, no relativity is possible, as it will always be at the expense of military personnel. The answer lies in basing relativity only on the length of service and no other considerations.

Compensation. After decades, compensation for the extremely harsh conditions of service has been sanctioned, as the Military Service Pay (MSP), but with a number of lacunae. MSP is neither pay nor an allowance, but is over and above all pay and allowances, as an additive to all emoluments The lacunae are as under:

* MSP has been carved out of the pay of personnel, which defeats the very purpose of having an MSP;

* It is a lump sum dispensation, Instead of being a percentage of pay at each successive rank, i.e. approximately 30 to 50 per cent of pay, depending on rank;

* The MSP must be authorised to all ranks and not be confined only up to the rank of brigadier;

* MSP has been recommended to come in to effect prospectively. This is incorrect as the conditions of service on 01 – 01 – 2006 were the same as they are now, if not worse.

* The ratio between the MSP authorised to PBOR and officers must be brought closer, in favour of PBOR.

Another issue, which affects only a small section of the military, but which is exceedingly important is the injustice meted out to the war disabled personnel, who need to be given maximum support. The distinction between war disabled personnel and those disabled for other reasons has not been understood or appreciated at all by the members of the 6th CPC. The following points merit consideration:

War disabled personnel need to be considered at the same level as those who sacrifice their lives on the battlefield. Just as there is a distinction between those who are killed in battle and those who die on account of other reasons, like ill health, accidents and so on, a similar distinction must be there between war disabled and those disabled by other causes. War disability/ ordinary disability allowances must accordingly be in the ratio of 5:2 in favour of the war disabled, as was the case up to the Fourth Pay Commission. Thereafter, the ratio was reduced to 2:1 and now the 6th CPC has brought the two categories at par. This is obviously incorrect, uncaring of sacrifices made in war and warlike conditions, and again displays a lack of knowledge about the military.

While the next of kin of those killed in war or warlike situations have been correctly granted ex-gratia grants, the war disabled have again been ignored and have not been given anything. If this sorry state is accepted, who will go into battle, knowing that if he is disabled, he will live in penury throughout his/her life? This must not be permitted under any circumstances.

The following issues pertain exclusively to the military veterans:

One Rank One Pension (OROP). Pension is a social security. Military men legally hold their rank even after retirement. Rank wise similarity of pension must therefore be maintained, irrespective of their date of retirement. The issue has been under consideration since 1984. It had even attracted reference in the Presidential Address in the Parliament in 2004 and even in Manifestoes of all mainstream political parties, including your party. But this has not yet been implemented. The recommendation of the 6th CPC has reneged on this declared guiding principle of the government. No responsible person has ever said that the demand is either unjustified or unreasonable. The financial effect of OROP was officially estimated at only Rs. 600 crores per annum in 2004, as per the records of a parliamentary committee which had examined the issue. A 'One Time Increase' was granted to only soldiers in 1992, The military veterans call on the government to honour its long-standing promise.

Pension of Soldiers Reduced by 35 Per Cent Compared to Civilians. Prior to the Sixth Pay Commission, pension of the PBOR was calculated on the top of the pay scale to partially compensate them for early retirement. Now both the civilian as well as the soldier would be given 50 per cent of the last pay drawn as pension. This coupled with abolition of weightage factor means a loss of 35 per cent for the soldier alone. As for the civilian, it is no more than status quo ante.

Commutation of Pension reduced by 35 Per Cent. The Sixth Pay Commission has proposed a revised commutation table with lowered purchase values that have brought down pension commutation by nearly 35 per cent.

Compensation for Loss of Earnings. Our jawans are compulsorily retired in their late thirties, our JCO's in their late forties and the bulk of our officers in the mid-fifties. On the other hand, civil government servants of all categories serve up to the age of 60. Thus, there is a loss of earnings, amounting to 30 to 40 lacs, depending on the rank of the military person. This must be compensated by enhanced payment of pension, at 75 per cent of maximum pay of rank last held, till the age of 60 years. Another option is to resettle the military veterans by providing them assured jobs up to the age of 60 years. The first option be adopted immediately and the second be considered as a long term measure.

Defence Veterans' Commission – There is glaring disparity from state to state in their ex servicemen welfare measures, e.g., offering of approved quota of vacancies in civil jobs and monetary grant to gallantry award winners and the war disabled. A Commission with statutory powers can do much to alleviate their suffering especially when the population of the retirees from military forces is rising.

Serving combatants receive inspiration from the veterans, who have since retired and in whose image they visualise their own future. It is therefore expedient in the national interest that the Government should take immediate action to restore the sheen that once belonged to the proud Profession of Arms. Howsoever advanced military technology we might amass, the man behind the machine shall decide the outcome of war for all times to come. Evidently, there can be no bigger liability for any sovereign Nation than a demoralised military.

Our aim is to bring to the notice of the political leadership the grave injustice meted out to the military personnel and point out that if their legitimate demands are not met, national security will be seriously jeopartised; the shortage of officers will get progressively worse; and the only instrument of the nation that has always delivered and that has the confidence of all citizens, will progressively become weak and ineffective. On behalf of the Veterans, I assure you of our continued loyalty and support for the Government and the country. We all hope that the Government will accord priority to resolving the issues I have touched upon, favourably.

Let me conclude by thanking you, Mrs Gandhi, for giving us this opportunity to meet you and apprise you of the injustice done to all military personnel by the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission and to reiterate that the legitimate grievances of all military personnel need to be addressed seriously and expeditiously by the political leadership and not by the bureaucracy, who do not inspire any confidence in any military person, on account of their highly biased actions and vested interests.

STOP PRESS OCTOBER 18: The veterans did not meet Sonia. Apparently she had no clue about the meeting. The MLA who fixed the meeting Balbir Sidhu had apparently only contacted Tourism Minister Ambika Soni! Here is IESM chairman Lt Gen Raj Kadyan's e-mail to his colleagues after the meeting:

Dear Colleagues,
The planned meeting with Sonia Gandhi on 18 Oct, arranged by our Punjab ESM colleagues, did not materialise. There was some communication gap. Mr Balbir Sidhu, the Mohali MLA, had approached only Ambika Soni. Mrs Sonia Gandhi was not even aware of the planned meeting. We met Ambika Soni who promised to fix the meeting ASAP. She also took copy of the memo for handing over to Mrs Sonia Gandhi. She also sought our response if Mrs Sonia Gandhi wants us to meet the GoM headed by Pranab instead. We pointed out that as known to us, the GOM is only deliberating on issues of serving pers, she said she would check on that. We then agreed to meet the GoM if the word to this effect goes from Mr Sonia Gandhi. Mrs Ambika Soni hinted that the very fact she herself (Ambika) would convey that msg to the GoM, would imply that. Our planned action from 20 Oct onwards carries on unchanged. We must make it a mass all-India affair.
All the best.
Best regards,
Lt Gen (Emeritus) Raj Kadyan

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