Armed Forces Retirement Age Increase, Pensions To Benefit Privileged Few, Majority Will Get Injustice

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Mubarak Ansari

Pune, 06 Nov 2020 : The format for Pension being brought out seems to be an injustice to serving and retired Armed forces officers. The feasibility study and proposal for the implementation of the same seems to coincide with one year of the residual tenure of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). With BJP as a party harping and denigrating the overall core and trunk of the Armed Forces as a whole with CDS being their Kingpin in executing the road map to the same. Probably a repeat of the hard bargain which the Armed Forces received after 1971 Indo Pak war.

It is back to vote bank politics with the Armed Forces a very minuscule strength can be easily targeted with little or no consideration to the morale of the Armed Forces. A few pasts need detailed introspection and the Government needs to take notice of the same if the fabric of the Armed Forces should not be further dishonored. Namely :-

(a) Pension terms for all government organization are the same. Take politicians MLA/MPs are entitled to a lifelong pension for one stint which may vary from few days to a full term. But Defence pensions have become an eyesore for the Government. It means that an MP/MLA can draw a lifelong pension for doing rhetoric with no action on the ground but a Soldier in Siachen, a sailor in the deep ocean or a flyer in the high skies risking his life has to forego his pension and entitlements for volunteering to give up his life for the Nation.

(b) It suited BJP’s Election Manifesto so they got in OROP, a political decision. They didn’t do their homework correctly, if it has put an extra burden on the pension budget, the government should source the funds, not cut the benefits accrued to a Soldier for his service to the Nation.

(c) Is anywhere in the world a country of this size and geopolitical nature would have a defence budget of 2.1 % of GDP. It should be atleast 3.5% of GDP. Let’s get a few comparative figures on Defence Budget in context:-

– US is 732 Bn, 3.4 % of GDP
– Russia is 65.1 Bn, 3.9 % of GDP
– Saudi Arabia is 61.2 Bn , 8% of GDP
– India is 71 Bn, 2.4% of GDP
– China (Defense Budget is 3.5 times India) 261 Bn, 1.9 % of GDP as the GDP is 4.78 times India’s

(d) The huge incidental strain on areas of Medical Facilities and Housing is not considered. The number of Flag officers in all three services as 30 % more than is required. Overstaffed with Flag officers means additional expenses of Housing, transportation and other privileges of Buddies / Sahayaks etc. Even the pensionary benefits of people retiring late would be more.

(e) Cols/Brig are stagnating in the, existing scales, more increments have to be added to each scale with this proposed scheme.

(f) Defence officers are already at a disadvantage compared to IAS, IFS and DRDS in terms of emoluments (liberal increments and incentive pay) and lower retiring age, This is going to penalize them even more. Consider the case of Scientists in DRDO. They get 5 increments accounted as special incentive pay when they move from one bracket to another. Each incentive is Rs 5000. Whereas such increments are very less for armed forces with only 2-3 increments, with stagnation for non-selection.

(g) It would drastically reduce the family pension of officers seeking premature retirement in case of death. So all Officers who die in the field before 20 years also will get penury. Whereas, IAS, IPS etc get a sizeable chunk in terms of pensionary benefits. Another step towards the denigration of the Armed Forces in this country.

(h) The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Officers are going to get a hard bargain again with systemic erosion of Armed Forces as the new Road Map of CDS with the backing of NAMO and BJP Government.
If the Government wants to Economize on Defence spending then it needs to look in the right areas to name a few:-

(a) All three Armed Forces are having Brigadier and above that Flag Officers more than what is required. The scaling down of armed forces has to happen in the higher echelons. Too many Flag Officers, too much of associated staff to do servant duties for these officers with too many privilege requirements. To mention their wives also join the bandwagon with their demands. The axe has to fall there. So that huge cost cuts can happen. There is also these privilege lot being corrupt with a few honest people here and there but they are a minority in single digits. This privileged lot undertake legitimized corruption.

For example in DSSC the Commandant happen to take a Rs 20 lakh jacuzzi installed in his house on retirement, the Col GS wrote it off after it was ACR time. Navy and the Airforce also don’t fall back, there are many such stories.

(b) The manpower in the Armed forces itself needs scaling down. Cut the number of Sahayak/ Orderlies and retinue staff for flag officers, Brigadiers (Eqv), Col (Eqv) to that the overall strain on a budget is reduced. Instead give Domestic Help allowance akin to other services like the IAS, IPS or Paramilitary etc. Just to give an example the IAF has something called Air MCO just to receive a Flag Officer at Airport / Railway station with no other duty. This applies across the board. Such futile wastage of manpower or shall we say abuse of manpower.

(c) Look for other avenues to cut budgets, do away with canteens run in every unit, and get more synergy with the private sector. Such a big EME (2,25,000 strength, three times the size of Navy) core is not required, more efficiency can be brought in at every level, by getting in more collaboration with OEMs and outside the industry. The requirement of EME workshops can be done away with in Metros and big cities to start with straight away.

(d) A huge civilian cadre on the Defence budget, retired soldiers can be reskilled in their final year to re-employ them as civilian cadre so that pension benefits can be staggered. An opportunity to service brethren to further serve their service is a good incentive.

(e) The proposal implementation may be studied by a committee appointed by the Cabinet to work on the modalities of implementation for new joinees as was done for the government (year 2004). Things like NPS could be considered with initial corpus given by the government to circumvent shortened tenures. There cannot be a retrospective implementation. The factor of moral, the willingness of youth to join services with these conditions needs very detailed introspection not a piecemeal knee jerk Annual Confidential Repo, or Yes man driven initiative to earn brownie points like the signatory of the note.

Last word, the kind of officers being selected for promotion are hardly sea, land or air worthy, very few have warfighting in their veins. They make as they are driven by ACR culture and Yes man behavior to meet their bosses ACR achievement they make brownies. Now, if such people make policy only the privileged few will get the benefit and the majority get injustice, this proposal is another step towards injustice happening where BJP is playing ball. With the soldier, the airman and the sailor looking on did make a wrong career choice to be lead by men so weak.