Guest post by GAUTAM NAVLAKHA
Notwithstanding popular perception, professional soldiers do not join the armed services out of overwhelming ‘patriotism’. They are in fact driven by the desire to get a job that offers material security for them and their family. It is predominantly their own livelihood needs that drives people to enlist. On the other hand, the main objective of any government’s concern is to keep the morale of such professional soldiers high, so that they would go out and fight anyone as directed by the government, whether it is ‘enemies’ outside the nation’s borders or within – conducting the predatory war for ‘development’ which profits the corporate class or suppressing popular movements.
More than 101 Districts out of 680 in India are notified as ‘Disturbed Area’ where the military forces enjoy immunity from prosecution and exercise extraordinary authority. In addition, in 35 other districts similar conditions operate even though these have not been notified as “Disturbed Area”. However, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs exempts the personnel, through a notification, from prosecution for any crime they commit in course of their service in the designated areas. In the ‘Disturbed Areas’ the Army has begun to exercise veto power over both withdrawal of troops as well as removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. That apart, the very size of the military force, its use and misuse, its degradation, the fiscal ramifications and socio-political consequences of a bloated military are some of the aspects that invite scrutiny.
For instance, on 30th September 2015 the Central Government , through its Secretary (Expenditure) in Ministry of Finance submitted to the Delhi High Court that they did not have Rs 483 crore needed to raise 16,000 personnel for Delhi Police, an amount which, however, had already been sanctioned. Way back on December 16, 2012 in the same matter the Delhi Police had cited “lack of manpower” as the main reason for their inability to apprehend 18,500 “offenders” in Delhi. The argument of paucity of funds for Civil Police tasked with crime prevention and investigation is significant because there is no such shortage of funds for raising Armed Constabularies, that is, para military battalion which keeps increasing in numbers. For instance, whereas the ratio of civil police (17.6 lakhs) and population (1.22 bn) is 1:716, there is no less than a 25 lakh strong Military with a ratio of 1 soldier: 500 persons, and this keeps improving with augmentation of military manpower every year.
The data collected and collated by the Seventh Pay Commission Report (1) is of much help in this regard. According to the report, as on January 1, 2014, out of 4,687,707 central government employees, no less than 2,744,755, or 55% belong to the military sector. This comprises 13,86,171 in the Defence Services, 9,60,162 in Central Para Military Forces (CPMF), and 398,422 in Ministry of Defence (Civil). Significantly, 80% of personnel in MoD (Civil) or 3,21,847 are “workmen” in Defense Public Sector Units. Another way of appreciating the significance of Military is to note that out of 8.57,764 employees recruited by the Central Government between 2006-2014, nearly fifty percent or 4,26,636 were recruits in the military sector.
Looked at from the point of view of Pensions, 75% of the total pension outgo of Rs 74,896 cr allocated in 2013-14, went to service pension needs of the armed forces personnel. How? Rs 45,499 is allocated for Defence Services and Rs 17,000 cr for the CPMFs, i.e. a total of Rs 62,499 cr against a total pension outgo of Rs 74.896 cr! Again, according to the 7PC as on January 1, 2014, there were 51.96 lakh pensioners of which Military accounted for 24.15 lakhs and Civil Pensioners 27.81 lakhs. However, the composition of Civilian Pensioners is following: 17 lakhs belong to the Railway and Postal Service or the Commercial Departments and 10.81 are Others of which no less than half are personnel retired from the CPMF’s.
The 7PC found that there was a gap between the sanctioned strength of Government Personnel and their actual strength. In 2006 the sanctioned strength was 37.01 lakh, 38.92 in 2010, and 40.49 lakh in 2014. But actual strength was 32.74 lakh in 2006, 32.31 lakh in 2010 and 33.02 lakhs in 2014. What is interesting to note is that the shortfall, between sanctioned and the actual strength, is spread unevenly and therefore is lowest for CPMFs at 70,000 personnel and represents just 10% of the 7 lakh shortfall in 2014, and is maximum in Railways with 2.35 lakh vacant posts and 1.13 lakh vacancies in Defence PSU’s (workmen) accounting for 4.48 lakhs of the shortfall. The reduction in manpower in DPSUs is by the way a mark of growing reliance on weapon imports or FDI and Indian private sector led takeover of defence production.
What is nevertheless clear is the preference for augmentation of the military force at a time when there is an all round cutback in most Departments of the Government. It is also of interest to note that of the 2.4 lakh new posts which will be created in 2015-16 thus raising the staff strength of central government employees from 33.1 lakh to 35.6 lakhs, fifty per cent or 1.2 lakh personnel will be recruited to CPMFs apart from number of JCOs climb from 2200 to 9000.
In other words a very large proportion of revenue expenditure and future liability is created on account of the augmentation of the military sector, which primarily battles our own people.
It ought to be a matter of concern that the combined strength of Armed Forces of the Union, which is 2.5 million, makes up 45% of total central government employees. What is alarming is that four Corps 3 and 4 in North East and 15 and 16 in J & K have been engaged in Counter Insurgency warfare. In addition ninety percent of Central Para Military Forces (CPMFs) are deployed in nine central Indian States against the Maoists, JandK and NE. The number of Army personnel in 101 districts declared as “Disturbed” is no less than 500,000 at least, and CPMFs are 850,000 CPMFs in the three war-zones, Central Indian States, Jammu and Kashmir and the North East. This means that at least 1.4 million out of 2.5 mn personnel remain engaged in war against our own people.
Why Join the Military?
What propels a person to join the Armed Forces of the Union (AFU) are both pull and push factors. If the push factor is poor employment generation in rural as well as urban areas and/or non-availability of regular jobs, the pull factors are the burgeoning growth in employment generation in the Armed Forces of the Union compared to other branches of the government. At a time when the majority of the working people put in long hours, receive poor pay and benefits and are denied any right to form unions, the short-term nature of employment now reduced to six months make Government job attractive. So most male unemployed youth gravitate towards armed forces because that is where regular employment is being generated.
According to the Ministry of Defence, on 1st December, 2014, against 50,000 vacancies they received as many as 3.5 million applications. Similarly, in UP for 368 Class IV job of a peon they received 23.25 lakh applications, which included 252 Phds, 25,000 post graduates, 1.52 lakh graduates, 7.5 lakhs class XII, 11.21 lakhs class X pass and 8 lakhs had cleared class VIII, speaks volumes for the attraction that working people have for Government job, due to assured security. (2)
According to a research survey 77 per cent of soldiers joined the army either to earn their livelihood or for pay/pension benefits and only 23 per cent said that they joined the army either to live a life of honour or to serve (the) motherland. Within this 23% who joined for non-livelihood reasons is made up of just 6% who join to “serve motherland” whereas 17% joined to “lead life of honour”.(3)
If livelihood/pay and pension are the driving force for most soldiers one cannot blame them for demanding more and better facilities because, if they are not ideologically convinced, and are in the Armed Forces of the Union for want of better alternative, they have to draw inspiration from somewhere else. Seeking money and perks and better ‘working’ conditions or regular peacetime postings as compensation for the time served in war zones is not an unfair demand.
The least spoken about aspect of the Military Sector is the divide that exists between Rank and Officer. Persons Below Officers Rank/Soldiers comprise 98% of the service personnel. While officers complaint finds its way into media or the public domain very little of PBOR/Soldiers concern that finds its way in the public domain.
From August 2 to 6, 2015 an organization called Voice of Ex-Servicemen Society (VESS) sat in an agitation, parallel to that of the Officers, to highlight the fact that the interests of PBOR and commissioned officers are quite different. Not only were they demanding parity with officers in so far as Military Service Pay (MSP) that is paid during active duty, they claimed that the jawans are always in ‘line of fire’ and faces ‘maximum threat to their life in any conflict’. Yet their MSP was not the same and there it is a graded MSP: Rs 2000 for Jawan, Rs 4200 for JCOs, and Rs 6000 for officers. A Jawan’s family pension is as low as Rs 3500. Their complaint is that their pension is calculated as per Government Rules on a pro-rata basis, and because they fall short of 33 years service precondition, they do not receive full pension, which their specific service condition entails. Thus they receive only 40% of the pension, calculated on a pro-rata basis, instead of what is due to them because it is in the very nature of their job that they have to retire after 17 years of service between the age 35-40, in order to keep the ‘force’ young. Even more worrisome according to them is the fact that officers make up the negotiating team and PBORs remain unrepresented and have no voice. The class divide carries on even post-retirement where hierarchies continue to matter.
Work related problems of the Personnel
Even more startlingly, VESS spoke about discrimination and exploitation of the jawans within the AFU. Their charter of demand for the dharna held in New Delhi on 2nd August 2015 contains some very significant issues:
Demand No 10. The untouchability and ghetto system practiced by all Armed forces Ancillary services to be abolished. e.g. AWHO projects have separate enclaves for Officers and PBORs, even though cost of the dwellings are same for both.
DN 11. Elimination of sewadari system from Army. Soldiers are for Fighting wars – not domestic servants
DN 15. Re-structuring and modernising forces in professional manner by removing colonial discrimination by their roots, in similar ways of modern Forces similar lines of American Army.
DN17. Discrimination prevalent in armed forces should be eliminated in all it form. Forces have become VVIP racism hubs with almost every facility being reserved for officers, including toilets.
DN 19. Reducing corruption in armed forces, by creating a platform wherein corrupt practices can be reported by PBOR without fear of retribution- Similar to Whistle blower protection act. (4)
The charter of demands draws attention to undemocratic practices which prevail in the Armed Forces of the Union. Ask any army officer and they will concur with the view that the ‘bedrock of the armed forces is discipline’. And conversely, that an ‘undisciplined force is extremely dangerous’. (5) The Survey (6) referred to above lends support to the above but from an altogether different perspective. The Survey posed 38 questions and sample size was 1085 of which 60 were officers and 1025 POBR. All of them were deployed in Jammu & Kashmir. Questions 19 and 20 bring out the simmering discontent within the Ranks. To the question (#19) if disciplinary cases were being disposed off promptly, ninety four per cent of the respondents said they were “unhappy” with the pace of disposal. To the next question (#20) ‘why cases of indiscipline take long to dispose off’ again 94 % blamed it on “excessive commitment and shortage of officers”. The VESS survey brings out the nature of the discontent.
This acquires yet another shape when we bring in some other questions from the survey which directly relate to field or operational experience of the personnel, its impact on their morale, and resulting stress leading to suicide, fragging, attacks on officers etc. For instance 93 % of the respondents complained of “inadequate briefing” about the terrain, militants, cases of insurgency and local population when they were “inducted” (Q# 25). To the question whether it is possible to identify militants, 33% said it was “difficult” and 67% felt it was “very difficult” (Q#4). 84% were dissatisfied with delegation of authority to junior leaders (Q#14). 77% felt discouraged for sharing their ideas for better results in CI Operations (Q#15). 76 % felt that operations were launched in haste (Q# 16). 74 %felt stressed due to fear of committing human right violations (Q# 17). 67 % felt that superiors push for ‘glory seeking’ (Q#18). And above all 78 % said that they risked their lives for their “Unit Pride” (Q# 33).
This provides a glimpse into the nature of their work and its peculiarities. If they are unclear of their objective, they are to fight or regard everyone as an ‘enemy’, feel ‘unfairly’ condemned by Human Right activists, have problems with their officers, then all this makes for taking a closer look at War and what it does to those who are on the frontlines to carry out such wars.
The survey also brings out the political perspective behind the CI operations. When the respondents were asked “Will you agree to compromise our own territory in bargain for peace with your hostile neighbor?” the response was 100 % a resounding “No”. The question was a loaded query. Like most Indians who blame Pakistan for Kashmir issue the soldier too is briefed that in Kashmir they fight a war for territory being waged by Pakistan, not one of an fighting an alienated people. There was no recognition of a popular movement and a popular demand for right of self determination and the call for Azaadi. With such a skewed understanding every Muslim of JandK, particularly a Kashmiri Muslim, become a prime target of the CI operations, the ‘enemy’ they subdue. It was therefore 100% “difficult” for service personnel to distinguish between a combatant and non-combatant. The author of the research and the Survey is unequivocal when he writes that “Any target is fair game in unconventional warfare, from uniformed troops to civilians, as the idea is essentially to weaken the enemy from the inside out, and forcing them to capitulate and negotiate surrender.” (7) Thus the importance of the specific nature of “un-conventional” warfare, which is fought among our own people stands out. We see here a ‘blurring of the distinction between front and rear, strategic and tactical actions and combatants and non-combatants’. The significance of all this lies in that it helps to bring out the kind of problems a person seeking employment encounters when for want of anything else he/she joins the Armed Forces of the Union.
The Government soldier, therefore, discovers his motivation in monetary compensation for his services to suppress popular upsurge. They also enjoy Legal immunity from criminal prosecution for any crimes they commit in the Armed Conflict Zones in India. In fact in these zones there is a ‘two glass system’ in operation where criminal courts enjoy no jurisdiction over personnel of the AFU. In other words, civilians have no judicial recourse to get justice when they get aggrieved at the hands of AFU. Thus ‘Equality before Law’, the very foundation of Rule of Law, is denied to civilians when AFUs are judge and jury of their own crime. On the other hand, the PBOR/soldier is kept on a tight leash through a discriminatory system where officers enjoy extra ordinary powers over the ranks in the name of discipline, where soldier has to be motivated through fear of punishment to carry out order/s or do the bidding of the commander/s.(8)
To sum up, we can pretend that Indian armed forces are a disciplined force and that it has a glorious record of service to the “Nation”, never mind if this service involves ignoble wars waged on our own people and bestial behavior against civilians in war zones which has become pandemic. However, when one realizes that the very same force is being degraded as well as stressed out, then the fact that their complaints are coming out in the public through agitation, makes it all the more necessary to take stock seriously. Discipline that is imposed from outside and is not a result of self-motivation, is the mark of a Professional Army, and, therefore, lacks ‘positive ideological motivation’. In other words, discipline imposed through fear of retribution for every infraction, at the hands of superior officers, may be well suited to Colonial Raj, but it scarcely behoves a Constitutional Republic.
We are in short, plagued by two phenomena. One, the Armed Forces of the Union being primarily used for waging war against our own people where they enjoy impunity. And the other, the class divide between officers and other ranks, which creates dissatisfaction and resentment. Both of these contribute to an extremely dangerous state of affairs.
- Report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission; November 2015, Government of India.
- “250 Phds among 23 lakhs”, Lalmani Verma, Indian Express 17/09/2015.
- “Building Army’s Human Resources for Sub-Conventional Warfare”: K C Dixit; page 32; Pentagon Security International; 2102: http://www.idsa.in/system/files/book/book_dixit_intro.pdf
- The 19 point charter of demand of VESS:
- OROP – One Rank One Pension – As most of the PBORs compulsorily retire in the age group of 37-45, They are the most deserving candidates.
- Enhancement of disability pension
- To implement court order granting enhanced rate of pension to jcos/ncos/ors from 01 Jan 06 instead of 24 Sep 14
- 70% last drawn pay as pension to jcos/ncos/ors – which was in vogue until 3rd Pay Commission
- Family pension equal to the service pension
- Dearness Allowances equal in cash to all ranks as cost of living is same for all
- Improvement of Services of ECHS by creating representation for 80% PBORs in governing and regulating the ECHS.
- Canteen funds instead of leaving in local commanders’ hands,to be utilized for raising medical colleges and engineering colleges where wards of serving and retired jcos/ncos/ors to be educated free of cost.
- Licences for security, CNG station, Coal transporter should be given to all the ranks. They should not be reserved only for officers only, as is current status
- The untouchability and ghetto system practiced by all Armed forces Ancillary services to be abolished. e.g. AWHO projects have separate enclaves for Officers and PBORs, even though cost of of the dwellings are same for both.
- Elimination of sewadari system from Army. Soldiers are for Fighting wars – not domestic servants
- Children education allowances should be made application to all retired jcos/ncos/ors.
- Equal of military pay to all rank – Every soldier to be treated equal for military pay as risks involved are same for all.
- Fee concession should be provided to children of jcos/ncos/ors at par with SC/ST in all the professional and academic courses like MBBS/BDS/Pharmacy, MBA, Engineering, IITs, MCA, Law, B.Ed etc.
- Re-structuring and modernising forces in professional manner by removing colonial discrimination by their roots, in similar ways of modern Forces similar lines of American Army.
- JCOs/NCOs/ORs should be given representation in ECHS, District Soldier Board, Rajya Sabha board , kendriya soldier board, DGR as per ratio. Currently all these posts are dominated by officers, leaving them at the mercy of their mechanizations, nepotism and discrimination. OIC of these organisation should not be reserved for officers rank only.
- Discrimination prevalent in armed forces should be eliminated in all it form. Forces have become VVIP racism hubs with almost every facility being reserved for officers, including toilets.
- Transparency in awarding gallantry and other medal. Here too 80:20 rule is prevalent. For 80% brave acts of PBOR, 80% gallantry awards are cornered by Officers.
- Reducing corruption in armed forces, by creating a platform wherein corrupt practices can be reported by PBOR without fear of retribution- Similar to Whistle blower protection act.
(See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLsvde9qcNo the August 6th 2015 press conference of VESS.)
5. Former Adjutant General Lt General BT Pandit (retd), “An indisciplined Armed Force is extremely dangerous”; rediff.com September 26, 2012.
6. Annexure 1: ‘Analysis of Feedback on Motivation of Troops Deployed in Sub-Conventional Warfare Environment’, Dixit; Ibid; pp 55.
7. K C Dixit, ibid, pp 12.
8. See for more “Motivation as Barometer of Real Politics”; February 27, 2015, Sanhati at: http://sanhati.com/excerpted/12964/
Gautam Navlakha is a member of People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi.