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Friday, June 13, 2008

Military veterans’ wake-up call for UPA govt!

By B R HARAN
newstodaynet.com

If Parliament is the ‘Heart’ of Democracy, then the Armed Forces can be called as the ‘Central Nervous System’ which is vital for the democracy to survive and succeed.


The political class might feel proud of being the Members of Parliament of the world’s largest democracy, but it had miserably failed to take care of its ‘central nervous system’, which is now threatening to complicate the system of democracy, which is not good for the health of the country.


The Armed Forces, serving as well as retired have been deeply perturbed by the callous attitude of the UPA government. They are a disappointed and demoralised lot with regards to the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission.


In fact, the resentment in the Armed Forces has actually started from the Third Pay Commission (1976) itself and it has been growing since then and has reached a boiling point now due to the total neglect by the Sixth Pay Commission. It is high time the government wakes up to the issue and solves it, or otherwise, a volcano is waiting to erupt.


The Armed Forces and the organisations like ‘All India Veterans Welfare Association’ (AIVWA) have been repeatedly airing their grievances to the government, but to no avail. Even at the time of constitution of the Sixth Pay Commission, they have requested for the inclusion of a few serving and retired military officers as members, but the government had refused.


The Armed Forces strongly feel that the government has acted as per the whims and fancy of the bureaucracy, which has resulted in the total neglect of the Armed Forces and its requirements. The Sixth Pay Commission, which comprises members only from bureaucracy, has allegedly taken care of its self- interests while turning a blind eye to the aspirations of Armed Forces.


While there is a growing tendency of showing lack of interests to join military service among the youth, over 120 officers have sought early retirement and 15 officers have refused to join the higher command course reserved only for the best.


Former Army Chief Shankar Roy Choundhury feels the government is just being callous. He has reportedly said, ‘These 15 officers would be the best of the very best. It takes about 20 years to be the full Colonel whereas to be the joint secretary takes about 14 years. It has eroded the self-esteem of the defence forces. Political apathy and bureaucratic design and indifference are responsible.


Army is one good institution. For heaven’s sake, don’t destroy it like you have destroyed everything else’.


Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi feels that, the report of the 6th CPC has come as a rude shock and a major disappointment for both the serving and the retired military personnel, as it attempts to further erode not just the pay and allowances, but also the status of the military.


He says, ‘We, the military veterans have no faith in the Review Committee and we totally reject the recommendations of the Committee in advance, as we know that they will neither be fair nor ameliorate the genuine concerns of both the serving and the retired personnel of the defence forces’.


Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, echoing the feelings of the entire military establishment, minces no words in saying, ‘A political leadership that has forced the ‘soldier’ to resort to taking to the streets, because its vision is blinkered by a fawning and cunning bureaucracy, must take note that if the situation escalates, it would be solely responsible for the highly adverse consequences for the nation, which may well result’.


Lt Col S K Menon, who is based at Coimbatore, had written a letter to UPA chairperson Sonia requesting her to reverse the humiliation meted out to the Indian service men and to block its subversion by an inept bureaucracy that has presented to the nation failed regions like J&K, Andhra, North East and many more in the pipeline.


In his letter, he has asked,

‘why a government which can allocate Rs 60000 crore to waive of loans to farmers cannot chip in a fraction for the dignity of the saviours of the nation. While the civil services and government machinery have repeatedly failed the people, it is the Armed Forces that have always stood the test of time. Waiving off loans which have been taken by touts while illiterate farmers will get no benefits is election eyewash while degradation of the services is no optical illusion’.


Col S S Rajan, who is based at Bangalore says, ‘There is a growing sense of resentment amongst the MILITARY VETERANS, i.e. Ex-Servicemen in India, on account of their pain and anguish brought about by years of neglect and apathy by the government of the Union of India, in not addressing the various issues relating to their pension and resettlement.


He wants to remind the government of its solemn, commitment & sacred duty to take care of its MILITARY VETERANS who have given their sweat & blood and sacrificed their youth in the service of the nation; and of the epitaph on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier: ‘When you go home, tell them of us; for your Tomorrow; we gave our Today’.


Captain Balakrishnan, who is based in Chennai, says, ‘It is atrocious and outrageous that the government has refused to include some of our people as members in the Sixth Pay Commission. In western countries like the US, the UK, France and others a separate commission has been functioning for the welfare of the Armed Forces and to take care of their grievances. We want the government of India to follow such a policy and if that is not possible, it should at least include some officers from the defence forces as members of the commission. Like adding insult to injury, it has not included any of us even in the review committee’.


There seems to be a lot of anomalies in things like Military Service Pay (MSP), which has been introduced for the first time as compensation to the defence personnel. There are also anomalies with respect to Grade Pay, Pay of PBOR and Pay of Officers, etc.


The long- pending demand of ‘One Rank One Pension’, which has been granted by the Parliamentary Committee for Defence, has been taken away by the Sixth Pay Commission.


The leaders of different veterans organisations held a meeting at Indian Ex-Services League (IESL) HQ at 9 Nyaya Marg Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, on 9 May under the aegis of IESL. They were unanimous that they need to put up a united front. It was decided to constitute a Steering Committee to plan and coordinate the strategy at the national- level and intensify the ‘Movement for Justice to Defence Services’, throughout India. Pressing the following demands they have decided to conduct a peaceful protest by name ‘FAST FOR JUSTICE’ on 27 May across the country.


In Coimbatore, the veterans from the armed forces as well as war widows will stage a peaceful silent protest on 27 May in front of the RED CROSS building on Hozur Road from 9 am to 11 am. The families of veterans will also take part in this silent protest. In the Nilgiris the protest will also be expressed at an assembly of Ex- Servicemen of the region. In Bangalore, military veterans FAST FOR JUSTICE at Mahatma Gandhi statue on MG Road from 10 am to 4 pm.


The veterans have issued a press release highlighting the following genuine demands:One-Rank-One- Pension (OROP): The long- standing demand of ‘one-rank-one- pension’ must be accepted immediately. Almost every political party has accepted this demand and it part of their election manifestos. This demand must be implemented by the government without any further delay.


Resettlement of Veterans: An overwhelming number of veterans are jobless. Pension is their sole means of livelihood. With the passage of time their nutrition levels fall, reducing life expectancy. They are also considered a burden by their kinsfolk. It is the duty of the government to provide guaranteed jobs for them.


Representation of Soldiers on Premier Committees: Why does the government not trust soldiers? All committees to resolve problems of soldiers consist of bureaucrats, who have no knowledge of the military. Strange indeed!


Inequities in the Report of Sixth Pay Commission: The report is heavily biased against the soldier. It shows complete lack of knowledge of the working environment and the ethos of the Military. Has it been done to keep soldiers below the civil services? Why?


Formation of a Commission for Defence Services: The problem is systemic and essentially relates to civil-military relations. These issues can only be resolved by appointing an independent Commission, which must be predominantly composed of Military personnel.


Address All Anomalies: The Services headquarters have already addressed a detailed note to the government, pointing out the discrepancies and anomalies in the recommendations of the 6thCPC. These relate to status, pay, allowances, military service pay and pensionary benefits. These must be rectified at the earliest.


Compensation for the War Disabled: They must be treated at par with martyrs, in terms of ex-gratia grants. War Injury Pay needs to be substantially enhanced.


Compensation for Early Retirement: Military personnel who retire earlier than their civilian counterparts must be compensated as their life time earnings are much less than others. This should be done by giving them enhanced pension.


The service rendered by the Armed Forces is not just service but a ‘Sacred Sacrifice’, which needs to be respected and appreciated. Their needs must be addressed as top priority and served at any cost. If the Armed Forces get disheartened and disgruntled and if the military veterans take to the streets under grief, it is not good for the health of democracy, and the government and the political class must take the entire blame. A situation like this is a ‘shame on the nation’ and this nation cannot tolerate it. It will force the nation to ultimately look up on the Armed Forces to take care of the governance of this great country!

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