Retired military officers deserve a better deal

In Perspective

Recent discussions on pay scales of the armed forces in different television channels and media reportage in the print media suggest that civil society is fairly unaware about the insulated world of the military. While the government has approved a new policy of ‘One Rank One Pension’ only for soldiers, sailors and airmen, it has neglected the officer corps. More so, considering the officer corps comprises only three per cent of the armed forces with the remainder being the other ranks. Despite Defence Minister A K Anthony’s assurance in parliament to include the officer corps the rationale for not doing so is puzzling.

Among the problems underlying this issue is the inability of the political leadership and bureaucracy to comprehend the nuances of military culture both in times of war and peace. The popular perception of the armed forces appears to be limited only to peacetime activities, and not about what transpires during war and equally dangerous, war-like or insurgency situations called low intensity conflict operations, that are perpetual in the Indian context.

Illusion
The senior level civil-service officers, who are now decision makers on military matters, when on attachment with the army as probationers were given VIP treatment in the officers’ messes. This has probably given them an incorrect impression of the Service officers’ lifestyle. Our army is unique in terms of its operational environments.

Undoubtedly the air force and navy do have difficult conditions to work in — but nothing compares to the insurgency in snow-bound high-altitude areas and mountainous jungles.
Within the army, the infantry spends most of its time in field areas rather than in peace stations. Army officers and jawans work in the same conditions and not many infantry officers attend the glamourous parties of peace time army stations. There is camaraderie and no master-slave attitudes. But when our bureaucrats decide to have different policies for different cadre, men who were equals while in service are being treated differently when out of it. People, who stood together in the face of some of the most terrifying moments anyone ever sees in their lifetime, have been separated in retirement. This is unfair.

Army life is meant for resilient people. Army men have to bear years of separation from their families which contributes to an unsettled life for the wives and badly affects children’s education. During the long years of field tenure, running two establishments, wherein the army officer has to finance his own self and also ensure that his family doesn’t have to worry about normal daily expenses, many officers tend to exhaust their provident-fund which is crucial for retirement plans.

Another aspect of sacrifice is that officers have to lead from the front during war/war-like conditions; otherwise the jawans would not take a step forward in the face of bullets. It is for this reason that many young officers and company commanders have either lost their lives or have been rendered handicapped. If one considers the statistics of casualties among officers against the total number of officers in the armed forces, one will find that in sheer numbers, it is more than that for the subordinate ranks.

Public opinion
Even in the air force, the number of fighter/bomber pilots who are killed in action or crashes during routine flights is much higher than those among other ranks of air force. People sitting hundreds of kilometres away from the scenes of action and passing verdict should know this because in today’s day and age, public opinion matters.

The majority of infantry officers — who form the bulk of the army — have spent the prime of their lives in gruelling conditions in field areas and sacrificed the best years of their lives in the service of the nation; when these brave men return home on retirement to lead a peaceful life and are then offered an inadequate pension by a thankless nation, how would they feel?

Army men whose nerves were tested by the most perilous encounters and came back unscathed, who were not broken by the grit of hardened terrorists and who weathered everything that nature threw at them, will finally succumb to the crass reality of asking money in exchange for the priceless services rendered to the nation. The retired officers are asking for something as simple as making a policy to be applied to the entire force and not just a section of it.

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