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Will Modi government protect interests of soldiers the way they protect our borders?

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Will Modi government protect interests of soldiers the way they protect our borders?

Gaurav C Sawant

As services battle the bureaucracy over pay parity, they hope PM's #Sandesh2soldiers will be ‘ First'.

#Sandesh2soldiers is the flavour of the season. And it should be too. Never have so many, owed so much, to so few. It so aptly describes the debt of gratitude this nation owes to our men and women in uniform.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly asked the nation to write to our brave soldiers protecting us from external and internal enemies in the most hostile conditions. I have reported from the Siachen glacier and all along the Line of Control. In areas where it is virtually impossible to even stand for a few hours, these braves guard us round the year. But are we only paying lip service to them through #Sandesh2soldiers? Prime Minister Modi has spent every Diwali since he assumed office with the soldiers. We are told he feels very close to them. There is genuine warmth when he interacts with soldiers in the most hostile areas.

And the respect is mutual. Then why is it that the soldiers are at war with the ministry of over disability pension? Why is it that soldiers are fighting for pay parity? Where is the communication gap in the #Sandesh2soldiers?

The soldiers were super excited when they got the green light to hit Pakistani terrorists (both in uniform and out of it) across the line of control after the Uri Terror attacks. I am told top commanders were impressed with the prime minister's eye for detail when multiple surgical strikes were planned across the LoC both North and South of Pir Panjal. In every conversation, sources say his focus was to ensure inflicting maximum pain on the perpetrators of terror without casualties to own troops.

Then why is it that the bureaucracy that appears to be inflicting so much mental trauma – izzat is supreme for our men and women in uniform – is getting away with murder? Why is it that apart from battling Pakistani shelling and terrorists at the Line of Control, the army is also being forced to battle the bureaucracy in South Block in the “war for status”.  Why are the service headquarters and the bureaucracy are at loggerheads over “pay (dis)parity” issue and there is no closure despite the ministry of defence (MoD) issuing a statement after the meeting of top bureaucrats and senior officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force?

The government insists there is no disparity and that there is no drop in the status of our soldiers. “There has been no down-gradation or any change in the existing equivalence of the Service ranks whatsoever. The existing functional equivalence as clarified in 1991 and further reiterated in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2005 has only been re-affirmed,” MoD said in a statement.

But the services have accused the bureaucracy of being “economical with the truth”. Though not officially authorised to speak to media, a top official in the know of developments told me that the government was silent on the GoM report on the issue:

“Why is the government silent on the orders of the Group of Ministers (GoM), then headed by (President) Pranab Mukherjee, whose report was accepted by the government in January 2009? The GoM examined the pay parity issue between armed forces and their civilian counterparts minutely. The GoM concluded that a lieutenant colonel in the Army (wing commander in IAF and commander in Navy) were senior to a deputy secretary/joint director to Government of India. The director in Government of India was then seen as equivalent to a colonel (Army), group captain (IAF) and captain (Navy). This settled the matter in 2009,” top sources told India Today.

The service headquarters are not clear whether defence minister Manohar Parrikar was briefed in detail about all these aspects till 2009 or was he given partial information till 2005 resulting in a “flawed decision”. There is rising suspicion of bureaucracy misleading the government on several aspects in the recent past. Though Parrikar promised a probe in all aspects, the services and the veterans community are still waiting for justice.

The Sixth Pay Commission equated a lieutenant colonel with a deputy secretary or joint director and the colonel with a director. The GoM in 2009 clarified that KLt Col would be senior to a joint director. “Why is it that in 2016 an order has been issued equating a joint director with a full colonel and a director with a brigadier,” asked an official affected by this order.

“From disability pension to one rank one pension (OROP) there is disconnect between what the government decided and the orders that were finally issued. We believe the government was provided incorrect data and statistics by Defence Accounts on disabled soldiers. Flawed data resulted in flawed decisions. We are hopeful justice will be done,” sources added.

The service headquarters remain dissatisfied with the MoD clarification insisting that orders issued in 2003, 2005 and 2008 as cited by the government spokesperson cannot override the GoM decision of 2009 accepted by the prime minister in 2009.The service headquarters have sought time with Parrikar to independently explain the situation to him but sources have also told India Today some affected officers are planning to approach the court for justice.

The services are keenly watching actions that Parrikar and PM Modi take in the coming weeks. They are thrilled the government has given them the green light to teach perpetrators of terror a lesson. But the men and women in uniform desperately hope the government will protect their interests with the same zeal that they protect the nation. By keeping India first.

Northlines
Northlines
The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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