Thursday, March 27, 2008

Antony hears out military chiefs on pay panel report

India’s military chiefs Thursday met Defence Minister A.K. Antony to convey to him their disappointment over a pay panel’s recommendations, saying it fell far short of their expectations. “The minister gave them a patient hearing. He promised to examine their suggestions after studying the report,” an official said of the one-and-a-half-hour long meeting that was pre-scheduled but was dominated by the report of the Sixth Pay Commission that was presented Monday.

“This was the first step of the process. The service chiefs will formalise their views and these will then be presented to the commission,” the official told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, Indian Army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor, Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta and Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major attended the meeting, which was conducted without any aides.

The commission, headed by B.N. Srikrishna, a former Supreme Court judge, has recommended a 40 percent across-the-board pay hike for armed forces personnel, doubling of their allowances and military service pay (MSP) for officers up to the rank of brigadier and equivalent.

“The report has created quite some confusion. There was euphoria on the day after the report was presented with the media going to town with reports of a bonanza for the armed forces,” the official pointed out.

“The reality began to sink in the next day when it became clear that leave alone a bonanza, the armed forces had been treated most unfairly and that the wage hike, in real terms would be nowhere near 40 percent or even half of that,” the official explained.

Toward this end, the service chiefs focused on four key areas during their meeting with Antony.

Firstly, they maintained that their demand for parity with civilian employees had not been addressed. They were also not happy with the military service pay that has been recommended in a bid to reduce this disparity, the official said.

Then, they pointed out that after taking into account taxes and other deductions, the wage hike in real terms would amount to only 20 percent.

Besides, the service chiefs contended that PBORs had received a raw deal in the commission’s recommendations, the official said.

Antony has been guarded in his reaction to the commission’s report.

“I will not comment now. Let me first study the report and discuss it with all concerned. I will react after that,” Antony told reporters on the sidelines of a defence awards function here Wednesday.

The fact that the service chiefs were disappointed was clearly indicated by Admiral Sureesh Mehta.

“We will closely study the report and then meet the pay commission,” he told reporters on the sidelines of another defence function here Wednesday.

The wage increases recommended by the pay panel could see the top generals getting as much as Rs.90,000 a month.

The recommendations translate into a take-home package - before tax - of Rs.25,760 for officers at the entry level of lieutenants and equivalent and rising to a maximum of Rs.65,090 for lieutenant generals and their equivalents.

The vice chiefs of the three services and army commanders and equivalents - also three-star officers - will get a fixed salary of Rs.80,000 per month.

In the case of PBORs, the commission has recommended that at the entry level, sepoys (privates) and their equivalents receive a minimum of Rs.7,860, rising to a maximum of Rs.40,600 for subedar majors and their equivalents.

The commission has also recommended military service pay of Rs.6,000 for officers up to the level of brigadier and equivalent and of Rs.1,000 for PBORs.

The recommendations will entail additional annual expenditure of Rs.63.86 billion ($1.5 billion) in the defence sector, the commission said in its report. It also said the exchequer would stand to save Rs.18 billion if its other recommendations are implemented.

The report will now go to the cabinet for its consideration.

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