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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Army goes public with pay protest

The army has formally signalled its disappointment with the sixth pay panel’s recommendations, marking a rare occasion in which it has chosen to speak trade union language and go public with its protest.

So far, the armed forces’ dissatisfaction was made known through retired personnel and/or off-the-record briefings, but now the entire top brass of the army meeting in a commanders’ conference chaired by the chief, General Deepak Kapoor, has chosen to voice its opinion.

The observations come even though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and defence minister A.K. Antony have said there was a case for better salaries for armed forces personnel.

“Exclusive sessions (in the commanders’ conference) were earmarked for intense deliberations on the aspects of shortfall in the authorised strength of the army’s officer cadre and the recommendations of the sixth central pay commission,” the army said in a statement here today.

“Both these issues have serious impact on morale and motivation of the armed forces’ personnel as well as continued operational effectiveness,” it added.

It has been known that the forces had not found enough incentives in the recommendations of the sixth pay panel. But for the army to say that poor salaries were telling on its “operational effectiveness” is serious trouble for the security apparatus of the state.

It is also rare for an army to admit that the morale of its troops is running low. The army is suggesting that the shortage of officers — currently there are about 11,200 vacancies — is because the force is not attractive enough for the right kind of recruits.

Laws governing the armed forces forbid soldiers from expressing collective dissent except through a proper channel or else it would tantamount to mutiny.

The commanders’ conference began on April 30 and concluded today. But a session is scheduled tomorrow to discuss operational matters.

The army statement says there is a shortage in the officer cadre because enough youth of the right quality are not available. Also, officers are keen to retire before their terms end. This suggests the commanders are worried that young officers are finding greener pastures outside the service.

They have gone on to suggest that the government should permit the recruitment of short service commission officers in larger numbers, give lucrative separation and continuation terms, develop infrastructure and training facilities, and take up a campaign to make army jobs attractive.

Among the suggestions are an increase in military service pay (MSP) for personnel below officer rank, extending MSP to higher ranks and arrears from January 2006.

The commanders felt that army officers are not being given parity with officers in the other central services and wanted a restoration of status.

“The above issues were discussed in detail and views from the senior army leadership were obtained,” the army statement said. “The army chief took note of the concerns of all ranks of the army as highlighted by the senior commanders and expressed satisfaction with the proposals formulated. He apprised all that the government too was aware of key concerns of the army and that he expected early approval of the measures which had emerged in the course of the deliberations,” the statement added.

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