There are rumours afloat that Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) for the armed forces may be released some time soon. It could be either on the orders of the court based on an appeal whose decision is awaited, or by the government prior to the elections, seeking to assuage the armed forces. This has been the demand from all sections of the military.

While everyone desires that NFU be made applicable for the armed forces, internally the forces would need to evaluate their systems and methodology for its implementation, to prevent legal battles and cater for their specific conditions of service as against the Group A and allied services for whom it has already been released.

The Group A services comprise of three central civil services, which are allocated to states and employed by the Centre on deputation. They are the IAS, IPS and the IFS (Indian Forest Service). All others including the IFS (Indian Foreign Service), revenue and others (44 of them) are affiliated only to the Centre which is responsible for their promotions and postings and hence are termed allied services. Traditionally, the Group A services have been senior to the allied services.

The armed forces, whose officers are ‘commissioned’, are as per government orders, higher in status and position to both the Group A and the Allied services. However, by declaring the service HQs as attached HQs from independence, they have been kept away from decision making and hence regularly degraded in status. This is a result of fears of a coup if the army is too closely involved in government. This fear has been exaggerated by the bureaucracy.

Thus, when the armed forces officers seek to demand NFU as allocated to civil services considering their pattern of affiliation to only the Centre, they would be dubbed as ‘allied services’ and not a Group A service as they are not allocated to any state. They would then become the 45th allied service, which would be permanently below the status of Group A services.

The structure of the armed forces is also at vast variance from all other services. The armed forces have a pyramidical structure while others have a near cylindrical one. Within the armed forces due to the structure, supersession comes at every rank commencing from Lt Colonel upwards while in the civil services, anyone graded above average is to be promoted, which may however be delayed due to vacancies.

NFU, within the civil services, is a grant to enhance status of employees to the level of those who have risen earlier. This remains until the individual who is awaiting promotion obtains his promotion. Very few are superseded. In a statement in May 2017, the army chief stated that there is a misconception doing the rounds that because NFU has been granted to the civil services, the status of the armed forces has been downgraded.

He added, “A letter from the government states that NFU will be a purely financial upgrade and it will not bestow any right to the officer to claim promotion or designation to a higher post.” Why has this not been implemented in letter and spirit, mainly by those organisations where army and civil counterparts work together remains a mystery.

Further, within the armed forces, promotion up to the rank of Lt Col and equivalents in other services is time bound and there is no delay in promotions; hence NFU would be valid from where supersession commences, based on promotion boards. When the above is considered in totality, it emerges that NFU when granted to the defence services must be different in nature and form. It cannot be simply duplicated.

There have been multiple cases in the past, the Ex-Servicemen Compensatory Health Service (ECHS) being a prime example, where the concept has been copied from the civilian model, in this case the Central Government Health Scheme, and implementation failed only because an in-depth study involving specific armed forces requirements had not been factored in. The same should not happen with the NFU.

When the spirit behind the NFU is assessed, a few issues would need to be resolved before it is implemented. The first is that while an officer who has been superseded would be granted an equivalent upgrade as those of his colleagues who have risen, he would not get the same privileges and status. As different from the civil services, where promotion avenues remain open, in his case they are closed. Thus, he would only be compensated financially, without change in status.

Secondly, since NFU is only a financial upgrade, it would not impact pensions, which would remain dependent on the rank at which the officer retires. This implies that an officer drawing the grade of his colleagues of a higher rank, would not obtain a pension of the same. These two key issues must be amicably resolved to enhance satisfaction and reduce litigation.

Since NFU once allotted would be common for the three services it is imperative that they evaluate its implications and evolve a common procedure for implementation. It is unlikely that the government would continue accepting changes to the model. The aim should be to enhance satisfaction to the cadre for the long term, rather than for the immediate moment. Further, its implementation should not lead to increased legal cases.

The army is presently moving forward on its own cadre review, which may be impacted as it would offset the protocol balance within the services. NFU and the cadre review would need to be considered possibly together. The ideal agency to assess, analyse and offer a viable solution for the betterment of the complete armed forces cadre is the HQ Integrated Defence Staff.

It could conduct a study with members from all services and evolve a model to benefit the system, within the legal framework, rather than end up as a disappointment. Simply copying the civilian model to implement this in a rush would only enhance dissatisfaction and anger, as service conditions are unique.

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.