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Elephants in the MoD

After Pulwama, the nation is looking at the armed forces to give a reply to the enemy.

Harsha Kakar | New Delhi |

Recently I came across a poster which said, ‘Getting work done in this office is like the mating of elephants. It is done at a high level with immense grunting and groaning and it takes almost two years to produce results.’ These words aptly define the Ministry of Defence. It has always moved at its own pace, never hurried, except when it directly impacts its own staffing or benefits. The last such case that moved with alarming pace was the review of the internal cadre of the MoD.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), on the other hand, has been acting rapidly as far as the welfare and well-being of central forces under it are concerned, especially after Pulwama. Its speed of procurements is also satisfactory.

Immediately after the Pulwama attack, the MHA permitted air travel for all central forces posted in the valley and beyond. It also upgraded their Risk and Hardship Allowance level from R1H2 to R1H1. This implied that officers serving in such areas would now get an allowance of Rs 25,000 and others Rs 17,300. The army remains in the earlier level of R1H2, which means an allowance of Rs 16,900 for officers and Rs 9700 for others. Thus, the forces which face the brunt remain below those who are deployed to support them.

In fact, the MoD should have acted first, but as usual like the proverbial elephant, they would wait for Army HQs to give a proposal, compare it to the CAPFs, keep it supressed for a few years, then forward it to the Ministry of Finance, which would turn it down. Had it been an allowance applicable to those posted in the ministry, it would have been cleared overnight.

The same was the case with the grant of an added Military Service Pay (MSP) for the Junior Commissioned Officers of the army. The army had demanded an increase to Rs 10,000 as MSP for JCOs, higher than that of jawans, since they are a separate category. It was a pending anomaly from the last pay commission. It was processed by the MoD and sent to the MHA, where it was rejected. All has since been quiet on the western front, as it was not an allowance meant for MoD staff.

Why is it that the Home Minister can take decisions by himself on all financial matters concerning the CAPFs and the Defence Minister cannot? Is it because her bureaucracy does not permit her or the finance ministry considers the MoD incapable or is it only to harass the services, who would any way perform and give the desired results? Even decisions which are within her remit are ignored and left pending for months as her staff delays processing cases.

Over the years the MoD has been attempting to withdraw, deny, take over assets and appointments of service HQs and downgrade their status, rather than protect them. After all, why should it act otherwise as it considers itself a cut above, sitting on the high seat, desiring control and power without accountability, rather than doing what it was created to do. Case files are received, dumped in a corner, to be dusted and occasionally pushed ahead after a long gap. These actions leave service HQs frustrated and angry, but as per protocol, nothing happens.

The defence minister can directly threaten service officers on matters pertaining to opening cantonments but has yet to haul up her own staff for behaving like proverbial elephants, delaying decision-making and ignoring genuine demands of the armed forces. Thus far, no action has been taken on selection of defence attaches, withdrawal of objections in the Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) and appointing a permanent chairman to the Canteen Stores Department, amongst other recently raised issues.

Inaction and an anti-military stance of the MoD have compelled service chiefs to approach the defence minister directly on multiple issues. They should have rather been devoting their time to handling matters of national security, but these now take a back seat as they battle for basic requirements and control over their services and institutions from the groping hands of the MoD.

Surprisingly, the nation is witnessing a change. For decades it was the CAPFs which yearned to be equated with the armed forces, claiming they perform the same task and in the same environment. At present, it is the armed forces fighting for parity with the CAPFs. What a turnaround. The credit for this should go to the elephants in the MoD and its minister.

With the grant of NFU to the CAPFs, it is now allocated to all central services other than the armed forces. Thus, every other service would claim a higher seniority than their counterparts in the armed forces. This should have indicated to the MoD that it is now time to withdraw the appeal, but the elephant has still not moved.

The defence minister has ignored her primary task continuing with her earlier profile of being the party spokesperson, defending her party against attacks by the Congress on Rafale. While she remains involved there, her staff at the ministry continues to hold the armed forces to ransom, delaying decision making.

After Pulwama, the nation is looking at the armed forces to give a reply to the enemy. The Prime Minister has handed over the baton of retribution to them. While whatever they decide would be best for the country, have the government and the MoD thought that they too should grant the armed forces what is best for them? If you cannot make the armed forces superior to the CAPFs, at least do not lower their status making them the lowest in the rung. It is time the defence minister shows her mettle and for once hauls up ministry officials to give the armed forces their due.

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