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Sunday, April 25, 1999
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Don’t push ex-servicemen to the brink
By Pritam Bhullar

NEVER before have the ex-servicemen looked so restive as they are today. A common question that all of them, irrespective of their ranks, ask is: "What is the decision on one rank, one pension?’ When they are told that there has been no decision on this so far, they fume and then shoot another question: "Are we not Central Government pensioners?"

The dejection of ex-servicemen stems from two points: One, from the notification that the Central Government issued in the third week of December, 1998, saying that all Central Government pensioners, irrespective of their date of retirement would get 50 per cent of the minimum pay introduced from January 1, 1996, as pension for the post held by them last. Two, from what the Defence Minister George Fernandes said in December last that "the long-pending one-rank, one-pension issue is expected to be resolved soon". He also said that a Cabinet paper on the subject was ready and some discussions on the issue were awaited. "Hope these discussions are carried out before the present government is toppled," asked a retired Air Marshal the other day.

The government should have issued orders for all Central Government pensioners, including ex-servicemen, simultaneously. As it is, the soldiers and ex-soldiers are getting more and more convinced with every passing year that the bureaucrats spare no efforts to do them down. It is time the politicians and bureaucrats realised that the continuing dissatisfaction of the serving and retired soldiers will not augur well for the country. The wisdom lies in not pushing them to the brink.

Disabled soldiers

Havaldar Bant Singh of Engineers, who belongs to Dhangrali village in Ropar district, lost his lower leg while clearing the enemy mines after the 1971 war in the Sialkot sector. He was boarded out from the Army in 1975. "I have no land and in these hard days, I cannot sustain my wife and a four-year old son with my disability pension of Rs 3200 per month," says Hav Bant Singh. To make both ends meet, he runs a "rehri" on the Morinda-Kurali road.

Naik Gurmail Singh of 9 Para Commando, who is from Dhoomcherri village in Ropar district, lost his left arm in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. He was boarded out from the Army in 1989 when he had less than eight years service. He gets a measly disability pension. To sustain his family of three school-going children, besides wife and old parents, he is working as a temporary hand in a private factory near Kurali. These are only two of the hundreds of disabled soldiers who have been forgotten after they were thrown out of the Army.

It is a pity that while dishing out any benefits, the government tends to forget the widows and disabled soldiers. Is it because of their helplessness?

Ironically, while all other recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission were implemented about a year ago, the government decision on the disability pension remains pending. This is putting the hapless disabled soldiers to a great financial hardship. Not only that, most of them living in the villages do not get any medical attention because of their inability to travel to the nearest military hospitals.

ACR system

It has become a normal practice for the defence personnel to go to civil courts for seeking justice. Most of the cases pending in the high courts and the apex court are of those officers who have been denied promotions. Ironically, several of them get justice from these courts.

The Annual Confidential Report (ACR) system has undergone quite a few changes in the past 20 years. With every revision, the system has developed more loopholes. The reason is that the reporting officers hide more than they reveal when they want to harm an officer.

Even in cases when the aggrieved officers submit non-statutory and statutory complaints to the Army Chief and the Central Government, respectively, these complaints are delayed for more than a year before they are rejected in almost all cases. Why are they rejected? Because these complaints are channeled through the same officers who had endorsed the ACRs and they do not change their earlier stand.

As for the delay, a Complaint Advisory Board (CAB) was established at the Army Headquarters to streamline the system a few years ago. But it has hardly helped in cutting out of the delay.

See the number of Lieut-Gens and Maj-Gens who have gone to civil courts in the last two years to seek justice. This trend is encouraging junior officers to follow their leaders.

The only way to improve the ACR system is to make it so transparent that no portion of an ACR, is kept hidden from the officer concerned.

Professional studies

It is heartening that an Army institute of law is being established at Mohali. The institute will start functioning from its interim location at Patiala this year and will shift to Mohali when its permanent building comes up there. The institute having 60 seats, is starting a five-year BA,LLB. course for the children of serving and retired Army personnel and war widows who have passed 10+2 or equivalent examination. Five per cent seats have also been earmarked for the wards of civilians.

Happily, there is no restriction on the candidates to join the Army after they get the LLB. degree. This will attract a larger spectrum of candidates to this course.

One of the several factors that have contributed to make the Army an unattractive profession over the years is that the children of defence personnel, who keep changing schools after every two years, suffer from a disadvantage when it comes to competing with the children of civilians for admission to the professional courses. That the Army top brass is trying to offset this disadvantage by opening a few more institutions for professional studies is a step in the right direction.

The Army is also setting up professional institutions such as Institute of Hotel Management at Bangalore, Institute of Engineering at Pune, Institute of Management at Jabalpore and Calcutta. The Armed Forces Medical College is already functioning at Pune for the past several decades. Besides, a dental college has also been established at Secunderabad. The Army personnel should make full use of these institutes to improve the career prospects of their wards.Back

This feature was published on April 18, 1999

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