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Monday, May 26, 2008

Not so pragmatic : God save us from ourselves!

I stumbled upon your blogsite by chance while passing time post- retirement. It was interesting to see Pay Commissions, Higher Defence Organisation, Status, Top Brass, Oliver Twist, Gen. John Hackett, Colonialism and Indian values, Rand Corpn’s report on the Indian Armed Forces, Civil Military relations, old friend Prakash setting the cat among the pigeons and best of all, Riding a dead horse and of course Mahajan’s quotes. While it is heartening to see that the spirit of discussion remains alive, but the content, especially Gen Surjit Singh’s lament on the CPCs, reminded me of some lines from Roy Campbell, not the musician, but a South African poet of yore.

“You praise the firm restraint with which they write
I am with you there of course
They use the snaffle and the curb all right
But where’s the bloody horse”.

Most of these are subjects that one has dealt with, whilst in service, either as part of the job or out of personal interest. While I was quite content to watch from the sidelines what goes on, prodding from some friends who are aware of my views have persuaded me that clearing the air on some facts may minimize this ‘comedy of errors’ that happens every time there is an opportunity for correction.

While I agree that there is little love lost between the bureaucracy and the uniformed personnel, I have no doubt that most of our problems with respect to pay and status are more self-inflicted than otherwise. In that, my views may be closer to yours than that of other bloggers. We can address other issues later.

Institutionally, I think there is some trepidation about subordinates (officers and men) being well-paid. Maybe fears of losing control, indiscipline etc. I don’t see any other reason for the persistent disconnect between public posturing and actual proposals. Incidentally, the Calvin & Hobbes ‘we don’t want to learn anything from this’ was the centre-piece of a presentation by a civilian professor at a Defence College abroad I attended many years ago. That really puts our Pay commission conundrum in perspective. But I am surprised there were not many responses to it.

III CPC. This was remarkable in the sense that they gave the best comparison between the nature of duties of the armed forces and civil services. Pay-wise I don’t think they significantly changed the status quo ante.

IV CPC. The single biggest lowering of the pay and status of Service officers was done at the IV CPC, ironically, at the request of the Services. Without going into lengthy details and figures to buttress the argument, I’ll just say what transpired. Though it is from memory, I won’t be far off the mark.

The pay cells asked for 2Lt to Maj. Gen to be bracketed in the same pay band to ameliorate poor promotion prospects. Why it was called running scale is a mystery to me because it kept Service officers standing whilst others moved ahead by Assured Career Progression (ACP) up to Selection Grade (NFSG). Don’t ask me why it is called selection grade when it is a grade of pay given to the guy who is not selected for promotion. The ACP was available to armed forces also in the pay of Major ( Selection Grade),given to the Major who was not selected for promotion to Lt Col. This I think was an achievement of the Q&M paper of 1982 and few seem to recollect this. The CPC report recommended that the pay of Maj (SG) be done away with in view of the running scale (as requested by Services).

If we had not put up any proposal to the IV CPC, by their own logic, the CPC would have given the Major the same scale as the Director(NFSG) in the 14th year as was done for all the other organized Gp A services with which Service officers are bracketed. But since we insisted on being different, and wanted a rank pay in place of the normal increment on promotion, they succumbed to the demand, merged the civil scales up to NFSG, split it into (pay on running scale plus rank pay) and gave the armed forces the same ACP as available to civilians, but in the form that the services asked for. If you check the figures you’ll find that the Major’s pay, incl rank pay was co-terminus (a term I learned from our pay experts) with the civil NFSG scale. But the running (must have been on a tread-mill) scale slowed progress and rank pay (rankles every time) created an ambiguity on the basic pay for status equations. In other words, the Major who was to be placed in the NFSG scale in the 14th year moved to the minimum (Rank pay is also included in this minimum) of that scale in the 16th 0r 17th year only.

As if this wasn’t enough, Lt Col, Col, Brig and Major General were also sought to be put in the same bracket. The CPC probably had more respect for the Maj. Gen and declined to bring him down, but agreed for Lt Col, Col and Brig who were brought down by 1, 2 and 3 scales respectively and given Rank Pay as consolation.

Instead of seeking to remedy of the situation when the report came out, the Services pay cells appear to have gone on a propaganda blitz, telling everybody that Majors, Lt Cols and Cols were given the pay of Brigs, less rank pay. The only hint of truth in the statement was that the rank pay was an insignificant amount probably less than the amount you would have got if you moved into the next pay scale like civilian counterparts.

The pay-cells managed to sell this idea so well and with fanfare that nobody bothered to check its veracity. Had they done so, it would have been obvious that Brigs, Cols and Lt Cols were actually down-graded to the level of Majors and not the other way around. The equations got further skewed with the SAG II (corresponding to the Brig) of civilians getting ‘upwardly merged’ (The babus come up with interesting terminology if nothing else) with SAG I (Maj Gen/ JS scale).

The relatively lesser damage during fixation of pay was later taken up by Maj. Dhanapalan. While Dhanapalan is right, look at the figures and you can see that the reduction of rank pay was done to keep the scale plus rank pay within the civil ACP.

In fairness to those who steered the case before the IV CPC, there could be some justifications for the situation at the time because the norms for central pay determination were not clearly spelt out. The IV CPC laid down some norms and we should have realized immediately that the running pay scale was a flawed concept and remedied it immediately. Instead we chose to call this disaster, an achievement, and have been repeating it again and again ad nauseum. Institutionally if we cannot see the obvious even after 22 years, it calls for a review of the way Services handle such issues.

V CPC. The V CPC was an opportunity for correction. But we asked for more of the same and literally asked for a reduction in pay vis-à-vis the civil services. I am not being sarcastic, read the Services memorandum to the V CPC. Fortunately for the Services, even the CPC was probably overwhelmed by the sheer size of the memorandum and didn’t bother to read it. Ironically, the graphical representation of the state of affairs in the volume itself showed that the IV CPC was a disaster for the Services, but we asked for more of the same. But by then there was some realization, outside of the pay-cells at Service HQs, that the running pay-scale/ rank pay had done great damage. The main thrust of the Services’ demand to the Anomalies committee post V CPC (Yes, a similar outpouring of indignation was there after V CPC) was to restore the pre-IV CPC pay equations and re-merge rank pay to basic pay. It was of course turned down, mainly on the argument that it was created at the request of the Services.

VI CPC. I have not seen the Services proposal to the VI CPC and don’t want to comment on it, but I suspect someone at the CPC had time to read the Services’ proposals to the V CPC, because most of this lowering of pay and status all are shouting about now, seem to be what we ourselves asked for at the V CPC. I may be wrong, but it seems to me whoever was tasked to look at the Services proposals at the V CPC may have done it at the VI CPC as well and had the time to read the tome we prepared in 1995. This can be easily checked with our pay guys. It may also explain the CPC’s surprise at the reaction from the Services.

I think it was Carl Jung who spoke about every individual having a death-wish. Probably organizations too have it and Indian armed forces reiterate this at every pay commission and every time some old foggies sing paeans about the achievements at the IV CPC. Not only at CPCs, the AVS report formally lowered the Lt Col to NFSG level and our recommended solution for shortcomings in Higher Defence Organisation is to elevate the Defence Secretary from the level of the Vice-Chief to above the CDS. We can expect much hand-wringing and wailing if and when it gets implemented, including from those who signed the report recommending it.

Though I am a bit away from the scene of action, I can lay a safe bet that if we add up our proposals to the IV and V CPCs, and link it with the AVS report; we would generally get what the VI CPC has recommended. Now that the IAS can move to the Maj Gen’s scale in the 14th year, another request of the Services pay cells to the IV CPC, i.e. of bracketing the Major General with the then civilian equivalent of the Major has also been granted.

God save us from ourselves!

Bee Cee



Anonymous said...

Dear Maj Navdeep Singh,
I happened to stumble on your very informative site, whilst I was engaged in a search for the AVS II implementation.
I am amazed at the amount of information that you have put for Service personnel, and really thank you for your gesture.
While we are on the topic of service conditions, is there no limit to the number of years that the Government can keep us bound to our uniforms? I mean does "permanent" commission really mean that we are Permanently attached to the Service, 'till death do us apart', in a manner of speaking.
Even after completing the pensionable service and with no further chance of promotion, the Services are just holding on to the personnel, citing shortages.
The RTI if invoked would surely bring out the realities, but should it be really necessary to go to such extreme steps, just to get your due after over twenty years of dedicated service, especially when one has planned for a second career, after having been passed over for promotion once or twice? The AVS phase I has made Lt Col / Wg Cdr / Cdr out of all officers, so it is conveniently stated that now nobody is passed over.
Frustrating , to say the least.
This will only cause more people to shun a career in this otherwise wonderful institution.
Just a thought, perhaps to set a discussion in motion.
Thank you once again, and Jai Hind

JP Malhi said...

Dear Sir, Your writing style, clarity and extent of info is excellent. I have read a lot of articles on CPC recently, as obviously I am directly affected, but hardly any matches your level. I know the results are not going to change for us faujis, but its nice to know that their are capable people too despite the illustrious authors of our pay cells.

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,
Great work, keep it going!
I think with logic and prodding,the armed forces should be getting what they deserve.
I dont think we should be comparing ourselves with the civilian counterparts as - no comparision exists.
A nation embarking on an journey of economic ascendency would be foolish to ignore the importance of its own armed forces at its own peril.

Jai Jawan & Jai Hind

Surinder Singh Likhari said...

Dear Maj Navdeep Singh.
I have not seen your comments on the points raised by Lt Col G Kameshwara rao Dated Nov 30,2010 and Dec 15, 2010 regarding NPA for Doctors. The points raised are quite pertinent. Kindly do give your valuable openion
Wg Cdr S S Likhari