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Monday, November 6, 2017

Opinion piece for The Quint: Civil-Military Rank Equation- Need for a Calmer Approach

 My opinion piece for The Quint today:

Civil-Military Rank Equation: 
Need for a Calmer Approach

Navdeep Singh

A point to point equation of military ranks and civil grades has always been a subject of controversy. But then things have taken an unpleasant turn in the recent past. While it is true that a sense of entitlement of both military and civil staff must not be allowed to prevail, it is equally valid that undue advantage of proximity to the decision making process must not become the order of the day. The political executive thus, must, reach a fair solution without any favour to any side.

While many military veterans have adopted the route of heavy emotional rhetoric in articulating their views on this subject, I sincerely feel, with all due respect to the said thought process, that a solution, if any, would only be possible in an environment of mutual trust, discussion and logic, irrespective of who is in power, and not by sharp statements against other services or professions or expressing a persecution complex. It is true that the military has been put to a disadvantage in the past in various aspects, but it is equally correct that many anomalies have been resolved, some fully, some partially, and most such positive movement took place by means of dialogue and processes of law and by personalities who mostly remained behind the curtains, and sometimes unsung.

The Historical Perspective

Traditionally there always was a broad parity of pay progression between Class-I Civil Services (Now known as Group A) and the Commissioned Cadre of the Defence Services.  There was also a broad parity between the career progression of the Indian Police Service and the Defence Services, except at higher ranks. Moreover, there was established relativity between Lieutenant Colonels, Conservators of Forests and Superintending Engineers. Till the 3rd Central Pay Commission (CPC), there was not much of a problem in equivalence and it was broadly accepted that the Junior Time Scale (the starting grade of directly appointed Class I Officers) was equal to a Lieutenant, the Senior Time Scale (Under Secretary to Govt  of India) was equal to a Captain, the Junior Administrative Grade (Deputy Secretary to Govt of India/Joint Director) was at par with a Major, the Selection Grade (now Director to Govt of India) was equivalent to a Lieutenant Colonel. The 4th CPC introduced a separate form of pay system for the Defence Services than the Civil Services with a running pay scale with separate component of ‘rank pay’ being introduced for defence officers but civil officers maintaining distinct pay scales for each rank as per the earlier system. This was the start point of the controversy with no “scale to scale” rough comparison now available for each analogous rank.

Skewed equation by 6th CPC

The 6th CPC, for the first time, brought the problem sharply out in the open. On Page 73 of the 6th CPC Report, the commission reproduced a chart of analogous military and civil grades wherein it pegged the Group A Junior Time Scale with a Lieutenant as well as a Capt, the Senior Time Scale with a Major, the Junior Administrative Grade with a Lt Col, the Selection Grade with a Colonel and a DIG with a Brig. There were however many infirmities in the chart. For example, while only one of the Civil Selection Grade scales (Director) was reproduced and shown against a Colonel, the other civil Selection Grade scales (For example the IPS Selection Grade of Rs 1650-1800) were not reproduced at all and also not reflected with the closest military counterpart of Lt Col (Rs 1750-1950). The rank of Capt was shown equivalent to Senior Time Scale (Under Secretary to Govt of India) in the 3rd CPC table but suddenly shown reduced below STS in the 4th CPC table and clubbed with a Lieutenant and Junior Time Scale. Needless to say, there was no government order downgrading a Captain from the earlier level. There were other infirmities too, for example, the scale of a DIG wrongly shown analogous to a Brigadier in the 3rd CPC chart was actually that of the then existing grade of Additional IG which was later merged with IG, and so on. The data, hence, was cherry picked and projected as such to throw the entire equation into disarray. 

Formation of a Group of Ministers

Due to the downgradation of military ranks by the 6th CPC, the Government decided to form a Group of Ministers (GoM) to look into the issue. The GoM ultimately recorded that the pay of a Lt Col should be hiked to denote his/her position above a Deputy Secretary to Govt of India/Joint Director but below a Director and a Colonel. The recommendations were accepted by the Cabinet. The controversy was hence settled to an extent, though not to the complete satisfaction of the defence services who had wanted the restoration of status of Lt Col to Director Level Officers since both had similar attributes of pay and length of service. The GoM also endorsed the formation of a High Level Committee to further resolve the issue. To be honest, even the demands of the military before the GoM were not justified at a few levels. For example, the defence services had demanded the pre-4th CPC restoration of the rank of Capt to Senior Time Scale and that of Major to Junior Administrative Grade, forgetting in the bargain, that by this time due to difference in promotion timelines on account of change in rules, while a defence officer was promoted to the rank of Capt in 2 years, a Group A civil officer took 4 years to reach Senior Time Scale, ditto for Major at 6 years and Junior Administrative Grade at 9 years and such an equation would have led to an undue advantage to the defence services.

The current controversy

The current controversy was triggered in October 2016 when the Chief Administrative Officer of the MoD, the controlling officer for the cadre of the Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service (AFHQCS), issued a one-sided memo, downgrading the status of military ranks even below the already depressed levels articulated by the 6th CPC. The memo equated a Colonel with a Joint Director of the AFHQCS (a Joint Director was otherwise equated with a Lt Col by the 6th CPC and later a Joint Director was placed in-between a Major and a Lt Col by the GoM). Further the memo equated a Director with a Brigadier though a Director had clearly been equated with a Colonel both by the 6th CPC as well as the GoM and approved as such by the Cabinet.

The Major General and Joint Secretary to Government of India equivalence misnomer

Over the years, if not by design, the sheen of the military rank has suffered by default. Major General (today with 32 years of service) has traditionally been pegged at par with Joint Secretary to Govt of India (currently 19 years of service) but it is unfortunate how this has come about. The genesis of this incorrect equation emanates from the fact that pre-independence, the Secretarial hierarchy was in the order of Assistant Secretary to Govt of India (Stage 1), Under Secretary (Stage 2), Additional Deputy Secretary (Stage 3), Deputy Secretary (Stage 4), Joint Secretary (Stage 5), Additional Secretary (Stage 6) and Secretary (Stage 7). A Major General was equated with Joint Secretary which was a Stage 5 position in the hierarchy and even the length of service was similar. However, over the years, the nomenclatures in the Central Secretariat setup/Central Staffing Scheme were altered and appointments re-designated as Under Secretary (Stage 1), Deputy Secretary (Stage 2), Director (Stage 3), Joint Secretary (Stage 4), Additional Secretary (Stage 5), Secretary (Stage 6) and Cabinet Secretary (Stage 7). Hence, while the “Maj Gen = Joint Secretary” equation was cleverly maintained on paper as before, it was not realized that the erstwhile Stage 5 of the secretarial hierarchy was now Additional Secretary and hence Maj Gen should have retained his 5th  position, that is, Additional Secretary of date. Also, the equation of Joint Secretaries to Govt of India and Major General was not with regard to all officers in the pay of Joint Secretary, but only with those officers who were currently holding the appointment of Joint Secretary to the Govt of India on being empanelled as such in the Centre. Similar has been the case if compared with other services. For example, the highest Police Rank in a State, the IG, was equated with a Brigadier/Major General, today, there are four pay grades in the Police above a Brigadier and three above a Maj Gen. This is not to say that other cadres should stagnate, but is simply to put across that when such upward mobility occurs, there should be a parallel mobility or merger of scales on the military side too.

Slide over the times on cadre revisions

While a Lt Col, Conservator of Forests and Superintending Engineer of the Central Engineering Services (SE) were historically at par, today, after the 7th Central Pay Commission, a Lt Col in Pay Level 12A is a step below an SE in pay (Pay Level 13), and two steps below a Conservator (Pay Level 13A). The slide has been inexplicable over the times with status being gently nibbled over the years. Moreover, as explained above, whenever there has been any cadre improvement, while civil posts have moved up and merged with higher grades due to better cadre mobility and upgradations, military ranks have stagnated and have been clubbed and bunched with lower grades. Many examples come to fore. The erstwhile police rank of Additional IG which was roughly equal to a Brig now stands merged with an IG and enjoys the pay of a Maj Gen and that of Additional DIG in the Central Armed Police Forces which was equal (in fact slightly lower) in pay to a Col now stands clubbed with a DIG, today drawing the pay of a Brig. In the Military Engineering Services, the rank of Additional Chief Engineer on the civil side was equated with a Colonel and held interchangeable appointments. Later, in the 2000s, the said rank was merged in the grade of Chief Engineer and is today enjoying Pay Level 14 which is the pay granted to a Maj Gen. The Senor Administrative Grade-II roughly equated with a Brigadier was merged with Senior Administrative Grade-I and today both are known as ‘Senior Administrative Grade’ (SAG) simpliciter and are in the pay of a Maj Gen. While logically, both Brigadiers and Major Generals should have hence been equated with SAG, but today the rank of Brig stands relegated below SAG.

The Military also needs to readjust

While the slide of the sheen of the military rank is more than evident, it is not that the military has not contributed to it. Over the years, the military establishment has believed in placing senior officers on junior appointments and used military staff in a manner not befitting the rank held, thereby itself projecting a wrong equation to the world at large. It also needs to be empathetically iterated that civilians who have worked shoulder to shoulder with the military in mixed organisations have also at times not been given due respect and regard to their experience, age, seniority and maturity. Such mistrust and friction militates against organisational fabric and national ethos. If the officers of the defence services expect respect and sensitivity towards their standing in society, similar should be their own attitude towards civilian peers in mixed organisations and indeed towards other civil officers who are also serving the same nation and the same flag with utmost sincerity. Any sense of entitlement or superiority on part of the military in this regard, is therefore highly incongruous and misplaced.

The role of the Political Executive

While no entity, including the military, should be allowed to steal a march over other counterparts, the political executive and higher bureaucracy must insulate itself from any advantage sought to be achieved by key appointments due to functional proximity with power centres. Ironically, and contrary to popular belief, most of such problems have not arisen between the military vis-a-vis the IAS or other Group A services but with support cadres which were meant to assist the military in their secretarial requirements to enable the defence services in focussing upon their core areas. Crudely put, it is a case of the grass eating the hedge.

Though I am not very sure if and when this vexed issue would be resolved to the complete satisfaction of all, but yet I am sanguine that with political maturity and deftness, the abrasion between various cadres can be brought down to minimal levels and though a point to point comparison may never be possible, the solution perhaps lies in evolving an approach with an approximate pay and status progression keeping in view the historical parities and length of service between the Commissioned Cadre and other Group A services of the Government of India. And here is where I differ with some of my esteemed veteran friends, for I strongly believe that the key to this is the creation of an environment of mutual trust and convincing the political executive that while the final decision is that of the elected leadership, all that needs to be ensured is a say of all stake holders in the decision-making process leading to justice and equity to all sides, and the same can only be achieved by logical presentation and not by shouting down or ascribing motives or antagonizing every entity who might have a difference of opinion or a divergent view on a recommended solution, and in the bargain losing all friends by burning bridges with emotional rhetoric to a point of no return without any semblance of balance.


Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing lawyer at the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the founder President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association, at Chandigarh.