One definition of 'insanity' is doing the same things and expecting different results. Our attempts over the years to insist on parity with other services like IAS and IPS in terms of status and assured career progression come close to this description. Considering the inherent difference in the nature of work and organisational requirements between the Army and other services, it is time to realize that such attempts in present form are non-starters. It is also time to look at other solutions to ensuring a better satisfaction level in the Army.
We have long been crying hoarse over the fact that the Army has been consistently downgraded in status vis a vis its civilian counterparts. There is no disputing this as the C-in-C of the Army prior to independence was second in the warrant of precedence, after the Viceroy. In fact, his official residence was the Teen Murti Bhawan, which became the Prime Minister’s residence after independence. As on date, the COAS is 12th in the warrant, and the slip is not merely 10 places, considering that most of the 11 slots above him are occupied by scores of people. Correspondingly, the warrant has been adjusted downwards at all levels.
The reason for this slide is not very difficult to perceive. The distinction between the soldier and civil administrator was not so marked prior to independence. The role of the Army, and consequently the position occupied by it, under colonial rule, is vastly different from that in a democracy. Notwithstanding the fact that the Indian Civil Service provided the steel frame of administration as a precursor to the IAS, a large number of civil appointments at district level upwards were held by military officers, or erstwhile military officers. These roles were switched back and forth, and the protocol or status was therefore clearly defined. The fact that badges of rank of police are same as that of the Army is a legacy of this. Post independence, however, the Army’s role is rightfully restricted to defence of the nation, and the ever widening chasm between it and the civil counterparts has resulted in an erosion of the warrant of precedence.
To see the folly of our concept of comparative status in today’s environment, we need to understand the basis of the status attached to a particular rank or appointment. One is the obvious, laid down and tangible basis, that of pay. However, more important is the status as perceived within and outside the organisation, and the society at large. This is a derivative of the function it performs, the total number of such posts in a particular organisation, the degree of influence wielded in discharge of its duties and the number of people it impacts, the degree of freedom of action enjoyed by it, the level at which it interacts with people outside own organisation, financial powers, and the trappings of powers or ‘perks’ attached to the post. In this backdrop, compare the SP of a district with his equivalent in the army in terms of the warrant of precedence, i.e. a Lt Col. In each of the criterion listed, the Lt Col comes nowhere near. In fact, the closest rank that can match some of these attributes would probably be a Brig, or maybe a Maj Gen. This is a hard fact, and no warrant of precedence, equity in pay or gazette notification can alter this ground reality. It is true that at one point in time, a Maj or even a Captain in the Army could not only match such trappings, but could also have served in a similar capacity himself. In today’s environment, however, there are simply too many of Lt Cols for each SP. The equality of such ranks therefore, while technically valid in terms of pay scales and protocol, is on ground a mere fallacy. The sphere of influence, ambit of duties, and the perks enjoyed by an army officer today laughs in the face of our assertions of equality with officers of other services in the same pay bracket, except at the top two or three layers.
The disparity in status is often exacerbated by our own actions. For example, while only Maj Gens and above posted in Army HQ are provided staff cars, the same facility is being extended to Directors in the MoD by the Army itself. On the other hand, Directors posted to Army HQ commute to office by bus or in their personal transport. You can’t really blame the IAS Director to thereafter consider himself more at par with a Maj Gen than a Colonel.
The issue of career progression is another cause of constant heartburn of the services when we compare ourselves with our civilian counterparts. The peculiar nature of our service necessitates a pyramidical hierarchy. Since our officer cadre is meant to be employed to officer the Indian Army, we have to remain bounded within the constraints of its organisational requirements. This means that for every general officer we add, we need to create a suitable organisation for him to handle. Considering that the size of the Army is more or less static, this is difficult to pull off. There is therefore a limit to the number of senior posts being created. In the case of civil services, however, the size of the cadre is not relative to any particular organisation.. Apart from promoting officers in situ while they continue to perform the same duties being performed in the lower rank, the scope for lateral movement open to these services. To that end, comparing our promotional avenues with other services such as the IAS, IPS or similar cadres amounts to an attempt at comparing two dissimilar things on a common platform. Unless, of course, we have Colonels commanding companies, Brigadiers battalions, and so on. Some may argue that there is nothing wrong in this, and even cite the example of say the police, where every state today has 10 - 12 DGPs, some looking after ridiculously mundane things such as stationery (maybe an exaggeration, but just about). This approach has inherent flaws that would supersede the marginal improvement to the pyramid that it would provide. It still would not be adequate to meet the aspirations of all the regular officers who join the service. We cannot hope to match the assured career progression of the IAS or the IPS wherein the rank of a JS or IG / ADG is assured to everyone joining, for the simple reason that in these organisations, the number of such ranks is equal to the annual intake.
Obviously, the nature of our job dictates that we cannot restrict the number of officers to be commissioned to equal the number of Maj Gens, since effective junior leadership is a key perquisite of the Army. The civil services are not bound by this requirement and junior level vacancies are filled up by support cadres and promotees. In fact, in case all the civil services also relied on a system of regular professional officers manning the junior level posts, while they might face career progression problems similar to the Army, the quality of administration might improve drastically.
The support cadres available to us in the army in the form of JCOs and SCOs / RCOs etc, have by and large not been able to deliver the goods. Neither has the system of Short Service commission been successful enough in reducing the base of the pyramid appropriately. Solutions such as direct commission to a proportion of JCOs are being talked about, and may be one line which would make things better. This, however, needs to be addressed in a very well thought out manner, to ensure that the benefits of the existing system, i.e. meeting the aspirations of OR, and providing a cadre of JCOs who have a wealth of experience, are not dispensed with.
Even if such measures are undertaken and are also successful, the desired satisfaction level comparable to civil services is still not likely to be achieved, given that the wastage rate at the level of Lt Col to Col is between 70 to 80 % today. Obviously, there is a need to tackle the problem at other levels as well. The 6th pay commission has recommended that certain proportion of officers and PBOR be laterally absorbed into PMF. This idea needs to be built upon, and expanded to provide a better solution. The issue of lateral absorption has been talked about in vague terms for so long but no substantial progress has been made, probably due to strict guarding of their turf by the civil services. After the rank of Col, majority of the officers are performing managerial / administrative jobs, quite akin to the functions performed by the civil services in various departments, ministries and organisations. However, they are restricted to being posted within the Army, save for a limited number of deputation vacancies. Majority of these are also in security or other defence related duties in orgs such as Ordnance Factories, DRDO etc. Even the Pay Commission has a narrow vision of employing them merely in PMFs / CPOs. If the employment of senior officers can be expanded to other roles, and adequate numbers be posted on deputation / absorbed in other ministries, PSUs etc, more promotional vacancies would be possible. It stands to reason that if an IAS officer can be transferred from the Agriculture Ministry to the MoD and carry out the functions effectively, senior Army officers also have the experience and ability to undertake similar roles in any organisation. The restriction in role of the Army under a democracy should not translate into a corresponding restriction on the employment of Army officers. This is a fine distinction that unfortunately has been missed by our powers that be and the Pay Commission.
The issue of status needs a de-novo approach too. As a first step, we should not overly assert the issue of pay parity as a measure of status for the purposes of protocol. This would relieve us from the confines of having to confirm to the pay scales applicable to our civilian counterparts, whose status flows from factors other than the pay. We should, in fact, insist on pay parity in terms of years of service, irrespective of the rank at which each is at any given time. Thus, an officer with 14 years of service in the Army should get the pay equivalent to the highest pay drawn by any cadre with equivalent service, irrespective of the rank at which either is at that time. An Army officer, who would be a Lt Col at such a service, should therefore draw the pay equivalent to that of a JS if IAS officers of his parallel batch have been promoted to JS. He can continue to be equivalent to a Jt Dir or Dir as per the existing warrant of precedence, which in any case makes no material difference at this level. In fact, we could limit the comparison to the level of a Maj Gen, there being no necessity to lay down the equivalence with civil officials below this. Also, the badges of rank of the army need to be distinct from that of Police, CPOs and PMFs, to avoid equivalence being implied needlessly and inaccurately.
Internal measures towards improving the image or status of an army officer must also be taken simultaneously. For the officers, particularly junior officers, to get their due regard and respect from the society at large, we must ensure the same from within the organisation. While the nature of work content is an organisational constraint and cannot be tampered with, it can be ensured that the tasks performed by officers are in no way undermining their status. Also, the organisation must be geared to provide the requisite wherewithal to lend dignity to the rank. At the same time, undue patronage must not be accorded to others outside the organisation in detriment to our own. Many times the interpretation of rules are a matter of our own organisational prerogative, and in such cases, the error must be on the side benefitting the individuals, not vice versa. Issues such as authorisation of telephones to specific appointments or to all officers across the board need to be resolved. It is a telling indication that while a recent government letter has authorised a monetary allowance to government officials which can be utilised as desired, for telephone, internet or mobiles, the same facility is not being extended to service officers across the board, possibly due to our internal contradictions.
For all of the above to take shape, there is a need for creating an understanding that the Army is a national asset. While it cannot occupy the position of pre-eminence of a colonial army, it should be given due credence and attention at a time when drastic measures are required to preserve its cutting edge.