The Defence Ministry will soon announce the formation of another expert committee to look into the controversial issue of status equivalence between military officers and their civilian counterparts. This follows the rising disquiet among serving military officers — exhibited on social media platforms — that the Army had agreed to an existing committee’s recommendations on status equivalence.
“The expert committee on determining the equivalence between military officers and Armed Forces Headquarters (AFHQ)-cadre civilian officers is likely to be reconstituted due to change of incumbents of the previous committee. This will be announced in due course,” a top Defence Ministry official told The Indian Express
The official confirmed that the previous committee — headed by an Additional Secretary-rank officer and the current DGMO, Lt General A K Bhatt, as member — had not submitted its report to the ministry. Sources confirmed that Lt General Bhatt had neither signed the report nor given a dissent note to the committee.
This committee was formed in November last year by then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, after protests from the defence services over a letter issued by the ministry on October 18, 2016 with the minister’s approval. The letter equated Brigadiers with Directors of AFHQ cadre.
With letters from previous governments, including a Group of Ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee in 2008, and earlier pay commissions, the armed forces contend that a Lt Colonel is equivalent to a Director from AFHQ cadre. The AFHQ cadre has also responded with certain letters issued by the government and service headquarters to prove their case.
The longstanding non-resolution of the issue led to a rising disquiet among serving military officers, which moved from closed WhatsApp groups to public social media platforms such as Twitter, where it was being fronted by military veterans. The matter has attained greater sensitivity in recent days due to the final hearing of the Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) case for the military, to be taken up by Supreme Court on Thursday.
NFU is granted to all Group ‘A’ services by the government, whereby an officer’s promotions and pay are assured after a certain period even if she is not physically promoted due to lack of vacancies. The armed forces have, however, not been granted the NFU, which was challenged by Colonel Mukul Dev in an Armed Forces Tribunal, which ruled in his favour.
The government has chosen to appeal against the order in the Supreme Court. The ministry official said, “We will have to see what the government says in Supreme Court. The NFU case is not really about the armed forces. It mainly affects the Home Ministry, and DoPT will take a policy view on that.”