The public debate over the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission report has focused on its financial implications and likely impact on the government’s fiscal deficit target. Little attention has been paid to the issues raised by various Central government services affected by these recommendations. As per procedure, their concerns are considered by a committee of secretaries under the cabinet secretary, which sends the recommendations to the Union cabinet for approval. This method has worked well so far, as it doesn’t deal with the substantive questions or allege an inherent bias in the deliberations of the pay commission. Now, by writing a joint memorandum to the defence minister over the pay commission recommendations, however, the three military chiefs have taken the controversy to a different — and disquieting — level.
Not only is it extremely rare for the three chiefs to jointly sign a memorandum — the seniormost service chief usually signs tri-service letters as the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee — but also the issues raised by them point to a complete lack of trust in the commission’s recommendations. The defence services believe that their joint presentations to the pay commission, unlike those made by civilian employees, have been dismissed without even being included in the report. A downgrade of the status of military officers vis-a-vis their civilian counterparts, fixation of hardship allowances at lower rates, and denial of a real non-functional upgrade have been identified by the service headquarters as issues that emanate from the allegedly anti-military bias of the pay commission.
The three chiefs have asked the defence minister to institute an expert committee, with members from the armed forces, to look into these grievances. These issues have also been flagged by the three chiefs informally to the defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, who has asked for a formal presentation this week. It will take more than a presentation, however, to bridge the widening trust gap between the uniformed personnel and the government. The unresolved issue of one rank one pension has already created tensions that are adversely affecting the military. The political leadership needs to actively reach out to the military, redress their genuine concerns and restore their trust in government. Simultaneously, the top military leadership needs to quell the tide of heightened emotions in the defence forces to reinforce the well-established balance of civil-military relations. India is situated in a tough neighbourhood and beset with several internal
security problems. It cannot afford to have a disaffected military, least of all over the issue of pay and allowances.