The armed forces are finally in for a special hearing, with the Centre likely to separately deal with issues pertaining to their service conditions and payment structures in the 7th Central Pay Commission. The Union government, however, has not accepted the demand for military representation on the pay panel.
The terms of reference for the 7th CPC, to be cleared by the Cabinet, will for the first time include a paragraph on the defence forces. It has come in response to intense lobbying by the defence ministry and the armed forces, with the latter for long complaining of a “raw deal” compared to their civilian counterparts in the fixation of salaries by the central panel.
According to the terms of reference, the pay panel will examine the salary structure and benefits, including retirement benefits, with “due emphasis on the aspects unique to these (military) personnel”. The allowances could be reviewed in view of the hardships, both in terms of operations and frequent transfers, associated with military service.
The focus on the defence forces comes in the wake of the massive unrest triggered by the 6th CPC report which led to the three Service chiefs lodging serious complaints about the recommendations.
There is another plus for the defence forces, with Justice Ashok Kumar Mathur to chair the pay commission. He has been the chairman of the Armed Forces Tribunal and the government says he is conversant with the issues related to defence forces.
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Thus, while keeping a representative of the defence forces has not been accepted on the grounds that it would lead to similar demand from other specialized services, the presence of the chair is sent to indirectly meet the demand.
While the pay panel is a populist move given the vast vote base that government employees make, the defence community of 14 lakh serving and 23 lakh retired military personnel itself swells into a sizeable – albeit diffused – vote bank of around 1.5 crore people if family members are also taken into account.
The government was rattled by the widespread anger in the armed forces in 2008-2009 when they complained that successive pay panels had failed to address their long-pending pay and pension “anomalies”. Hundreds of ex-servicemen continue to protest by returning their medals even today over the failure of successive governments to implement the one-rank, one-pension principle despite it being promised by most parties in their manifestoes.
In June last year, defence minister A K Antony had written a frantic letter to PM Manmohan Singh to express alarm over the “growing discontentment” among the armed forces, which led to the constitution of a committee under cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth to look into their grievances.