…from the Sixth Pay Commission.
We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship. –Omar Bradley
The Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor is on an official tour of South East Asia. The only media coverage emanating from his visit harps on the issue of officer shortage and pay commission in the Indian Army.
India’s army chief said he is hopeful of securing a salary hike for his officers, whose meager wages are blamed for a massive shortage of midlevel commanders in the world’s fourth largest army.
“We are hopeful that we will get a fairly decent package for the military personnel to make the armed forces an attractive career for the youth of the country,” Gen. Deepak Kapoor told The Associated Press Monday during an official visit to Malaysia.
“We have made some recommendations that should make the services fairly attractive. I am quite hopeful,” he said.
Officers are increasingly being drawn to better-paid jobs in the private sector and high school graduates are reluctant to join the National Defense Academy, India’s prestigious military training school, Kapoor said.
“When he (a high school graduate) finds that the armed forces is the least attractive, he is obviously not going to join,” Kapoor said.[TCP]
Considering the problems besetting the organisation, the continuous lobbying and pressure tactics being employed by the army can not be held against the Army Chief. The fact that he chose to proclaim so in a foreign land, to the international media, is certain to make many a patriotic Indian uncomfortable. What about the old adage that domestic politics stops at the water’s edge?
If a similar statement had been made by the Foreign Secretary in a foreign land about the shortage of quality diplomats due to poor compensation, most media outlets would have taken him to task. Army continues to be a holy cow in India and the Army Chief has been emboldened by his successful lobbying with the Indian media. Every media story highlighting the shortage of officers/ cadets or other problems with the Army, ends up blaming it on poor compensation and soliciting greater remuneration from the Sixth pay commission.
Are poor salaries solely responsible for these officer shortages? When did these shortages actually start? Going by a comment on this blog, there were only 90 cadets at the NDA in 1971 –
the jan course at the nda has always been below strength as most of the boys had joined some professional setup. i remember the 47 th course at nda post 71 had just about 90 and not enough to make the appointments.
The shortages have been there for over decades now and going by the Army Chief’s interview on TimesNow last week, the shortages have even been slightly made up in the last couple of years. There were over 2000 officers commissioned in the army in 2006, which is around 98 percent of the target. It is sad that the media has been so gullible and has made no efforts to explain the context and history of the shortages to the public so far.
About the salaries, it is lamentable that they are low. Honestly, can the government really afford to match them with those being earned by top corporate honchos. Can anyone name even one modern, democratic country where the salaries of soldiers are at par with those of top corporate stars? [The recruitment sites of the US Army and the UK Army could be a good starting point for the uninitiated, as should be this Guardian blogpost on the subject. The (high!) salaries in the US are also not that attractive, if this NYT op-ed is any indicator of facts.] The salaries of the army officers can not be viewed in isolation; the salaries of all other government officials, from the IAS and IPS to the paramilitary forces, also have to conform to the same scale. The various state governments have to follow suit while their finances haven’t yet recovered from the damage caused by implementing the fifth pay commission recommendations. Pay the army more, by all means; but can the nation really afford to do so? The combined pensions and salaries budget for the three services has already exceeded Rs.
25,000 35,000 crore this financial year. Yes, 25,000 35,000 crore — with the crumbs on offer to the soldiers currently!
Although the total compensation for an army officer is low, it is not a pittance. While the basic starting salary for a mint-fresh officer is Rs 8200/-, it is not his CTC. Sundry perks and allowances apart, there is a dearness pay and a dearness allowance, which is increased every three months in keeping with the WPI. When the short-service officers attend the six-month certificate programmes from India’s top management institutes after serving for five years, the CTC they mention to corporates in their job interviews is pegged at Rs 8 to 9 lacs. Barring the absolute cream of the country that attend the IITs and IIMs, the compensation in the army is certainly comparable to what the average joe on the street gets. There is an urgent need to have a sense of balance and perspective in this debate over more alms from the sixth pay commission.
You have to admire the army for running a sustained (and ostensibly successful) media campaign over the issue. They seem to winning the propaganda war. The compensation matters a lot, but so do the many other intangibles– organisational culture, job satisfaction, growth prospects, regular relocation and disruption of family life. There are many reasons for an unappealing military career in India today. Focusing exclusively on the salary without tackling the other areas of concern will do no good to the organisation. The “talented” lads, who will join for a plum salary will also quit for greener pastures a couple of years down the line. That is the norm in the corporate world as well. Will the army be able to handle that then or will that be someone else’s baby as the current politico-bureaucratic-military setup would be out of picture by then?
All this raises a larger question about the nature of the Indian army itself, or as is being conveyed by the Army chief and his ilk. Is there no difference between a mercenary and a soldier? They do possess the same technical skills; while the soldier uses those skills for advancing ends that are particularly valued by society, the mercenary uses the same skills to address narrow personal interests. Neither the idealism nor the patriotism of those who serve in uniform is in question here. The profession of arms is a noble calling, and there is no shame in wage labor. However, lure of the lucre has never been and can never be the sole motivation for a soldier. There is a sense of déjà vu when one recollects the numerous media reports in 1998/99 about the poor quality of officer intake in the Indian army, and the fitting reply given to all the naysayers by the young officers in the heights of Kargil.
One sometimes wonder whether the army top brass isn’t intelligent and experienced enough to understand all this. They certainly are. The harping on the unattainable and this false raising of hopes is a populist message to the rank and file via the popular media. Cheap popularity and populist gimmicks are no more the sole preserve of the politicians; our military leaders seem to have caught up.
At the end of the day, when the unfounded hopes of the trooper have been dashed, the generals will turn around and proffer, “We wanted you to get a lot more. The politicians and bureaucrats have schemed against us and prevented you from getting your due. But now we all have to live with it. It is not ours to question why, but to…”. If the top brass genuinely believes that enhanced compensation is the panacea to all ills plaguing the army, let them all resign (or at least threaten to do so) en masse when their “genuine” demands from the Sixth pay commission are not met. That would be the real test of their convictions and a proof that all this hype is not a deceitful trick being pulled up on the gullible soldier. To quote another commenter on this blog–
Top Brass — “Do you have it in you”?