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Higher Allowances: BUT A LOT MORE NEEDED, by Col. (Retd.) P. K. Vasudeva, Phd., 13 August 2007 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 13 August 2007

Higher Allowances


By Col. (Retd.) P. K. Vasudeva, Phd.

The Union Government has brought cheer to soldiers keeping vigil in the icy- cold Himalayan heights by enhancing their high-altitude allowance four-fold and giving them more travel facilities to visit their loved ones back home.

It has granted a “Kargil allowance” to soldiers posted at high altitudes as a part of various measures to reduce psychological stress and the spate of suicides in the ranks. The allowance comes 8 years after the Kargil war, for posts created or re-occupied by the army.

According to experts, long absences from the family alongwith dangers encountered when they are engaged in patrolling and counter-insurgency operations put enormous strain on the soldiers, pushing some of them to commit suicide. Some of them do not get sleep for four days in a week.

According to Defence Ministry figures some 120 soldiers posted on the 6,300-metre (20,800-foot) high Siachen glacier, the world’s highest battlefield, and in the mountainous regions of Jammu and Kashmir committed suicide in 2006 and over 600 since 2003.

The other reason for the increase in the allowances is the shortage of officers who are overstretched because of their heavy commitments.  Official figures peg the shortfall of officers in the army alone at a shocking 24.1 per cent. Bluntly, the army is short by 11238 officers against an authorization of 46615.

While the measure has been cheered by the army, it is also an acknowledgement by the Government of the harsh Siachen Glacier-like conditions over long stretches of the border in which soldiers have to man isolated posts. Notwithstanding, Indo-Pak talk on pulling out troops from Siachen, the increase in the allowances means that the military is preparing to harden the J&K border.

There is no gainsaying, that the new policy of compensating soldiers in difficult areas, recognises positions located at heights between 14,000 ft and 19,000 ft as hardship posts. The allowance would be Rs 5,600 a month for officers and Rs 3,734 per month for personnel below that rank. The earlier allowance ranged between Rs 270 and Rs 1,600 per month for officers and men respectively.

The new scheme and an earlier decision to equip soldiers in Kargil, Dras, Mushkoh and Batalik in Kashmir, some sectors in Sikkim and Arunachal with “Siachen-like” uniforms and equipment, has made the spectre of “Siachenisation” that had hung over the Line of Control (LoC) now a reality.

The posts in the Ladakh region (excluding Siachen) and the sectors in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh would take at least four mountain divisions (68,000 troops approximately) to be manned.

Additionally, soldiers engaged in counter-insurgency operations are now eligible for two free railway warrants a year against one as of now. Armed Forces personnel can now also travel to a station of their choice without any restrictions on mileage. This follows various representations made to Antony during his tours to forward areas in the North-east, J&K and Siachen.

Till date the Government was following laws made under the British that restricted travel by service personnel only to distances of 1,420 km. Ironically, the original rules were enacted to allow British nationals in India to travel to Mumbai to board ships bound for England.

Moreover, the Fifth Pay Commission implemented from 1997 onwards, saw an increase in the allowances compared to the Fourth Pay Commission. The flying allowance, for instance, has been hiked from Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 7,000 a month for pilots in the ranks of squadron leaders to group captains, flying officers and equivalent receive Rs. 4,500, flight lieutenants and equivalents Rs. 3,500 and the air commodores and equivalent  receive Rs. 5,500.

A similar increase has been implemented for the personnel of submarine and aviation units of the Indian Navy. This has been done because a large number of pilots and submarine mariners are taking premature retirement to join the greener pastures of civil airlines and ships respectively.

Recall, the pay package initially recommended by the Fifth Pay Commission had not been implemented due to misgivings in the services over risk-related allowances especially, allowances paid to pilots, submariners, and soldiers engaged in counter-insurgency operations or those serving in extremely difficult high altitude areas such as Siachen and Kargil. Personnel engaged in counter-insurgency operations received Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 3,900 a month depending on their ranks and the risks.

However, the allowances for officers and men posted on the Siachen glacier, and for those engaged in counter-insurgency operations were left untouched by the UnionCabinet last week as these would be reviewed by the Sixth Pay Commission.

Be that as it may, a lot more needs to be done to make the Armed Forces more attractive. The Parliamentary Standing Committee for Defence in its 11th report has suggested, “Constitution of a high-level empowered committee for restructuring the Forces in order to make optimum use of limited resources and to suggest trimming with a corresponding increase in the use of sophisticated technology.” The Committee in its 15th report lamented that these suggestion had been totally ignored by the Ministry.

Needless to say, by rationalising the rank structure, shedding organisational flab and reducing the shortage of officers would enhance the attractiveness of an army career. The Government has also referred its proposal to increase the retirement age of regimental commissioned officers to a group of ministers. It needs to be remembered that thousands of troops have been battling Islamic guerrillas in J&K since 1989. They have also been locked in jungle warfare with tribal and ethnic rebels in six of India's seven insurgency-riven North-eastern states.

In sum, even as the troops have appreciated the short-term measure of the enhancement of high altitude allowances but it is only a drop in the ocean. It cannot compensate hazardous and life threatening conditions and long separations of soldiers from their families. If the country wants that physically fit and mentally alert youth come forward to join the Armed Forces, the service conditions and poor pay and allowances have to be improved substantially. There should be an exclusive sixth pay commission for them. ---- INFA

(Copyright India News and Feature Alliance)


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