Great Betrayal of Indian Soldier

Third Pay Commission fixed the soldiers’ pension to 50% of last pay drawn.  To complicate it, a clause of 33 years of qualifying service was added – in effect reducing the pension of a soldier.  Here the soldier was betrayed.

History of Military Pension

In 1873, the Indian Military Service Family Pension Fund was started. It was financed solely by compulsory contributions from officers of the Indian Army, who paid so much a month according to rank. There were what we would call to-day ‘special contributions’ on marriage, or when infants reported their arrival. That fund was used by the Government of India for financing various projects—for instance, the Kidderpore Docks on the Hooghly—and even to finance Frontier campaigns. The Government of India credited the fund with a rate of interest equal to current rates of interest on long-term Indian sterling securities. That pension fund was never popular, not because of what it did, or did not do, for widows and orphans, but by reason of the way in which it was administered. I think everyone had a grievance because they felt that a fund which was built up solely from their pockets ought to be treated as a trust fund, and that they should be represented on a board of trustees. Moreover, it was believed that if the fund had been invested in trustee securities in India, it would have received a higher rate of interest than was in fact accorded to it by the Government of India.  (https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1949/mar/09/indian-army-pensions)

Formula for computing pension was substantially liberalised since the time of First Central Pay Commission.  The pension was earlier payable at the rate of 30/80 (37.5%) of the average emoluments.  This was later revised to 41.25% (33/80). From 31/3/1979, a slab system for payment of pension was introduced, wherein pension was paid at various rates ranging from 50% to 42.86%.   The formula was further liberalised by the Fourth Central Pay Commission and from 1/1/1986, the pension was payable at the rate of 50% of the average emoluments comprising basic pay, dearness pay, non-practicing allowance and stagnation increments. (http://aicgpa.org/content/resc/bulletin/topicid44.pdf)

As per the Pension Regulations for the Army 2008, pension was calculated on actual qualifying service rendered by the individual plus a weightage of 10 years in the case of Sepoy, 8 years in the case of Naik and 6 years in the case of Havildar and 5 years in the case of Junior Commissioned Officer subject to the total qualifying service including weightage not exceeding 30 years in the case of Sepoy, Naik and Havildar and 33 years in the case a Junior Commissioned Officer. In other words, a soldier who served for 17 years was given an additional 10 years, making it 27 years.  Now his pension was calculated by a factor of 27/33.  Thus the soldiers ended with 80% of their pension in effect.  This anomaly has been rectified in 2016 after many court cases.

All these ‘shortchanging’ of soldiers commenced soon after the famous victory achieved by the defence forces in liberating Bangladesh in 1971.  After the war, General Manekshaw was elevated to the post of Field Marshal for sure but was sidelined and send home unceremoniously.  Generals who followed did not make any effort to even raise an issue with the government.  It could be because the officers, especially the Generals ‘trusted’ the government and were ‘dreaming’ that the government would take ‘care’ of the soldiers.  The irony is that many officers, especially Brigadiers and above, are virtually unaware of any aspect of their own pay & allowances, let alone the of their soldiers.  Many of them were and are shrouded with a mask of ‘too complicated and technical’ and often remarked that they were not ‘babus’ (clerks) to work out pay & allowances.’

A Field Marshal never retires, but Field Marshal Manekshaw was eased out post 1971 victory.  Still, he was entitled for pay and allowances for life. The bureaucrats and the government cut all his pay and allowances for the next 36 years of his life. This was an award to the General who led the Indian Army to victory in the 1971 war for India, for a man who led his life with at most dignity and served India with all respect.  He was paid his dues only in 2007, that too on his death bed by the then Defence Minister AK Antony.

It required a junior officer, Major Dhanapalan who took up the matter of ‘Rank Pay’ with the Kerala High Court and got a favourable verdict. It was contested at all levels, even up to the Supreme Court by the government.  Obviously, it had no support from the Army Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence as is evident from various submissions by the government.  The Fourth Central Pay Commission, in 1986, while introducing running pay scale for officers in the ranks of Captain to Brigadier introduced a rank pay in addition to the basic pay. However, the bureaucrats who drafted the orders managed to have the rank pay reduced from the basic pay while fixing the basic pay thus denied all the officers serving at that time their lawful dues. Worse, none of the 50,000 odd officers serving in the armed forces then never realised the treachery and the senior officers never allowed anyone to speak up on the matter.

Cruelty dealt by the Seventh Central Pay Commission is the Military Service Pay (MSP.)  It is a meager Rs 15,900 for officers and Rs 5, 200 for soldiers, which is a compensation for the various aspects e.g., intangibles linked to special conditions of service, conducting full spectrum operation including force projection outside India’s boundaries, superannuation at a younger age and for the edge historically enjoyed by the Defence Forces over the civilian scales, will be admissible to the Defence forces personnel only.  (https://doe.gov.in/sites/default/files/7cpc_report_eng.pdf) Para 6.1.28 (Page 103)

To top it all there is a rider to it.  MSP will continue to be reckoned as Basic Pay for purposes of Dearness Allowance, as also in the computation of pension. MSP will however not be counted for purposes of House Rent Allowance, Composite Transfer Grant, and Annual Increment.

Now comes the One Rank One Pension (OROP.) The recent judgement will adversely affect the soldiers and officers below the rank of Colonel.  In the early 1980s, Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels were the Commanding Officers and many retired as Lieutenant Colonels as Colonel was an appointment then and not a rank.  About a third of Lieutenant Colonels were promoted to Brigadier.  In 2006, Lieutenant Colonels became a timescale promotion and there were no more Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels in the Indian Army.

These Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels who performed the duties of today’s Colonels and retired as Lieutenant Colonels are the most affected due to the current judgement of OROP and by the 6th & 7th Pay Commission. They should be clubbed with the Colonels for pension.

Has the soldier been betrayed by the Government or the Generals?

What Would I Have Done?

After a couple of years of my retirement from the Indian Army in 2004,  my friend Colonel Josey Joseph, wanted to know what I would have done post-retirement had I been in India. I laid out my plans and he wanted to know why I did not implement a much smarter and better plan than immigrating to Canada.

My post retirement plan in case I had stayed in India was to become a Priest at our Church and start with many meditation sittings – all to impress the people.

In all mock seriousness, I replied “To begin with, there must be a few fair-skinned followers, especially good-looking blonde girls,  in low cut blouses , and a few white guys. Whenever I paused during my sermons, they would  chorus ‘Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!‘ Now watch the fun as to how my coffers would have filled up.”

Why did you not work towards your plan?” Colonel Josey asked.

The plan was great, but I just cannot sing!  For such a plan to succeed, one has to be good at singing.  Look at any of the ‘successful’ pastors or swamis – They are great singers and dancers too!  A requirement to impress the poor masses and bhakthas,” I replied.

Colonel Josey said “Thank God! Your Dad did not put you through singing and dancing lessons, else you would have ended up selling your Dad first and then your God! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!

Now I laid my plan bare.

Syrian Orthodox Priests can marry, only those who aspire to be promoted as a bishop remain a bachelor. Fluent in  English, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Punjabi, indeed a rare combination for a Mallu Priest, I will be invited to all the International and Pan-Indian (NRI/NRK) weddings and showered in moolah. With my vast military experience and having travelled all over India, I will be invited as a speaker, a motivational speaker, as I specialise in impressing people. 

A Syrian Orthodox priest is often allotted a Parish and he may be the Vicar or the Assistant Vicar. A Parish means a small administrative district or village, including all religions, typically having its own church and a priest or pastor.  Vicar is derived from the English prefix ‘vice,’ similarly meaning ‘deputy‘ and here he is the deputy to the Bishop.

The Parish will be benefited in that every need of the Parishioners would be presented effectively to the District Collector or the Superintendent of Police. Naturally,  they  would be compelled by courtesy and etiquette, to never refuse an audience to the Reverend Father-Veteran Colonel Reji Koduvath. The least I could do is to draft various complaints and applications for the Parish members.

There are various projects by the Central and State Governments for the benefit of the citizens. Many of them do not reach the public as people are unaware of the paperwork involved. Having written many Statements of Case while in service, and following it up to the Defence Ministry level, who else can do it better?

Employment opportunities for the youth, military, police (both central & state), bank, railways, state transport, UPSC, state PSC… I could have provided effective guidance and mentorship to youth aspiring to enroll into all these. I would have conducted orientation training for each specific job at the church, conduct mock tests, interviews, group discussions, public speaking, etc as well.  With more of the youth employed, obviously more money for the church (and me.)

I would also organise leadership training and adventure activities for the children and youth of the Parish. This would facilitate them to do better at the interviews.  

I would motivate the children of the Parish to read by initiating little ones to the habit of reading, the biggest bugbear for the Indian youth. I would publish a Church magazine with children contributing their stories, poems and articles.

Upon hearing my narration, Colonel Josey remarked “I think your idea is not only novel, but simply brilliant. And in these times when most of the clergy, across the board, propagate hate; a message of love , an effort to help the helpless and instill self-confidence in children : that’s the core of what our nation and the world really needs.  And, knowing you so well, I am quite certain that personal gain would hardly be your motivation. Also, more importantly,  although every parish priest is not a Colonel Reji Koduvath, I am sure most of them can undertake some of the activities you suggested.  Someone needs to take the lead.”

Left Foot First

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On joining Sainik School in 1971 at the age of nine, I underwent my first run of drill classes.  The Drill Sergeant with his order for Tez Chal (Quick March) always followed it up with “Shoot your Left foot.”  This Left foot first continued through the training at the Academies and during my military service. 

While travelling on a train during my vacation from school in 1978, my co-passenger was a Veteran Sergeant who had seen action with the Royal Air Force during World War II in Burma.  He spoke of a Black & White English movie, ‘The Tie.’  He described a scene where a detective and a constable are tracking a fugitive through the city roads on a foggy winter night.  Only the silhouette of the fugitive is seen and suddenly it stops walking and then walks ahead.  The detective says that it is a woman. The question of the Veteran was as to how the detective made out that it was a woman. 

I had no clue and he explained that women generally commence walking with their Right foot first and men with their Left.  That is why when we march, we are drilled to shoot our Left foot first.  After this meeting, I started observing men and women and the first Right foot applied to women in about 80% cases.  Perhaps the remaining 20% were taught drill by some Sergeant Majors.
Shooting the Left foot first in the military was mainly because the soldiers were mostly right-handed and they carried their weapons the right side.  So when a soldier stepped forward with a Left foot, they were in a better balanced fighting posture, with Right foot planted and weapon up, ready for action.  It was also to keep everyone on the same foot for advancing in a line. In the olden day battles, soldiers advanced together ahead in formation, so that the enemy could not break the lines. In order to do this they used drums to keep everyone in line and together and commenced the march on the Left foot.  Every time the drum struck, their Left foot hit the ground.  Modern Armies across the globe follow this to keep everyone in step while marching, more to instill discipline and team work and for a ‘Soldierly‘ look while moving in a group.

In the military, one always walked on the left side of a superior officer.  In other words, one always kept his superior on his ‘Right’ side.  This was to facilitate him to return a salute with his Right arm without poking his arm into someone on his Right. leftright364
We are all familiar with the famous first words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped foot onto the moon in 1969, ‘That is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’  No one would have been there to photograph this one small step.  The second human to set foot on the moon was Buzz Aldrin and the instant was captured by Neil Armstrong.  In this image (courtesy NASA),  Aldrin is seen landing on the lunar surface with his Left foot, that too in rearward motion.  Perhaps,  a mere coincidence or the sheer logic of the number of rungs in the ladder!

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In this connection, a bit of mythology may interest the reader. Nataraja, the Hindu God Shiva as a cosmic dancer, is depicted in idol form in most temples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, balancing on his Right foot with his Left foot up.  The only exception being the Nataraja idol at Meenakshi temple, Madurai.  It is believed that the Pandya King who commissioned the temple wanted to give some relief to Natarajan’s Right leg, at least in the temple constructed by him.LeftRight225
God Shiva with his consort Parvathi is mostly depicted sitting and in most cases, Shiva has his Left foot folded up and Parvathi her Right.  As per Hindu mythology, Shiva represents the Purusha (male) and Parvathi the Prakrithi (nature or female.)  Some Hindu mythological art portrays gods with both feet on together on the ground and this may be the depiction of combination of Purusha and Pakrithi.

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When an Indian Bride enters a home, she is advised by her mother-in-law to enter with her Right foot first, but no such instruction is ever passed to the groom.  During many Hindu marriages, the groom ritually places the Right foot of the Bride on a grinding stone.  The mantras recited during this time advise the bride to lead a firm life like the grinding stone, to be as firm as a rock, so that the family can depend on her.

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Most Hindu Goddesses are often depicted with their Right leg folded up, depicting Prakrithi.

This may explain as to why women commence their walk with their Right foot.