To a casual observer, 24 percent, that is Rs 1.12 lakh crore of the defence budget going towards the military’s pensions bill, should appear a bit alarming. And it seems that this figure has worried India’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as well.

What he has failed to note is that this percentage towards pensions is out of a defence budget, which is only 1.51percentage of the GDP. If the defence budget were to be 3 percent of the GDP, as recommended by the Parliamentary Committee on Defence, then the pension bill would be 8.86 percent of it.

Similarly, the combined pay and pension bill, which currently stands at 42 percent of the Defence budget would drop down to 25 percent. It may interest the votaries of reduction in defence spending to know that China, our main antagonist and against whom Indian military is currently deployed in Eastern Ladakh, spends 3 percent of its GDP, on defence. China’s GDP is 5 times more than that of India.

A soldier earns pension after living through a harsh, risk filled and much shorter period of service and thus earns his pension which, in any case, is substantially less in comparison to those who retire from other similar government jobs. A CPO constable ( as of present ) on retirement at age 58/60 years collects approximately Rs 34/37 lakhs more than a soldier retiring at age 35/37 years, when both reach the age 58/60 years and then ends up drawing more pension than a soldier and lives longer.

Within the defence pay and pension bill, the civilian component in comparative terms has a far greater share than the military. The CDS needed to seek drastic pruning of the 3.5 lakhs civilian staff, paid from the defence budget.

What should concern the CDS and the three chiefs, besides much else, is the wide disparity in allowances between the military personnel and central police (CPO.) In the better part of Jammu and Kashmir, Shillong, Aizawl, Sikkim, etc, a CPO constable gets a percentage of the pay as a special allowance, while a soldier gets none when posted at the same locations. CPOs units, when deployed as companies get a special allowance but there is no such allowance for the army, which is similarly deployed, along the LoC.

There is a special allowance for those posted at locations where environments are harsh and uncongenial. An army officer posted at the icy heights of Himalaya, with rarified air environments gets far less allowance as compared to an IAS officer living comfortably in Shillong.

To lower the defence budget there is a proposal from a senior veteran to reduce the strength of the military and create a supporting reserve component, which can be summoned in the event of war etc. What he seems to forget is that the Indian army has been in a state of war ( internal and external ) since 1947.

The size of the defence forces is related to the type of threats to national security and time span in which these can materialize. The strength also depends on the terrain, along the borders and the imperatives of safeguarding these. It also depends on the technological state of the armed forces.

Defence forces have been persistently wronged by successive Central Pay Commissions. Soldiers retire at 35 -37 years old. Early retirement with inadequate monetary compensation and attendant financial worries, shorten the lifespan of veterans.

Life expectancy of civilian employees ( IARM Report) is 77 years, of railway employees it is 78 years, while that of an army officer is 67 years, of junior commissioned officers 72 years and in the case of Other Ranks, 59 to 64 years.

Early retirement, with less, pension, increasing family commitments, attendant financial worries, particularly for other ranks, take their toll. Even though, at retirement they are physically fitter than their counterparts in the civil. This issue has obviously been overlooked by the CDS.

Considering the hard conditions and tough terrain across which the Indian army operates, the need for younger troops and officers cannot be ignored. However there is scope to marginally increase the retirement age of soldiers and officers: both amongst the fighting and supporting arms. For this a proper committee with perhaps two veterans, as members, needs to be constituted rather than the CDS arbitrarily laying down the retirement age of soldiers and officers.

The 6thCPC with an IAS officer on it ( a permanent feature on every CPC and a convenient Chairman ) granted IAS officers and over four dozen central class A, All India Services, ( AIS ) what is called Non Functional Financial Up-gradation ( NFFU ) a sort of, ‘pay promotion,’ unrelated to job content and performance parameters . But the same was unreasonably denied to the military officers, who otherwise, because of extremely limited promotions, required it the most.

The military’s case for the grant of NFFU ( as well as OROP ) has been with the Supreme Court for over a decade, awaiting fair dispensation. Instead of supporting this genuine cause of military officers, the CDS, while he was COAS propagated the view that military officers don’t need NFFU.

Under NFFU all AIS officers can earn pay and allowances right up to the HAG level ( additional secretary- Lt General ) and retire at age 60 years. In the military very few indeed rise to the Major General rank and that too after 28 years or so of service, while all AIS officers in the civil get to the pay scale of Major General after 17/19 years service.

Only around 0.1 per cent in the military get to the rank of Lt General, the rest retire between the age of 54 to 56 years, with much less pay and pension. On the other hand each and every AIS officer retires at status, pay and pension, equivalent to that of a Lt General.

Up to mid fifties a brigadier drew more pension than chief secretary of a state and soldiers drew 70 percentage of last pay drawn. A maj-gen drew more pension than secretary to the government of India. This was so to compensate for early retirement and extremely limited and delayed promotions, beside the then acknowledged X factor.

The condition of 33 years service to earn full pension works only against the defence services personnel because to conform to the imperative need for a young military, the vast majority of them are retired before completing 33 years service. Thus in the ‘interest of service,’ benefits of career progression including pay and pension benefits get denied to the defence officers.

What should be an area of much concern to the CDS should be the reluctance of the youth to seek a career in the military, that appears highly unattractive. There is a shortfall of 10,000 officers in the Indian Army, a deficiency that has persisted. From 2001 to 2004, 2000 officers sought premature retirement, which included 2 Lt Generals, 10 Major Generals, 84 Brigadiers and the rest Colonels and below. This is a glaring case of acute dissatisfaction in the service due to extremely limited promotion avenues.

The CDS’ claim that after picking up special technical qualifications while in service, many seek greener pastures in the civil market is undeniable. But then how many with similar technical qualifications quit the civil services to seek jobs in the commercial market! Extremely limited promotions and early retirement without adequate compensation drives officers to seek jobs outside the military.

If NFFU is granted to the military, hardly any one will seek premature retirement. CPCs have laid down pension scales for various lengths of service and those who seek premature retirement get pension as laid down. Therefore, any attempt by the CDS to alter the pension scales for such cases would be unfair and an anti-services move that will drive officers to seek negation of this order from the courts.

This will also spread added disenchantment amongst the veterans and others still in service. His advice to veterans to refrain from going to courts is inappropriate because it is the Ministry of Defence which drives them and widows to courts over small sums of money etc.

The Indian military has finally been given a CDS, but he has no operational role and is positioned as a sort of secretary of DMA ( within the MoD ) with most of the staff composed essentially of civilians.

It is perhaps on the initiative of this staff that these proposals to reduce the pension of those seeking early retirement has been mooted. The CDS needs to have this outlandish proposal fully examined by the service chiefs.

Unfortunately with the appointment of the CDA as secretary DMA, the status of four star generals appears to have been brought down to the level of a secretary in the MoD at par with other secretaries such as Secretary Defence Production.

Lt General Harwant Singh is retired from the Indian Army.