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RASHMI OBEROI | 8 MARCH, 2015

Are Doctors in the Army not Doctors?

Field hospital set up by the Indian army during the Uttarakhand floods


Hushed tones... A feeling of being let down... Frustration... Bitterness and a diminishing faith in the system arising from a sense of betrayal by the top hierarchy is what the Army Medical Corps (AMC) doctors are facing today. The indignation and anger is simmering within, strongly coated by bitter emotions. It really is a dreadfully sad situation when your own brethren, your kith and kin, your own people and the institution that you selflessly serve, lets you down and that too in a big way.

The angst dates back to the Sixth Pay Commission. Dynamic Assured Career Progression (DACP) was basically intended as a step towards retaining doctors in the public sector by offering 4 time bound promotions. The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoH & FW) notified its implementation on 29 Oct 2008 for all doctors in the Central Government. It should have been automatically implemented for the Armed Forces doctors too. However it was shot down by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). While the Air and Navy Chiefs have understood the issue of DACP, and have given their support towards the implementation, it is the Army that is hell bent on not allowing the implementation of the DACP while their demand for NFFU stands rejected by the Government.

Non-Functional Financial Upgrade (NFFU) was offered to the Armed Forces which was rejected at that time by the senior officers as they said that there would be no charm of senior ranks! I personally believe this was truly a most ludicrous decision, to refuse a benefit offered on a platter by the bureaucrats at that time. Subsequently NFFU was implemented for all Group A services. When the Armed Forces approached the Government for NFFU, it was a firm ‘No’. The Army then tried to link the issue of NFFU with DACP. Efforts of the Chiefs of Staff Committee point to a hilarious way to link NFFU to DACP, with a suggestion to allow Concurrent Grade Pay Scheme (CGPS) to all officers of other arms and services.

More than 6000 officers of the AMC are fighting for their dues. This at a time where there is already an acute shortage of doctors and the serving are being taxed beyond their duties but still carry on with perseverance and dignity. DACP has been implemented for all Central Government doctors, including the Central Armed Police Forces (erstwhile Para Military Forces) – BSF, CRPF, ITBP, CISF, Assam Rifles w.e.f 29 October 2008. The defence ministry implemented the scheme for civilian doctors in the AFMS but excluded the AMC, the central cadre of doctors serving the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Another twist to all this: While a tribunal in Chandigarh held that non-implementation would be “detrimental to the interest of AMC officers” the Chiefs of Staff Committee in a letter in October 2014 had said that its implementation would lead to “serious command and control, functional and administrative problems” and had recommended that it be “granted to AFMS officers (without promotion)”. Strange but true. The case is now in the Supreme Court.

Is it not possible for senior officers to rise above petty issues and stop being spiteful to their own? Is it really too much to ask the men on top to follow the footsteps of the old-timers, who led without fear and bias, were straight forward and had the interests of the service first and foremost in their mind.

There is already a critical shortage of doctors in the Armed Forces and this scheme was intended, as was for other Central Government health services to attract and retain doctors. Such a cavalier attitude of the very organisation that one serves has already started to affect the morale of the fraternity.

A rude and loud ‘Wake Up’ call is definitely the need of the hour.

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