Friday, 1 July, 2022
HomeOpinionDon’t tinker with Indian military’s way of life to fix your out-of-control...

Don’t tinker with Indian military’s way of life to fix your out-of-control fiscal deficit

Some half-baked economist came up with the specious argument to reform military life to save money — and CDS Bipin Rawat-led DMA swallowed the bait hook line and sinker.

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The Narendra Modi government flew a kite, its string handled by the Department of Military Affairs, to test conditions among the soldier community on the ground. The message displayed by the kite caused such severe turbulence in the fraternity of the fearless that it is unlikely to be a smooth ride for it from now on. Soldiers, those in service and veterans, have seen a slow erosion of their way of life. Perquisites have been chiseled away, one slice at a time. Salami slicing of the border has been copied, aimed at service privileges. Pension and service reforms are the latest target, and anger is palpable among soldiers.

Indian politicians tend to rhapsodise over military morale, despite not having seen the insides of a soldier’s soul, nor knowing what constitutes morale. Accustomed to smartly dressed parades on Rajpath or those orchestrated in cantonments for the dreaded ‘VIP visit’, occupiers of high office believe all is well. They think of the military as a vast mechanised mindset that can be ‘managed’ simply with the blessings and vociferations of ‘Mother India’. Absence of a military background, ignorance of sociology and psychology of the service, and an inexplicable desire to prune perquisites make for an incendiary combination. The tragic, and deeply worrisome, fact is that the unknowing in high offices of the government are helped along for these outrageous decisions by those in the highest ranks in the military.

Also read: What India’s military commentators don’t get about drones — AI can’t just be unboxed and used

Tinkering with military life

Military institutions in India have taken generations to mould and develop. Beginning from humble origins, much like their recruitment base, the military has successfully created its ethos and culture that is uniquely Indian. It is in fact a society that reflects the best of India, from inculcating a sense of belonging to this vast land to echoing its civilisational vision in a masterly way. Military life in India is deeply spiritual, completely professional, and uncompromisingly inclusive. Soldiers are drawn from Kupwara to Kanyakumari, Kutch to Kohima, and everywhere in between.

Each soldier is driven by a pride in the uniform, embodying a work culture that doesn’t accept laxity. Unlike any other Indian institution, the military doesn’t make concessions with prejudice or non-performance. The soldiers live, train, fight, and even die, for their pride, battalion and mother India. Living largely isolated from the vagaries of civilian India, they have developed systems and practices that sustain their unique way of life — an existence that is increasingly seen as peculiar and in need of tweaking. This episodic tinkering has suddenly got the soldier community ablaze because of an outlandish proposal to increase service age and pare down pensions.

Also read: Don’t criticise CDS, service chiefs for integrity pledge. Accept corruption in armed forces

Reform? Call it by its name

“[Chief of Defence Staff] General (Bipin) Rawat had made it very clear that the increase in retirement age would come through by 2021 as it was the need of the hour. Both the measures would lead to substantial financial savings as the increase in retirement age will also lead to lesser intake of officers at cadet level,” The Indian Express reported, citing a military source. A draft Government Sanction Letter (GSL) follows on the heels of earlier proposals that recommended a strange cadre review, some reversal of canteen entitlements, even changes in the much-valued Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme, functioning of military messes, bands, and regimental institutions including the hallowed quarter-guard.

The driver of all this tinkering is a ballooning pension bill that was estimated at 28 per cent of the last defence budget. Some half-baked economist came up with the specious argument to reform military life, so as to save precious money. The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) swallowed the bait hook line and sinker, without a thought to how it impacts the functioning life of a combat unit. By all estimations, the military is one institution that delivers on every task it is called upon. It is indeed the best value for money spent by the government. And yet it is the singular establishment that is expected to clip its perquisites so that an out-of-control fiscal deficit can be better managed. Under the guise of pension reform, this is yet another raid on a way of life that is celebrated nationwide.

Military reforms are always welcome if war-fighting capabilities improve. But such improvements can never succeed when they piggyback on financial setbacks to soldiers. They cannot help battle efficiency when a time-tested system is tinkered. They can only succeed when structures are created that extract the best from an effective institution and existing ethos. Neither of these two fundamentals can be raised overnight. But they can certainly be damaged even before the ink has dried on an order. If the Modi government wants to save money, it should begin with the vast leaky reservoir of rural development schemes. Every bureaucrat and politician in India knows the extent of the leakage, but they know nothing about military life, ethos, and morale.

The author is a Congress leader and Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert. Views are personal.

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  1. A commentator misses a fundamental point when he asks”Retirement age being extended is true for every service, private & public. This is because of improved standards of living as well as growing life expectancy?”

    The nature of military organisation requires service from younger cohort. Military looses its combat capacities and professional edge when its manpower is led by the ageing leaders.

    Younger and physically fitter military is a national security imperative. Increasing the military’s retirement age in comparison with government service retirement age is a fundamental error of understanding.

    The pension problem has to be addressed as whole of Goverment approach, and the Ministry of Defence has to plan military recruitment as two career service: the first 10 to 20 years in uniform and the second career in civil service or corporate career till the age of superannuation.

  2. For a change, something sensible from a scamgressie. But those who know anything of politics in India should know that he is only using a currently available stick to beat Modi-led government of NDA. Again, those of us who are in the know of the treachery perpetrated on the soldiers since Nehru’s time know that the genesis of OROP began with Indira Gandy reducing the pension of soldiers from 70% of last pay drawn to 50 %, quoting the economic crisis caused by the1971 ops which liberated Bangladesh. But that was not all. At the same time, the economic hardship notwithstanding, the pension of civilians was hiked from 33 % to 50%. And even that was not the end of deceit. Even the 50% of last pay drawn , which is the regular entitled pension, was denied to soldiers by bringing in an absurd and weird rider. And that was, one would be eligible for this entitled pension of 50% of last pay drawn only if one serves for 33 years. Otherwise it would be proportionately reduced. With soldiers then being retired compulsorily after 15 years of service (to maintain the youthful profile of the army) they were made eligible for effectively less than 25% of their last pay drawn.

    Late Lt Col Inderjit Singh first went on hunger strike for ONE RANK ONE PENSION at India Gate on 22 Feb 1982. He could then persuade the then PM to agree to provide OROP. But she did not honor her promise.

    Even when the scamgress led UPA ruled the country for 10 years the rising tempo for OROP was not heeded. An umbrella organization of veteran soldiers, The Indian Ex Servicemen Movement, started their protest at Jantar Mantar. The protest was suspended when Modi rode to power in 2014 after beginning his election campaign at Hissar with the promise of OROP. But he too let down the soldiers by giving only a watered down version of OROP. The protest resumed and has completed 2000days by now. Arun Jaitely was presumed to be the road block for grant of full OROP. He was getting it out on veterans for his defeat in the 2014 elections from Amritsar.

    The matter is being considered by the apex court and a favorable verdict is expected soon. And that is touted as the catalyst for this hurried proposal to extend the service of all ranks up to 57 years of age an reduce pensions to staggered scale beginning at 50 % of ENTITLED pension for those opting for premature retirement after 20 to 25 years of service. Just to keep the top brass of the armed forces complacent they have been guaranteed full pension as usual.

    Readers may like to visit my blog ‘FOR WHOM THE SOLDIERS SACRIFICE THEIR LIVES AND LIFES…’ at

  3. I do hope that the Govt. of India will take a right decision which should be beneficial for the Armed Forces. I would also request the GoI to fire that Gen. Bipin Rawat. That Bipin Rawat is pretty useless. He knows nothing about the Armed Forces. Also, I am positive that the GoI would keep the stupid bureaucrats away from the Armed Forces.

  4. Loads of narrative, very little mettle in the article. Coming from Print I can calmly say too much spice, high in decibel, low in substance.

  5. Good points brought out briefly
    They (authorities) know not what they are doing! But they can never hope to be pardoned; for the enemy is no Saint. The Nation can never hope to make progress towards becoming a World Power in an environment of insecurity and weak Military. At the end of the day even with the best equipment what matters is the (wo) man who pulls the trigger or takes the bullet as the case may be.
    We as veterans can only wish that better sense prevails.
    Reform is not using a less expensive packaging. What is packed is what matters.

  6. The article is an absolute rubbish. The author has not specified any pros and cons of the decisions. It is just a political commentry without substance and argument. The comment about leakages in fund utilisation of rural development mission is an age old issue. Successive govts (any party for that matter) have failed totally to plug these holes. But then so are other welfare measures. World over defence forces are being trimmed not for performance but more for technology. India has inherited British doctrine, which need to be tremendously modified for the requirements of new age.

    Apparently, authors knows nothing about it all.

    • Dear, when you don’t know about armed forces, just don’t speak up. Army life has got a certain standard and it’s own unique way. Nevertheless, this I felt is a non-biased article, free of politics. Rubbish is when people speak when they know nothing or very less.

      • Where is the need to say he is a Congress Leader. Instead why can’t you say he is the Son of Late Jasvant Singh. Naturally COAS will play ball now that he got the highest post in the Services and also pay rise attendant benefits!!!!

    • Trimming forces is quite different from trimming their basic perquisites including veterans pension. I feel your juendics mind will never ever understand that difference.

      The proposal by none other who have no legal domain and rights according to the conduct of business rules of the India, indicating the structural issues and mental capacity of the current leadership to comprehend the impact of the proposal which will never be allowed to implement in democratic milieu, which is most interesting part of the whole game.

  7. Manvendra hits the nail on the head about ‘tinkering’ with military ethos and morale. The suggestion unfortunately has emanated from one amongst its own hierarchy and newly created office of DMA who would be well advised to concentrate on operational issues of synergising capabilities of sercices.
    Last couple of years have been tough for the armed forces. Sooner it will reflect on their operational capabilities unless immediate steps are not taken to reverse ill advised steps by the DMA.

  8. First show salary bill and pension bill of armed combatants and civilians separately as also the number of personnel. Next, my advice to the youth of the country is NOT to join the armed forces as this is an ungrateful country. Below is one of the harsh truths of army life. Read and hang your heads in shame.
    Imagine the soldier on the frontiers. There is one fear he always has. If he does not return home alive, who will take of his dependents?  The only way to generate a future nest-egg in case of death is through life insurance. But life insurance companies do not insure death in war and even if they do it is with several riders and there will be a hefty premium. In fact there is a huge questionnaire to fill out. Why? Because his life is risky? Yes, but he is not taking this risk for fun. He is engaged in the most prime activity this nation needs – defending itself. Look at the absurd situation.  By standing alert at 20,000 feet at -50ᵒ C he ensures that the nation (including life insurance company employees) can eat, sleep, shave, shampoo, defecate and procreate in air conditioned comfort, but he is told that doing this is risky and hence he cannot be insured against war risks or will have to pay a huge premium. Because of the absurd policy of insurance companies and the don’t care intransigent attitude of the government the army is forced to create an Army Group Insurance Fund. But he gets only Rs 50 lakhs cover by paying Rs 60,000/- per annum while a civilian executive gets Rs.1 crore cover for just Rs. 10,000/- per annum.  A soldier defending the nation has to cover his life from his own earnings?   And the country wants the youth to join the armed forces under such circumstances?  Shouldn’t a soldier’s life be covered by the nation? Do those who join the armed forces know this harsh truth or are even told about this?  Should the youth of this country even consider defending such an ungrateful nation? And pray what happened to the Chetwode Code that generals wax eloquently during moral lectures in staff colleges?  My advice to the youth – do not join the armed forces. Fifty years back I had to leave the NDA due to an injury. Today I am glad it happened.  Is the media aware of this and if so are they accomplices to this absurdity?  Will this even be published?


    • I fully agree with you.As a civilian at age 59 ,I spent 20 daysin Leh in winter .Gone in connection with a COE of fatal helicopetr crash.Horrible life.Came back alive.worn same pant shirt.when came back all undergarmenys had to be torn .

  9. Military is our pride of nation. I understand any monetary savings should never start to pruning perks, allowances of military because they are giving 24×7 hrs services to nation. If govt is sincere to save economy they should start to stopping unnecessary allowances and pensions to politicians which is unethically started. Secondly reduce perks, pensions of govt employees, banks, several non performing govt sectors. Thirdly stop political freebies for votes.

  10. Don’t see things through a political lens. Also, no consultant will understand how the fauj works. You have to live it, or at least try to understand with an open mind. If you underfeed your faithful dog, and then go after it with a stick, it will be mighty irritable. “National security comes at a price.” The slicing of pay and position has been practised since Independence. Maybe the nation needs security guards who will report for duty with their own guns.

  11. Keeping a military is an expensive hobby if you cannot afford it, give to someone who will be willing to do for you
    I am sure the US or China will be very happy to take over the security of India

  12. By the way a BJP politician gets four pensions, as a corporator, as a MLA and as a parliamentarian. And also someone who was jailed during emergency.

  13. It is a very very old dictum. A soldier fights for glory and a shilling a day. Cut the shilling and the you won’t find a soldier.

  14. Really disheartening to see people with zero experience in military trying to undermine the writer by sitting in their Ac rooms.
    Had the people who are commenting here have enough guts, they would themselves in the military.
    But the commenters are chickenhearted and have shied away from it. A soldier signs his will at 18. And the trouble that he faces in his life, no trouble in the corporate world can equate. Pension is the least that is provided. Troubles in a soldier’s life havesnt decreased.Then why should pension. A soldier doesn’t even enjoy the fundamental rights that these keyboard warrior commentors are enjoying.

    And the top brass of forces are trying to please the government to seek personal favours. And with it they have sacrificed ethos of the army in which men come first. Masterstroke by the present government.
    The general pulse in the forces right now is against the CDS becuase of it. He is doing what Modi has been doing in this tenure. Shallow words.CDS was nowhere when Chinese intrusions took place but is the first one to come out with controversial statements. High time rules are defined!!

  15. Not a convincing logic. 2/3 of military bill is going for salaries and pension. No military has this much skewed expense on personnel. Add to that administrative expense and colonial era practises. It is true that non-defence expenditure has to be controlled. But that is not excuse for not containing defense expenses which come at the cost of equipments and war fighting machinery. Aim should be to atleast have 50 % of defense budget for capital expenditure.

    • Dear, who does border patrolling in most challenging territory & weather, flying in most severe terrain & conditions, sea faring in most inclement seas in peace times just to ensure that no enemy dares to crossover to kill civilians, leave alone going to war in the face certain death. And whenever there’s a calamity of scale unimaginable, you go to only one institution because you know that they will neither deny nor run. The writer wants to bring about that this unique financial features keep them going. How to make an ordinary youth in an extraordinary soldiers is contributed by many other things including this perks and perquisites

      • Is it a suggestion that after serving in the Defence, once retired, the veterans also pay for equipping the Militaryt?
        Provide for pension as it is provided to all Central Government employees.

        Sample this.

        While the pension of all Central Government employees comes from the central pool (not budgeted) of which the public is unaware and hence not discussed. (By design or default is a moot point). Defence pensions form part of the Defence Budget – It is known and in the open. even so, the statistics misses (avoids?) the vital part. Only 55% of Defence pension outlay goes to 78% of Armed Forces Veterans (ESM under MOD). 45% of Defence pension’s outlay is consumed by 22% of Defence Civilians under MOD.
        Can all this be handled better? Defending India is a serious matter and much beyond does, soaps and shampoos.

    • Join force first and taste all kind of hardships a soldier go through.then only open mouth about logic. Defence services does not run on logic…it runs on morale and discipline which makes it different from civilians.

    • When you don’t know about armed forces, just don’t speak up. Army life has got a certain standard and it’s own unique way. Nevertheless, this I felt is a non-biased article, free of politics. Rubbish is when people speak when they know nothing or very less. Always forcing armed forces to sacrifice for the nation is wrong. It is not the duty of a soldier to pay for others’ sins. Do civillians have no responsibility? Why less than 2% of Indians pay tax? Who will check the political scams? It is wrong to always expect from armed forces and forget about our commitment to the nation and armed forces.
      Jai Hind!

    • Dear, who stop you from curtailing defence expenditure. First if budget is not increased over the years I say decades even to make good for inflation and annual increment you will lend up at this figure.

      Second, curtail the size of Armed Force if situation permits certainly do it, but do not take away the peanuts they are receiving for risking their life for your comfort.

      Thirdly, historically since 1947 Generals in the army had protected perks of their type or class and curtailed their subordinates whom they considered inferior, General Bipin Rawat is no different from that military psychology.

      Fourthly, who so ever you are, sir, you have no understanding of the consequences in current environment where free flow of information will cause a big dent.

  16. The matters concerning armed forces should be beyond politics and political parties. The interaction should be only between the GOI and the armed forces. Those who left armed forces to their mercy during the last 60-65 yrs have no rite to teach about what is right and what is wrong.The present dispensation in the Forces and GOI are no fools. They are more responsible and honest in taking a right decision in the best interest of Forces and the nation.

  17. If you want to save money…..check corruption.

    Military needs REFORMS , not cost cutting….its not a wedding party budgeting.

    We need younger officers not late retirees.

  18. The author is correct here.

    Why is pensions 28 % of whole budget? Bcz the whole budget is very very less.😏😏

  19. When every successful organisation put his best in its HR policies, than why can’t defence forces personnel get the best or even better than civilian service class. War is fought by men behind machines and not vice versa. Defence personnel deserved the best.
    Why can’t we make their income and perks tax free.

  20. Another counter productive BJP move: Exactly. The BJP is even more out of touch with reality than previous Governments because their trusted Neta Babus are even more cocooned from consequences and swathe Netas in delusions sans facts. Why do They not slash salaries and perquisites to Judges, Bureaucrats, Police and Politicians to control the fiscal deficit? They are grossly over paid considering the lack of productivity. Getting rid of them can only better India.

  21. News media in crisis because they allow such writer without properly identify them . Now a days we first see writer then read article and most of time give pass to such people .

  22. Exactly. The BJP is even more out of touch with reality than previous Governments because their trusted Neta Babus are even more cocooned from consequences and swathe Netas in delusions sans facts.

  23. I agree with the writer that there is so much leakage in various other schemes of government, PSU banks, Air India and other PSUs that those reforms should be done with utmost urgency than cutting on perks for existing and ex-servicemen. They and their families deserve the best. I dont think I have agreed with any congressman in a long time but I do agree with this gentleman. Lot of other low hanging fruits exist which you can harvest before you go for cutting pensions for servicemen. Cut pensions for personnel in other administrative branches most of them whom fill their pockets anyways to last for multiple generations with any risk to their lives.
    Though service age should be increased as life expectancy and fitness levels of people go up. Most people even well into the sixties are fit and capable of serving in the army in leadership positions.

  24. Throughout the article, the you only state and re-state the same point; that the military way of life is worth celebrating (rightly so) and that the current reforms are threatening it. How they threaten this ethos, what are the particulars, how they impact, is not covered in a single bit. Retirement age being extended is true for every service, private & public. This is because of improved standards of living as well as growing life expectancy. Why is this suddenly a negative for the armed forces?

    28% of the annual defence budget going towards pension costs is no joke. That is a gargantuan cost, to the nation no doubt and even more worryingly to the defence community It eats away resources that could have been otherwise spent on better equipment, facilites and armament. Of a defence budget of almost $66 Billions in 2020, around $18.5 billion went to just pensions! Even if reduced by 30%, it would free up something like $6 Billion for other things that would help the armed forces level up to emerging threats. Given that the defence budget will keep growing year on year, this amount will only increase.

    So instead of writing a useless propaganda piece, you could have instead enumerated the details and suggested improvements. Not very extravagant expectations from a senior leader and defence expert such as yourself.

    • when u offered them the service with a proper contract giving well laid out TERMS AND CONDITIONS. FOR So many decades why have you woken up today from your slumber and realised that this condition of pensions was and is going to be such a big pain..The persons like you lack ANY SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and will never be able to see or view any issue in the right perspective.
      SUCH people should refrain from voicing their opinions on such sensitive issues involving morale of the ARMED FORCES WHICH have been the back bone of national fibre of this great nation.

    • He was a colonel and son to late defence minister jaswant singhji . Unless you don’t know don’t tell. Also just to share a bit, he also fought in the Kargil war. At least know a bit of the history of the person before saying anything. And what he has shared is the truth. This has been shared by almost all ex-serviceman on twitter. You should wake up now.

  25. I don’t know whether I should class this writer as naive or dumb. When bulk of the defence budget is going for salaries, perquisites and pensions, what kind of defence budget is that? Way of life of armed forces is not based on any scripture or holy writ. Like every institution, armed forces have to change, and the leaders of armed forces have recognized it. If this balooning salary and pensions are not checked, India’s defence budget will swallow other allocations in the budget. It will be no different from Pakistan’s budget, where in every department’s budget, something is stowed away for the armed forces.

    • Reduce the civilian baggage in MoD. A huge proportion of defence budget is eaten away by pay and pension of these babus. If pay and pension has increased across the board for civil employees as well, how can you leave the military. Increase the defence budget proportionaly to cater for increased pay and pension otherwise disband the military. Maintaining a standing army has never been cheap. Security comes at a cost you naive man.

      • pensions for civilians have been done away with effect from 2004 NPS schemes have replaced them which is funded by employee himself so keep civilians away from this discussion..every job has its hardships and every one serves motherland in his/her own capacity.

    • Precisely what the author was trying to convey – that of ignorance of the military life and systems.

      Which service takes oath to lay down its life in furtherance of duty ?? And to pay for the insurance while bequeathing their lives.??? The Defence expenditure is 1.44% of GDP as of date ,the least among all past years’ allocations.

      Defence of a country is certainly a costly ( and ‘un productive ‘ too). Nevertheless, all self respecting nations across the world find the wherewithal to fund it without making the soldier feel small all the time

    • The Thing is you know nothing Boy..
      Politicians have tons of salaries and loads of pensions. why Soldiers and other govt. employee always taken om this path of changes …
      Let politicians also see changes in there pension from lakhs to some 5-10 thousabds then , we will see.

    • Full pension only if you serve 35 years.Cut in pension if you opt to quit early, even if service has permitted to release you based on your circumstances.How is this different from bonded labour. Only people who are ready to join armed forces themselves or send their children , have the moral right to comment upon pension of someone else .There are multiple ways to bring in efficiency in defence budget expenditure. But cutting pension is a sadistic way to treat a soldier. Shame on the citizens who support such proposals, sitting in the comfort of their homes.If the pension cut gets implemented, armed forces will see a drastic fall in intake of quality manpower.God save the country which has to resort to cut in pension of their soldiers to run the country

    • Your comments highlights your ignorance. Please see what percentage of defence pensions are actually for personnel who have retired after wearing uniform and how much goes towards civilians paid out of def estimates classified as ‘ def pensions ‘. Today the Govt has announced Rs 10 or 12,000 per month for retired Chief Secretaries to emoy a helper at home for life. Funny is it not ? The bureaucrats keep increasing their perks and you opine that reducing pensions of armed force personnel is justified. What do you even know of maintaining morale at 19000 feet of soldiers when you sleep safe in your bed.My friend , i would rather face an enemy in the field rather than back stabbing guys like you in my own backyard. God save this country from the likes of you.

    • just to comment, the person who wrote has been a colonel and he fought in kargil war and is son to late jaswant singhji. If you have not served, then you have no right to speak against them. Have you ever thought how it would affect the morale of the jawans and officers, now and later.

  26. Reforms are always painful because they take away something which is considered wasteful. Many of the privileges were extended in the past to make up for the low wages and pensions. The argument that I must continue enjoying the same privileges as my father enjoyed 40 years ago is not fair. Would a soldier rather have a proper winter gear and smart guns in place of imported booze and subsidized rations form select shops.
    “Perquisites have been chiseled away, one slice at a time. Salami slicing of the border has been copied, aimed at service privileges. Pension and service reforms are the latest target, and anger is palpable among soldiers.” This coming from a political leader is very unfortunate.
    A recently published book on “10 rules For Successful Nations” has full chapter on the demographic impact will make a good reading, it is not from a half baked economist

  27. We are considering the print as bipartisan, I was wondering, if my assumption is correct then why print is letting your space to post thoughts of people with political biases, the author should write biased views in his blog.

    Other wise the bellow captions should be posted at the top well visible.
    “The author is a Congress leader and Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert. Views are personal.”

    • He is the son of Late Jaswant Singh one time Defence Minister. I do not understand why Print highlights his Congress connections is it to spite Congress .

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