|#1328||10349||January 26, 2015||By Sanjay Sethi|
Three fairly related human resource issues of direct relevance to the armed forces have been in Press Information Bureau releases/news lately. Firstly, press release of 09 Dec 2014 notified that the government has taken numerous measures to encourage youth to join Armed Forces, in view of shortages, including sustained image projection and a publicity campaign to create awareness among the youth on the advantages of taking up the challenging and satisfying career. The release further lists various steps taken to make career in armed forces attractive, which includes an improved pay structure, additional family accommodation, and improvement in promotion prospects. Despite media campaigns offering ‘ocean of opportunities’ to the youth, the army suffers a deficiency of 7,989 officers, the navy of 1,499 officers, and the air force has 357 less officers than required[i]. Secondly, just a week later, in an another press release on Pay Parity for Defence Personnel, it emerged that the three Services have, in a Joint Services Memorandum to the Seventh Central Pay Commission, sought parity in Grade Pay of Service Officers and Personnel Below Officer Rank; parity in initial pay fixation of Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel and Brigadier equivalents; grant of Non-Functional Upgradation to officers; and common pay scales for Junior Commissioned Officers/Other Ranks[ii]. Third is a seemingly trivial issue of exemption of toll to service personnel. The article attempts to determine if there is a common thread running amongst the aforesaid issues or if there exists an undesirable and avoidable contradiction.
No nation with active frontiers can pay members of its armed forces enough for the sacrifices they and their families make. It is also natural for such nations to face difficulty in meeting the manpower needs of the forces with volunteers. India is no exception. However, most nations with actively deployed forces pay their soldiers no less than their counterparts in the government and the corporates, both in terms of service length and rank. This is a where we have long been an exception, and if the trends continue, the staffing shortages will only become more acute. Comparisons with other armed forces would be in order at this point.
Every four years, the US Department of Defense conducts a review of military compensation to determine if the service members are adequately rewarded. While doing so, it realizes that the services must compete with private-sector firms and other government organizations for qualified personnel, and the pay package is an important tool for meeting this competition. The Eleventh Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, completed in June 2012, concluded that that service members receive higher pay than comparable civilians[iii]. A study by the PwC in the United Kingdom, commissioned by the Office of Manpower Economics, to compare pay between members of the armed forces and that of civilian roles of comparable job size concluded that the armed forces salaries are broadly competitive with those in the civilian sector. The findings were based on comparative evaluation of 286 armed forces jobs with 35,385 civilian jobs[iv]. While these armed forces enjoy parity or even an edge, back home parity remains a distant reality. The present projections to the Seventh Central Pay Commission include the demand for Non-Functional Upgradation, which if accepted, would imply that the pay of service officers will lag behind their counter parts in government by not more than two years. The present lag in most cases, including those where armed forces officers are found fit for further promotions, is often more than a decade!
Many would argue that pay is not the only motivation to serve in the armed forces. Satisfaction of enjoying a challenging job, which provides an opportunity to earn the gratitude of fellow citizens, and numerous privileges, is far greater than monetary benefits. Societies convey their gratitude in numerous ways to soldiers who risk their lives and suffer strenuous conditions of military service. The service personnel enjoy perks and privileges in line of duty many of which come through statutory provisions made under various acts. Indian Tolls (Army And Air Force) Act, 1901, is one such act, which relates to the exemption from tolls of persons and property belonging to the Army or Air Force, and was later extended to the Navy. The act extends to the whole of India and came into force almost 114 years ago, on the first day of April, 1901.
The first 100 years of the acts existence were absolutely uneventful and the government of those times was absolutely pleased to grant this very deserving privilege to the members of its armed forces. However, in the last decade Toll exemption, or actually its payment by the members of the armed forces, has been a subject of much debate and has seen a display of a very wide spectrum of emotions albeit with little or no response from authorities involved. The turbulent period, when the simple and easy to understand provisions of the act have been examined under a lens and questioned, coincides with the growth of concessionaires who now collect and retain the toll under the Built Operate Transfer model. The provisions of the act were challenged in court on the grounds that it was discriminatory, unconstitutional and against the spirit of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which provides for equality before law. Punjab and Haryana High Court dismissed the petition and in the year 2006 a Division Bench of the Supreme Court declined to interfere with the directions issued by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The issue has again attracted attention on issue of instructions that state, “…it is now being clarified that the exemption under the Indian Toll (Army and Air Force) Act, 1901, is available only to the persons who are ‘on duty’ and does not pertain to the retired personnel. No exemption is available on use of personal vehicles if it is not used for discharging any official purpose and duty, even if it accompanies the said official. The exemption is available only on production of pass as specified in the Indian Toll (Army and Air Force) Rules, 1942.”[v]
An extract from the operative part of the act is reproduced below:
“3. Exemption from tolls—The following person and property, namely: —
(a) All officers, soldiers and airmen of—
(i) The Regular Forces.
(ii) Any Irregular Corps.
(b) All members of the Territorial Army or of the National Cadet Corps when on duty or when proceeding to or returning from duty.”
Apparently, the requirement of being on duty and that of producing a pass pertains to the Territorial Army and the National Cadet Corps and not the regular army. Therefore, the issue is again in much debate. The exemption of Toll or its payment is certainly not a big monetary issue for the members of armed forces but a matter of right and privilege to move across the length and breadth of the country they defend. The exemption is not likely to make them either wealthier or poorer, if the exemption is withdrawn. The toll payment by serving soldiers should also not be a significant economic issue for the toll collector since members of the armed forces are just 0.1 percent of the nation’s population. Assuming that the serving soldiers are distributed evenly across the geography than their impact on the revenue would also be around 0.1 percent. Given that a large percentage of the armed forces personnel are at most times deployed on borders, far away from the BOT roads, the real impact would be much lesser.
Coming back to the three issues highlighted at beginning of the article, the youth today is extremely alert and sensitive to the opportunities that lie before them when they graduate from schools and universities. Apart from the media campaign and the challenges which the armed forces have to offer; pay, rights, and privileges also tend to influence them. Therefore, it is only in the nation’s interest that these are well aligned at all times. We may also try and learn from societies who have found ways and means to express their gratitude to the combatant community. American Congress has designated May as the National Military Appreciation Month to ensure that the nation has an opportunity to publically demonstrate their appreciation for the sacrifices and successes made by their service members - past and present[vi]. Two of the ten federal holidays are dedicated to veterans and soldiers who have done the nation proud. “Thank you for serving," is a common refrain in public spaces when common citizens come across soldiers[vii]. Sacrifices of our soldiers are no less and therefore we can try and make a beginning. That would have a real positive impact on our intake profile.
The author is Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.
[i] Retrieved from http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=112873
[ii] Retrieved from http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=113395
[iii] Retrieved from http://militarypay.defense.gov/reports/qrmc/11th_QRMC_Supporting_Research_Papers_Files/SR04_Chapter_1.pdf
[iv] Office of the Manpower Economics, (2013). Comparison of Pay in the Armed. pwc. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/293439 /Comparison_of_Pay_in_the_Armed_Forces_and_the_Civilian_Sector_-_PWC_Report_Nov_2013__2_.pdf
[v] Retrieved Dec 20, 2014, from hindustantimes: http://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/chandigarh/veterans-rue-withdrawal-of-toll-tax-exemption-to-serving-army-personnel/article1-1251990.aspx
[vi] NMAM 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved Dec 20, 2014, from Military.com: http://www.military.com/military-appreciation-month
[vii] Gokhale, N. (n.d.). India, Respect the Soldier. Retrieved Dec 20, 2014, from NDTV: http://www.ndtv.com/article/opinion/india-respect-the-soldier-575321