Civil-Military Rank Parity: Can a Defence Board Address Wage Woes?
At times I am questioned for giving the political executive too much of a benefit of doubt on the end result of the machinations which start at the lower levels of the official chain, ultimately leading to embarrassment at the very top. And it almost seems that certain elements are out to bring discomfiture to all stakeholders and generate friction between the Defence Services and the government. Of course, I have discussed this modus operandi earlier in detail at The Quint.
Close on the heels of the hullaballoo over presentation of incorrect data and statistics by the Defence Accounts Department to the Pay Commission on disabled soldiers, a controversy on civil-military rank equation has again erupted with the Chief Administrative Officer of the Ministry of Defence unilaterally issuing an order stating that a Joint Director of the Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service (AFHQCS) would be equated with a Colonel, a Director with a Brigadier, and a Principal Director with a Major General.
The said communication cites certain earlier administrative orders issued in 2003, 2005 and 2008 to buttress the argument.
Giving Army Officers Their Due
- Circular issued by the MoD on 18 October on
rank-equivalence irks army personnel as the govt equates defence officers
with civil service officers.
- A civilian principal director at par with a brigadier has
been equated to a major general; hierarchically major general’s rank is
higher than a brigadier.
- Anomalies in pay structure across ranks due to the exclusion
of rank pay from the basic pay, an issue not addressed even by the
sixth pay panel.
- Govt panel tried to address the issue of parity as Lt-Col officers were under the Pay Band-3 while civil officers were elevated to Pay Band-4.
- With Supreme Court saying, rank pay shouldn’t be
deducted from basic pay, govt should set up a defence board that can address wage-related issues.
First Hints of Trouble
Till the Third Central Pay Commission, pay-scales of the military were almost at par to that of civil services with the military enjoying a slight edge. Though a point-by-point comparison of military and civil scales was not possible due to a higher number of ranks in the former than grades in the latter, right in the middle of the structure, the pay of a Lt Col (Rs 1750-1950) was roughly equal to a Selection Grade/Non-Functional Selection Grade officer (Rs 1650-1800 and 1800-2000) of the civil services (Director, Government of India in the present times).
Then the Fourth Pay Commission introduced a concept called the rank pay which was carved out of the basic pay, and which, as per cabinet approval was to be added into the basic pay for all intents and purposes. The said concept continued even in the 5th Pay Commission regime. However, while comparing the military scales with civil scales, the Ministry of Defence issued an order stating that for purposes of comparison of status or facilities, the rank pay shall not be added into the basic pay, thereby overriding the stipulation of ‘all intents and purposes’ which was approved by the Cabinet and was also part of the official government order on military scales.
Rank Pay Ignored
The Sixth Pay Commission also did not take into account the rank pay of military officers while tabulating a comparison chart on Page 73 of the report and provided for an equation of a Lt Colonel with the Junior Administrative Grade (Deputy Secretary to Government of India/Joint Director) by granting Pay Band-3 with a Grade Pay of Rs 7600 to both. Similarly, a Colonel was equated with the Selection Grade/Non-Functional Selection Grade (Director to Government of India) both being granted Pay Band-4 with Grade Pay of Rs 8,700. A Brigadier was granted a Grade Pay of Rs 8,900.
The above equation of a Lt Col with a Deputy Secretary to Government of India/Joint Director created quite a stir since the starting pay of a Lt Col (Rs 15,100 including Rank Pay) was much higher than even a Director (Rs 14, 300). The Defence Services demanded the equation of Lt Col with a Director. Ultimately, the matter was referred to a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by the current President of India.
Panel to Look into the Anomalies
The GoM examined the issue threadbare. Though the GoM did not agree to restore Lt Col to the position of Director, it agreed that a Lt Col was senior to a Deputy Secretary to Government of India/Joint Director and partially removed the anomaly of the Sixth Pay Commission by granting Pay Band-4 to Lt Col with a higher Grade Pay of Rs 8,000. While the GoM therefore stated that a Lt Col shall outrank a Deputy Secretary to Govt of India/Joint Director, it also underlined that the said rank shall remain slightly lower than a Director to Govt of India who was now equated with a Colonel. The following was recorded by the GoM:
“...this measure will ensure that Lt Cols maintain their position above Deputy Secretaries and below Directors...”
The GoM also provided that though Lt Cols were senior to Deputy Secretary to Govt of India/Joint Director level posts, they shall remain eligible for the lower Grade Pay of Rs 7,600 in case they wished to seek deputation at these lower posts.
The recommendations were accepted by the Prime Minister’s Office and also the Cabinet and ultimately the higher pay was notified for Lt Cols. Orders to this effect were issued in January 2009.
Supreme Court on Rank Pay
Settling a long-pending controversy on non-inclusion of rank pay into basic pay for fixation of pay, the Apex Court on 4 September 2012 finally directed that rank pay could not be deducted from basic pay of Commissioned Officers, thereby laying this controversy to rest.
MoD’s Latest Circular
The latest letter issued by the CAO of the MoD relegates military rank to a position even lower than the one controversially projected by the Sixth Pay Commission for which the GoM was constituted.
While the Sixth Pay Commission had equated a Lt Col with a Deputy Secretary to Government of India/Joint Director and a Colonel with a Director – which was later altered by the GoM stating that the rank of Lt Col would be senior to a Deputy Secretary to Government of India/Joint Director but slightly junior to a Director/Colonel, the CAO of MoD has equated a Joint Director with a full Colonel and a Director with a Brigadier.
While a Joint Director of the AFHQCS is a promotee from Group B (Class II) with only about four to five years of Group A Service, Colonels of the Army have minimum 15 years of Group A level (Class I) Commissioned service to credit. To reiterate this position, the CAO has cited irrelevant letters issued in 2003, 2005 and 2008 all of which cannot in any manner supersede or override the decision of the GoM, the PMO and the Cabinet or the directions of the Supreme Court.
Bane of Bureaucracy
The controversy again brings into sharp focus the pitfalls of the one-way file noting sheet system, a bane of the Westminster model, by which files are initiated from below but the senior level functionaries or even the political executive have no way of determining the truth or the veracity of what is put up to them. This assumes an even higher danger in the Ministry of Defence wherein the stakeholders are not a part of the file movement and have no manner of rebutting incorrect postulations in real time. This also leads to embarrassment among the highest echelons when multiple decisions are then referred for rectification to other bodies.
Concept of Defence Board
The simplest manner to offset this malaise is to introduce a collegiate form of decision-making rather than the one-way file movement method wherein stakeholders and decision makers could sit together with their representatives and experts and take well-rounded decisions. Another option in the military backdrop could be the introduction of the concept of a ‘Defence Board’ on the lines of the Railway Board for taking such decisions. The ruling party did admirably state in its manifesto that it shall promote the involvement of the defence services in the decision-making process.
Creation of schism between the government and the armed forces or embarrassment to the political executive, even when they themselves might be well-intentioned, is too high a price to pay and it is hoped that there would be a silver lining in all these hiccups becoming a catalyst of serious reforms in the higher defence set-up. Having interacted with the current Defence Minister and also assisted him in reformatory process in certain aspects, this author, though politically neutral, is not willing to buy the theory that Mr Parrikar is not inclined to bring a positive change in the system. However to reign in the malaise, what is required is a hammer from the top, instead of mischievous notes from below.
(Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing advocate in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels. He can be reached @SinghNavdeep. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)