Govt must not fear litigation, it's justified in stopping free ration for defence personnel in peace areas
The government has taken a well-thought-out decision to retain the ration in conflict areas which is what it should be.
Today’s Times of India (25 July) reports that Colonel Mukul Dev, a senior army officer presently holding the rank of Deputy Judge Advocate General of Headquarters 12 Corps, has threatened the government that he would move court if the Centre’s decision to abolish free rations to army officers in peace areas is not reversed within 60 days.
It may be recalled that the decision of the government regarding the revised allowances for 3.4 million civilian and 1.4 million defence personnel was notified in the first week of this month. This revision was in continuation of the revised salaries granted to these 4.8 million privileged employees — whose salary is billed to the state exchequer — who had been awarded a generous pay hike by the Seventh Central Pay Commission. The government had accepted the pay hike recommendations in toto.
The Seventh Pay Commission had, while recommending the steep pay hike, had also suggested that many of the existing allowances admissible to these employees must be restructured — some should be abolished and some others should be subsumed under other allowances, instead of being provided as a separate allowance.
The Pay Commission had considered 197 special allowances given to a different set of employees and had come to a consensus that 53 of them should be done away with and 37 be clubbed with other existing allowances.
The Pay Commission’s recommendation was guided by two considerations: that the salaries of both civilian and defence forces had been made so handsome, compared to the average earning in a country in India, that the special allowances given to some set of employees did not have any rationale at all. The Commission also said that the general allowances admissible to all government functionaries were also being raised significantly to offset any loss on account of stoppage of special allowances.
The Pay Commission’s decision was also influenced by the fact that monitoring a large number of allowances for sporadic employees in different parts of the country involved huge time and effort of the government machinery which could be gainfully utilised for more productive purposes.
Despite these two-fold obvious reservations, the Seventh Pay Commission had recommended several special allowances (107, to be precise) for both civilian and defence forces to continue unchanged.
The government implemented the new pay structure, on the guidelines of the Seventh Pay Commission, from August last year. That involved an additional expenditure of more than Rs 1,00,000 crore annually.
The government had last year announced that the increased allowances would be notified after due deliberations. It is in that process that the government came out with the notification earlier this month to announce the new allowance policy. It was officially stated that by rolling out the hike in allowances, the government would end up spending an additional amount of Rs 31,000 crore every year.
It was interesting that while the government largely agreed with the Seventh Pay Commission regarding the quantum of hike in salaries and, it must be noted, it increased the quantum for several allowances – that made the government job the biggest aspiration for the youth – it did not fully endorse the Pay Commission’s recommendations on abolition and subsuming of certain category of allowances.
Keeping in view the larger interest of both the civilian and defence personnel, the government notified that it would retain 12 of the 53 special allowances, some partly and some fully, that the Pay Commission had recommended to be abolished.
One of such recommendations pertained to free rations for the army. The existing practice was that the army personnel received free rations and ration money allowances irrespective of whether they were posted in conflict zones or in peace areas. The Seventh Pay Commission had recommended that the free ration and ration money allowance be continued as usual in conflict zones but both should be done away with in the peace areas.
The government accepted the recommendation for the conflict-prone areas and continued with both the facilities. But, with regard to peace areas, it accepted part of the recommendation: it abolished the free rations for the defence personnel but continued with the provision of the ration money allowance.
Colonel Dev’s notice to the central government is a consequence of this government notification earlier this month. Colonel Dev has argued that such a decision by the government was illegal as it violated the basic terms and conditions of the appointment on the basis of which he had joined the ranks of defence services. But then Colonel Dev is acting myopically. He should also have taken notice of the fact that his service contract had not envisaged such huge jumps in salaries and allowances that he is receiving today. Would he be ready to forsake this to maintain the sanctity of the original contract?
Colonel Dev, of course, has not served this notice just as an individual officer. He is speaking for the entire 1.4 million defence personnel who have joined the services under similar terms and conditions that he has alluded to. He has started the symbolic protest; other fellow officers would possibly wait and watch if the government would buckle down under pressure and restore free rations in the peace areas before they decide to raise the demand in unison.
It is time for the government to remain firm. It has taken a well-thought-out decision to retain the ration in conflict areas which is what it should be: our defence forces operating in difficult and dangerous terrain need this support but a large majority of our defence personnel are deployed in non-conflict zones only preparing for war-like situations. They get a handsome salary to meet all their requirements. Still, the government, as a goodwill gesture, has retained the ration money allowance for them. They should be happy with that.
If the threat to move court against changing the terms of service agreement holds good for the defence services, then the same argument would be equally valid for the civilian personnel. The government of the day cannot be held to ransom to such trivial threats especially when it has invested a great deal of taxpayers’ money to shower huge benefits on both the civilian and the defence personnel.
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