The Ukraine war and Israel-Hamas war conclusively demonstrate the importance of the man behind the machine. Hamas easily breached Israel’s high-tech surveillance. Equivalent of our ‘Agniveers’ in Russian and Ukrainian armies have proved to be cannon fodder. But India has a deliberate campaign to “weaken” the soldier. Agniveers with mere 4-month basic recruit training for 4-year stint in the Army is a political gimmick with RSS sponsor stalls, NSA denouncing Army’s regimentation and the PM addressing first lot of Agniveers.
John Swinton, former Chief of Staff of New York Times publicly acknowledged, “There is no such thing as an independent press… We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes…. We are intellectual prostitutes.” Our media hypes financial burden on military pay-pensions “in isolation” without comparing expenditure on other services, even civilian-defence employees – 4-times more expensive than the uniformed counterpart. SPARSH has enabled PCDA expansion with expenditure many times more than what banks handled; also Introduced without due trial and continued hiccups causing untold misery to widows and veterans.
4-year military service is insufficient to acquire requisite professional skills, as penned by many including a former Service Chief. The initial plan to absorb 25% Agniveers is being increased to 50% because of manpower shortages and Agniveers leaving midway is kept under wraps. The Army has debarred Agniveers independent employment even for local attachment or guard duties in Higher HQ. Aren’t they a ‘liability’? The Navy had to discharge 48 Agniveers failing to qualify in academics.
How will a unit deployed in an operational area with widely dispersed sub-units use Agniveers? Aren’t soldiers behind the machine more important with increased requirements in the cognitive domain and machine learning? Agniveers negate the qualitative advantage we have over the PLA’s manpower. Government needs to junk this concept instead of making it a political issue. Why is this concept not applied in CPOs instead of hollowing men behind machines in the military?
The propaganda that there is no change to the previous disability pension rules in the new rules issued in September this year is a lie. Among many changes is the new ‘Impairment Relief’ introduced that bars disability pension for ‘most lifestyle-related diseases’. This comes after a CAG report in March expressed concern that 36%-40% of military officers retiring annually were getting disability pension compared to 15%-18% soldiers, which MoD says was recommended by a committee headed by a military officer.
Under the new rules, the widow of a soldier dying of sudden cardiac arrest or due to stroke caused by hypertension while patrolling on Counter Insurgency duties is not entitled to Special Family Pension, and the soldier, if survived, would not get Disability Pension. Earlier, all such disabilities were listed as affected by “stress and strain of military service”. Now only cases in High Altitude Area would get the benefit, this too, if the service in high altitude is “more than 3 months”. There was no such condition since 1939 and there is no such condition for the CAPF “even today”.
Similar, is the case for a soldier suffering from cancer whose disability gets aggravated due to stress and strain of military service. This despite, the disability percentage for hypertension induced by stress and strain of military service has reduced from 30% to merely 05% to take it below the minimum required figure of 20% for disability benefits. There are many more negatives and regressive changes in the new rules. Has medical science changed ONLY for disabled defence personnel and military widows in September 2023? Are we even bothered about increasing number of cardiac arrests cases in the Army?
Another life gone so soon.
Number of death cases due to cardiac arrest, despite being active and appearing fit, are increasing by the day.
Without disclosing iden, sir was a fitness enthu cyclist but suffered a fatal cardiac arrest.
Fratricide by a young major speak aloud.… pic.twitter.com/2zPebqOV5K
— Major D P Singh (@MajDPSingh) October 11, 2023
The CDS says the new rules will prevent misuse. But is it fair to debar widows from special family pension and soldiers from disability pension in cases as mentioned above when these rules do NOT apply to other services? A civilian scholar notes, “According to a government notification issued in September this year, the disability pension for soldiers is less than half that of bureaucrats. Our official policy regarding our defence services smacks of double standards”. Veteran Colonel Amit Kumar writes, “Introspect and don’t sell your souls and the future of your comrades only for a few crumbs…. You seem more concerned about a few pennies than the health and comfort of the disabled and the families of the dead”.
High Court lawyer veteran Major Navdeep Singh tweeted, “Our memory is short. In 2016, based on suspicious data provided to 7th Pay Commission, disability benefits of the military were reduced. Raksha Mantri took a stand, PM constituted a committee of secretaries which deprecated the reduction & restored benefits with cabinet approval. 2023, Redux- same data is again used to strike at death & disability benefits. I would urge and request Mr @rajnathsingh not to implement these clearly faulty & sadistic changes based on false inputs of “misuse” etc
Our memory is short. In 2016, based on suspicious data provided to 7th Pay Commission, disability benefits of the military were reduced. Raksha Mantri took a stand, PM constituted a committee of secretaries which deprecated the reduction & restored benefits with cabinet approval.… pic.twitter.com/QxIqRe1LRu
— Navdeep Singh (@SinghNavdeep) October 3, 2023
The Defence Minister taking up the case is out of the question. As Home Minister, he went running to Chhattisgarh to lay wreaths and announce compensation of Rs one crore each whenever the CAPF were ambushed. But now he did not have the decency to e tweet condolences when precious lives were lost in CI operations in Kokernag and Uri, leave aside laying wreaths. But what does the poor soul do when his total focus is not to be rekegated to ‘Marg Darshak’ next year? Witness his ministry ordering that geo-tagged ‘selfi points’ be set up by all departments/organizations showing good work done with mandatory picture of PM Modi.
How does CAG say 36%-40% of military officers retiring annually get disability pension compared to 15%-18% soldiers. The simple illustration is if a cricketer scores a boundary on the first ball and gets out on the second, his strike rate is 200%. Whether OROP or disability, media is used to focus on officers, whereas they are not even 2% of 60,000 retiring from the Army annually.
In July 2019, I receivea a letter from the then COAS with a copy of his letter to Maj Gen Ian Cardozo about levying IT on disability pension and debarring disability pension from stress related cases (as has happened now). I replied that the issue originated in 2014 with Lt Gen BK Chopra, DGAFMS taking up misuse of disability pension with the Defence Secretary. But why didn’t Chopra say so in his entire service in the Medical Corps and institute countermeasures if true? I also wrote, “Is the Army incapable of finding a solution and must sacrifice genuine cases?” Readers may wish to read the article ‘The Faux Pas of Taxing Disabled Soldiers’ published in ‘Fauji India’ in September 2019.
The Armed Forces Tribunals (AFTs), under the MoD are mostly nonfunctional by design to deny justice to soldiers while the Defence Minister continues his fakery of looking into the issue. An AFT judge who questioned the government was posted out overnight. The Supreme Court has reversed his posting but implementing AFT decisions depends on the government which may take ages or not at all.
Now soldiers going on leave are required to do social service and forward reports (sic). There is no cognizance of his stress in service and the problems he has to resolve on leave – attitude of officials towards soldiers and every government official demanding money to get his work done, Patwari upwards. Let the soldier do his national service by serving in the Military. He is already taxed to “train” Agniveers. The Army hierarchy needs to stand up for the soldiers and not lie prone to every unreasonable demand. How can you have lien on a soldier’s leave unless it is to recall him in case of war? Voting by soldiers should be made compulsory at the place of their posting, as already authorized. This will stop the politico-bureaucratic cabal from making idiotic demands and belittling soldiers.
The campaign to degrade the Armed Forces is continuing. Veterans peacefully protesting at Jantar Mantar wearing their regimental caps and medals were brutally lathi-charged on August 14, 2015 by the Delhi police, their medals and decorations snatched away, while their wards in military service watched the spectacle on electronic media. Recently, the Army was forced to hand back 12 armed KYKL terrorists in Manipur by a BJP MLA of Manipur; of which one KYKL terrorist had masterminded the ambush in Manipur in 2015 killing 18 personnel of an infantry battalion. Can there be a bigger shame for the Centre and the Defence Minister mum on the issue? What about the CDS (himself an infantry officer) and the COAS?
Witness how a Union Minister gloats over shunting out Army officers from the Survey of India (SoI) calling them “useless”
The Minister of Science and Technology’s comments about army officers being useless in the Survey of India are not only anti-national, but also a slap in the face of the Army officers who have been the backbone of our Nation. pic.twitter.com/EmgZs0Y27Q— Vikas (@Vikas21373421) October 12, 2023
His inborn hatred towards the Army appears to have overshadowed the understanding why Army in SoI is necessary for defence of the nation.
The continuing military-to-military India-China talks with the 20th round held recently helps hide the loss of territory in 2020 as well as embarrassing the Army. The PLA must be having a good laugh staring at our officers for hours and pitying their predicament because our diplomats and the NSA, whose job is to discuss the border issue, have perhaps already been rebuffed by their Chinese counterparts. Delhi High Court has sought Centre’s response on Dr Subramanian Swamy’s plea seeking information regarding Chinese encroachment on Indian Territory under the RTI. In all probability the Centre would refuse sharing details saying the issue is ‘sensitive’.
Finally, will Centre take corrective measures remains a question mark but doing so will be good for the nation.
The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.