A printed cutout of the article ‘Downside of upgrade’ by Meenakshi Lekhi, presently Minister of State for External Affairs, is doing the rounds on social media. The article focuses on the Non Functional Upgrade (NFU) introduced by the UPA government in 2008, a feudal system of exclusive benefit for babus and extended to 49 organized Group ‘A’ central services for time bound pay promotions of every officer till the higher administrative grade irrespective of capability performance or vacancy. The bureaucrat-turned-politician then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thus benefited bureaucrats for all times to come with collateral benefit to many others.
Lekhi wrote that barely one-two per cent Army officers reach the apex scale of Lieutenant General and upwards but an IAS, IPS or IFS officer is guaranteed to reach the rank of DG Police. She pointed out the injustice in denying NFU to the Armed Forces and Central Police Forces despite them facing bigger challenges and enemy bullets. She was critical of the top-heavy police organization and further wrote if NFU is good it should be given to all or scrapped.
The cutout of the printed article in circulation has no date and the link to this article hosted by ‘The Week’ has been conveniently deleted to hide the fact that this article was published on February 3, 2017. The aim of posting it now on social media appears two-fold: first, berate the UPA for introducing NFU; second, show both Armed Forces and Central Police Forces have been denied NFU.
No doubt the UPA government is responsible for introducing the NFU but the NDA governments are equally to blame, or rather more, in discriminating exclusively against the Armed Forces. In fact, NFU has been granted to the Central Police Forces and Railways in 2019 under the present government.
Supreme Court ordered grant of NFU to Central Police Forces in 2018-2019 when an Appeal against the judgment of Delhi High Court in the case of GJ Singh Vs UOI was filed by the MHA. MHA defended the case ‘perfunctorily’ and even the Appeal was namesake. No Adjournments were asked and no delay tactics employed; unlike what the Defence Ministry is doing to deny NFU for Armed Forces.
Veteran Colonel Mukul Dev has been fighting for grant of NFU for Armed Forces in the SC since September 2017. But adjournments and new listings continue unabated with excuses or absence by the ASG representing the UOI. During the last hearing (November 2, 2023) the ASG again sought adjournment saying government has to serve copies to two NOKs (government was required to to do so in 2019) and walked away sniggering and smiling. The next hearing is listed on January 10, 2024.
At this year’s Christmas function in the SC, the CJI condoled deaths of army brave hearts recently martyred in Poonch and showed solidarity with soldiers guarding our borders. Isn’t he aware of the NFU case for Armed Forces dragging in the SC over the past four years?
In the abovementioned article, Lekhi asked how a decorated military officer would feel when he sees an IPS or IAS officer being promoted just because he appeared in an exam and qualified in it. But let us fast forward to today and ask – how does a soldier feel when politicians don’t even condole their compatriots sacrificing their lives? Take J&K where 33 Army personnel have been martyred in 2022-2023. The scene since 2019 is hardly serene either, looking at 651 incidents of killings, 153 civilians killed, 222 security forces killed and 868 terrorists killed, with Pakistan having an endless supply of terrorists.
Considering the hectic schedule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, someone on his staff would be handling his social media posts. Since PM Modi has 90.2 million followers on X and 88 million on Instagram alone, that ‘someone’ possibly wants to show everything is hunky-dory in J&K. But ‘completely’ ignoring the sacrifices of soldiers is disservice to the prime minister – damaging his image, which should be avoided. It would be advisable to at least do so ‘occasionally’ to avoid public angst.
The issue involves soldiers’ lives, not a news item like J&K got Rs 84,544 crore investment in three years but only Rs 2,518 crore have been invested yet.
The conduct of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh by not condoling the sacrifices of soldiers is reprehensible; unbecoming for a defence minister of any country. It may be recalled he went running to Chhattisgarh as Home Minister to lay wreaths every time there were casualties in a Maoists ambush or an encounter. It matters little whether a politician wags his tail at Mach 4 or hypersonic speed but here we have a defence minister who has nothing to say, leave aside laying wreaths and consoling families, even when bodies of soldiers are so badly mutilated by terrorist that cremations forcibly are with bodies inside the coffin box, which is not done as per Hindu rites.
Rajnath recently announced that culprits of the drone attack on merchant ships will be found “even” from the depth of the ocean, which sounded similar to “not even an inch of territory lost in Ladakh. But he would not allow our special forces to extract cross border revenge even if they have suffered casualties on the hands of Pakistan-based or Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. The Rajput community is appalled that Rajnath belongs to the same community.
Rajnath’s other contributions include making the Armed Forces Tribunal largely defunct and paying lakhs of rupees to a battery of lawyers to fight disability benefits to military personnel, even though the numerical strength of our military is higher than the US military and recipients of disability benefits in the US are 4.7 million compared to 0.2 million in our case. There is little chance of him reading the book ‘Maimed by the System’ authored by Major Navdeep Singh, highlighting true life examples of Ex-Servicemen and Widows of Soldiers. As to SPARSH, introduced hastily without trial is loaded with wrong/incomplete data in hundreds of cases. But why would Rajnath bother about soldiers and widows not receiving pension, whereas, he should have asked for a monthly state.
Finally, Lekhi’s suggestion to scrap the NFU amounts to brave words only. No government will have the guts to take on the recipients. The Babu Anthem is “governments come, governments go but we are there forever”. Most politicians (ministers included) know little about their job and are solely dependent on bureaucrats. So why deny NFU to the Armed Forces only? Money is never a problem for politicians considering one can pocket Rs 40,000 crores in a jiffy and also remain “protected” being from the ruling party. A tweet below highlights the context.
The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.