In accordance with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s aim to ensure full support to the welfare of ex-servicemen and their families, a priority she enunciated immediately after taking charge of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the weeklong digital campaign organized by MoD ends tomorrow (December 7) on Armed Forces Flag Day. The aim of MoD’s campaign was to generate awareness about the ‘Armed Forces Flag Day Fund’ and encourage people to contribute generously, as also encourage public at large to show their sense of pride by wearing the flag representing three services from1st to 7th December 2017; flags available at government offices or by downloading printable version of the flag from .
But while the intentions of the Defence Minister may be good, what is being served to the Armed Forces is WEXIT (welfare exit), at much faster pace than BREXIT. The Naval Chief in his capacity as Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee has been constrained to write to the Defence Minister to reverse a government decision to cap the educational reimbursement for children of the martyred and disabled soldiers, his letter also saying that “this small gesture would assure the families of our brave women and men that the nation cares for them and their sacrifices are truly appreciated by the government.” The mere fact that the Armed Forces have to appeal on behalf of martyrs and disabled soldiers indicates that governmental pronouncements concerning welfare of ex-servicemen and their families go little beyond superficial rhetoric.
Earlier, there was no ceiling on funds for education till graduation for children of martyrs and disabled, number of such children being not more than 33,000. The 7th CPC capped educational expense to Rs 10,000 per month for children of martyrs, Significantly, the 7th CPC also brought the pay and allowances of Armed Forces personnel ‘below’ that of the central armed police forces, raising apprehensions motivation by forces inimical to India from within and outside the country led to such recommendations; simply because nowhere in the world such equation exists. Significantly, the MoD letter promulgating the decision to cap educational reimbursement for children of the martyrs was issued recently; backdated to July 2017. But did the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) under MoD, brief Mrs Sitharaman on assuming appointment of Defence Minister in September; contents of this letter, its implications and that affected children were not more than 33,000? Was it not incumbent upon the DESW to do so since the backdated letter was issued ‘after’ the educational term of the children had already commenced?
Concurrent to the letter by the Naval Chief & Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar has also appealed to the Defence Minister on the same issue. Earlier Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had written to the Defence Minister seeking reversal of MoD’s decision to cap educational expenses paid to children of martyrs, saying it would reportedly impact around 32,000 students in various institutions while saving the Union government a mere Rs 4 cr per annum. He called for an immediate review and revocation of the decision, which he said was “immoral” and “unprincipled”. What has been missed out in the media is that the concerned backdated MoD letter was issued after the affected children had already commenced the present educational term. This implies double stab in the back, and if the cap is not reversed some of them may have to pull out.
Now there are news reports that government “may” reverse the decision, which leaves the widest possible doubt. The usual practice of referring such matters to the ‘Anomalies Committee’ is akin to shoving the issue down the ‘Bermuda Triangle’, the Anomalies Committee already having gobbled up anomalies of 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th CPC, with an odd one resolved to keep the birbal ki khichdi going. All this is in addition to MoD sitting on the Report of the one-man Judicial Commission headed by Justice Ready to resolve issue of OROP. In fact, nether any UPA or NDA government has made any effort to redress these anomalies.
The abovementioned capping of reimbursement of education for children of martyrs saving Rs 4 crore annually to the government has drawn sniggers on social media – Rs 15000 mobile bill of individual politician, denial of NFU to Armed Forces, triple salary jump to SC and HC judges in 6th CPC and the like. But what about the proposal by UPA II to allow politicians / bureaucrats or their spouses, with one attendant abroad for medical treatment, with complete expenses of airfare, treatment, stay etc borne by the government? Not many would know that this was promulgated by NDA II, and an RTI revealed Rs 11 cr were reimbursed for treatment abroad of the spouse of a serving Chief Minister. The irony, therefore, of government reimbursing Rs 11 cr for one politician’s spouse versus denying Rs 4 cr for 32,000 children of martyrs is implicit.
Despite successive Defence Ministers claiming they have the welfare of Armed Forces and their families, martyrs, disabled, and veterans at heart, how is it that the martyrs, widows and disabled continue to fight prolonged legal battles to get their dues and pensions including disability pensions? Successive political parties have made pre-election announcements about separate pay commission for Armed Forces / Armed Forces representation in CPC’s, but these election gimmicks notwithstanding, no Defence Minister has had the gumption to ensure veteran representation in the DESW, despite latter taking cynical pleasure in dragging next of kin of martyrs and disabled to court. Is the intention to let the bureaucracy continue to rule the roost?
Veterans have also taken a hit in terms of canteen facilities authorized to them. In recent months, CSD canteens have been instructed that they can demand stores only based on the ‘average present strength of serving soldiers’ who are dependent on the canteen, leaving out personnel on leave, courses, duties etc. But what happens to the thousands of veterans who are dependent on the canteen? The result is that the stocks that arrive are sold out in two-three days leaving large number of veterans high and dry. Why the orders that veterans are to be discounted while ordering stocks for the CSD canteens? Now there is also unconfirmed news that the Unit Run Canteens (URC) that has 500 or less ‘average present strength of serving soldiers’ are to be shut down, giving the impression that the Armed Forces institution is being gradually hollowed by design. If true, many URC’s will be shut down denying the facility to the serving soldiers as well as veterans. Unit Run Canteens are the only means for the Commanding Officer to spend the profits for welfare of troops, despite deliberate misinformation that canteen profits are usurped by officers. Not many would know that even in Special Forces units, items like ‘rucksacks’ for soldiers are being bought through regimental funds because the DRDO-Ordnance Factory rucksack are of ridiculously low quality.
These are just some issues but it does give the impression that the fanfare on Armed Forces Flag Day is being served with WEXIT. The Defence Minister may wish to look into these issues, with wards of martyrs and disabled given first priority.