Who rules it?
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd)**
Many people agree in private but (especially those in power) refuse to admit in public that the Indian Defence Forces comprising the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force (or, briefly, India’s “fauj”) are not treated fairly by government. Of course, there is the fringe opinion that the fauj lives in luxury and is even overpaid, when they observe things like availability of canteen facilities (especially liquor) and the period of leave admissible in a year. They obviously know nothing at all about the risks and hardships that Jawans and young officers face in daily life.
But what risk does the fauj face in peacetime? Actually the word “peacetime” used as the antonym of “wartime” is quite inappropriate, because even if India is not at war with any country, the conditions of service in countering insurgency are just as risky as any wartime deployment if not actually more so. Today, the fauj loses on average one man every day to militant action. And hardship? Even if the subhuman conditions of mere survival on the Siachen Glacier are omitted, there are severe hardships, both physical and mental, in manning posts on the borders and even in participation in military exercises from bases in “peace stations”.
The fauj consists of about 1.4 million personnel below officer rank (PBOR), with leadership provided by about 50,000 officers instead of 65,000 required, the greatest shortage (11,238 against 46,615 sanctioned) being in the army. The actual fighting is done by the PBOR but under the leadership of officers who, in the Indian fauj, have always led from the front, as statistics of officer versus PBOR casualties in operations have always shown. But without PBOR there would be no need for officers and without leadership, PBOR would be ineffective – it is the combination of the two with the right kind of weaponry, equipment, training, and motivation that can maintain India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the primary responsibility of the fauj. It is said that the man behind the gun is at least as important as the gun itself, which means to say that superior military technology by itself may win battles but cannot win wars unless the fauji (the soldier, a generic term that includes PBOR and officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force) is adequately equipped, trained and motivated. The examples of the US military in Vietnam and in Afghanistan and Iraq bear testimony to this military truth.
The important factor is that of motivation. It is not easily comprehensible to a civilian that motivation is essential to a fauji to fight when ordered and risk life or serious permanent disability. Motivation comes from a combination of regimental spirit, confidence in leadership and training, and most importantly from self-esteem that comes from the way in which the fauji is treated within the service and also outside in “civvy street”, both when in service and after retirement. Here, “treated” means and includes how much he is paid, what perks he receives and how he is treated by government officials when he is on duty and on leave in official and personal dealings. When the present writer was a young officer in the 1960s, a letter to the DC requesting expeditious disposal of a Jawan’s application was sometimes honoured. The need for such a letter itself showed that disposal of faujis’ applications received little attention, but at least a young officer’s letter received some attention. However in the 1990s, even personal meeting with civilian officials when I was much senior in rank (again not requesting a favour but only for just disposal) did not have much effect. This demonstrates how bureaucrats’ treatment of faujis has deteriorated over the years. This is not to say that all bureaucrats are insensitive to the fauj, since there are notable exceptions, but they are few and far between. So, the deterioration is not merely at individual levels, but is at system level.
This is borne out by some cases that I handled when I was Additional DG in charge of Discipline & Vigilance at Army HQ in the 1990s, and which will bear quoting as examples. In July 1995, Lt Bhaduria who visited the office of DC Bomdila in connection with a court case, sought appointment with the DC from the PA who asked him to come later, and when he came later, was indifferent and then rude, declining to give an appointment. Later, he was shouted at by the DC because he had told the DC’s PA to speak with due respect, and when he tried to explain the matter to the DC, he was ordered to leave the DC’s office and was served with an order fining him Rs.1,000 and in default, simple imprisonment of one month. Whether this case was resolved or not, it is quoted to show the attitude of bureaucrats and even their minor functionaries towards faujis. The firing by police at unarmed army leave personnel (resulting in death of two Jawans) at Lumding railway station in June 1993, and the kidnapping and murder of two children of a Havildar at Golconda in January 1994, both widely reported in the media, and the devious and delaying action by bureaucracy and police in both cases further demonstrate their attitude. It is too easy to blame senior officers in the fauj for not taking up these cases forcefully, but the sense of justice and national interest among the “steel frame” has never been to the extent that they would hold one of their own clan guilty. These cases and others taken up with state and central governments bear witness to the low esteem in which bureaucrats hold the fauj in general. This cannot be in the national interest. (Details of the three cases as recalled are below).
What is not understood by bureaucrats is that such treatment of faujis, far from merely causing them hardship, actually demotivates them. Today the Jawan knows that his officer can do little for him in his personal affairs as shown in the above cases. Thus the leadership of the fauji officer is limited to the four walls of the Army Act (or Navy or Air Force Act) and even this is eroded when government summarily dismisses a Chief of Staff. This is not to say that the cabinet is not supreme – it is, and should remain so – but it is to regret the lack of understanding of leadership issues as they concern the fauj at the highest political and bureaucratic levels, since Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat could just as easily have been discreetly ordered to resign rather than crudely dismissed, with negative repercussions on fauji morale.
The latest in the series of insensitive handling of matters fauji is the 6th CPC. While it is not the argument that salary is the most important cause to bring youth into the fauj or cause for officers leaving it as soon as convenient, it cannot be denied that it is a very important factor. When the single largest component of government servants is the fauj, repeated requests of various Service Chiefs over the decades to include a fauji as member in the Central Pay Commission have systematically been ignored or denied on the pretext that other sections of government servants will demand representation. The questions here are why should there not be representation of various sections, and why should bureaucrats represent everybody. It does not require superior intelligence to understand that is how bureaucrats retain hold of power and control in the country to the exclusion of other sectors. While it is true that the fauj must remain under civilian control, this must mean under control of the Cabinet and not under bureaucratic control, as it happens in practice.
We thus come to the oft repeated equivalence of faujis with bureaucrats. But before that, consider the “sub-bureaucratic” levels. Bureaucrats and politicians do not recognize that the PBOR fauji is a skilled worker, trained in a specialist job, exposed to hardship and risk far more than any civilian is expected to do as part of his duty. Thus he receives salary and pension less than a Grade IV employee and is treated shabbily by the civilian hierarchy, even though he is the backbone of the fauj and retires even before he is age 40 because of the necessity of keeping the fauj physically fit. Reverting to the officer cadre, fauji officers are equated with bureaucracy based upon salary. 90% of fauji officers do not pass the pay scale of Colonel, and a Brigadier with 24 years military experience is “equivalent” to an IAS man with 14 years of service, who is age-wise on par with a Lt Col under his command. Also, a Major General with 32 years of service becomes equivalent to a Joint Secretary years junior in age and service. Additionally, a point routinely (and may I suggest, deliberately) glossed over by bureaucracy is that only 1.5% of officers attain the rank of Major General because of the vitally necessary pyramidal structure of the fauj while 80% of bureaucrats become Joint Secretaries. These are all demotivating factors that insidiously affect functioning of the fauj in its internal command and control. It cannot be in the best interest of the nation if the guardians of its territorial integrity and sovereignty are treated with injustice to keep them inferior in status.
The question that arises here is what is the responsibility of the elected executive and the highest legislative body in safeguarding the interests of the nation by allowing bureaucratic control over an important body like the CPC? If bureaucracy is primarily responsible in this continuing injustice, then we need to ask whether the national interest is decided by bureaucrats or by the elected representatives of the people. What is needed for a start is pay and allowances to faujis de-linked from bureaucratic equivalence, in full recognition of the services that they render and the supreme sacrifice that they are expected to make, especially at the PBOR and junior-to-middle-rung officer levels, and “one-rank-one-pension” for retired faujis. Mollifying a few dozen generals, admirals and air marshals at the top by equating their salary with top bureaucrats cannot compensate for gross injustice done to the majority at the bottom of the pyramid.
The fall in the formal status of the fauj over the years is indicated by the falling order of precedence accorded to the Service Chiefs over the years. This fall in status of the top-most officers translates down to the lowest levels, resulting in lowered morale and self-esteem which are essential for a fauji to be effective in operations. There exists a kind of political blindness especially considering that while the militaries of neighbouring countries have been interfering in their nation’s politics, our fauj has remained apolitical as it should. It is vital for the long-term survival of India as a nation under the Constitution of India for the leaders at centre and state levels to recognize that on an average, some component of the fauj has been called to perform its secondary role in aid to civil power at some place in India once in four days (4 days), and ponder over why this should be necessary if bureaucracy and police perform their primary tasks. By its composition and performance record, the fauj is the last bastion of discipline and secularism in India that our leaders can only neglect, or worse still erode, at great peril to the nation.
(1,896 words of text)
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere was commissioned into the Corps of Engineers in December 1962 and held the position of Addl DG (Discipline & Vigilance) at Army HQ, New Delhi, from which he retired in September 1996. In 1993, the President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal (VSM) for distinguished services rendered in Ladakh.
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THREE CASE STUDIES
CASE STUDY 1
ILL TREATMENT OF AN ARMY OFFICER BY DC BOMDILA AND HIS STAFF
Lt Bhadauria and Capt Kapte, both of an infantry unit visited the DC's office at Bomdila in connection with a court case in July 1995 and approached the PA to the DC for an appointment with the DC. The PA asked the offrs to come after the lunch break, which they did. On requesting again for the appointment with DC the PA behaved in an indifferent manner and asked them to wait further. Bomdila is a hill station and since the weather was getting cloudy and the officers were to return to their unit, they once again requested the PA after about an hour for an early appointment with the DC. But the PA was very rude and used derogatory remarks to the effect that he was not a servant of army persons. Lt AS Bhadauria was agitated with such remarks and asked the PA to mind his language. Capt Kapte intervened to end the altercation. However, both the officers heard the PA saying to another person that he would ensure that the case file did not move easily.
Just before the office closed, the officers were called into the DC’s office. As soon as Lt Bhadauria entered the DC's office, the DC shouted at him, asking how he had dared to teach manners to his PA and whether it was the responsibility of the army to ensure discipline and etiquette of his staff. At this Lt Bhadauria tried to explain what had transpired between him and the PA. However, the DC refused to listen to him and asked him to leave his office, adding that he cared little for army persons and that he normally allowed only officers of the rank of Colonel to enter his office. Lt Bhadauria found it difficult to digest the insulting and derogatory remarks about the army, and suggested to the DC to speak in a manner befitting his position and office. At this stage, Capt Kapte intervened and instructed Lt Bhadauria to leave the office and wait outside.
The DC subsequently handed over to Capt Kapte an order passed by him fining Lt Bhaduaria Rs.1,000/- failing which he was to undergo simple imprisonment of one month. Capt Kapte approached the DC the next day and requested him to reconcile the issue. But the DC refused to reconsider the issue or discuss the subject any further.
CASE STUDY 2
FIRING AT ARMY PERSONNEL BY POLICE
On the night of 23/24 June 1993, an Army party of about 175 personnel, proceeding on leave/temporary duty was travelling by Kamrup Express from Dimapur to Guwahati. At about 9:340 P.M, when the train arrived at Lumding Railway Station, four personnel of the Excise Department and GRPF entered the Army compartment to carry out search of the personnel. The Army personnel, after disclosing their identity, requested the Excise Department personnel and the GRPF that the search be carried out either in the presence of Military Police or Senior Police Officials. The Excise staff did not agree to this, and they insisted on carrying out the search forcibly with the help of GRPF Jawans. This led to an altercation. GRPF called for reinforcements and began wielding their lathis on the soldiers who had gathered on the railway platform. The Army soldiers, who were unarmed, were completely surprised and shocked at this behaviour of GRPF personnel. They tried to protect themselves from the lathis, and a scuffle ensued, and Nb Sub Randhir Singh received a lathi blow on his head.
As the scuffle/lathi charge continued, some personnel of the Assam Police, who had occupied two rooms of the First Class Waiting Room located opposite the Army compartment, opened fire with their weapons. On hearing the sound of firing, the Army personnel ran into the bogies for safety. Nb Sub Randhir Singh was again injured by a bullet in his right leg, while rushing into the compartment. Soon thereafter a long whistle was sounded which was followed by switching off the lights in the Railway Station.
The Police personnel then came out of the Waiting Room, closed in on to the bogie which was checked earlier by the Excise personnel and continued firing. One of the policemen smashed the windowpane of the compartment of the bogie with his rifle butt and pointed his weapon at L/Nk Ilangovan. Though he pleaded his innocence, the policeman fired at him twice at point blank range, resulting in his death. L/Nk Jeet Singh, who was sitting in the same bogie received four bullet wounds on his legs while he was trying to climb onto an upper berth to save himself from the police firing. In the adjacent bogie, Rfn Vikram Singh died on the spot and Nk Hira Singh received bullet injuries on his legs.
An On-the-Spot Inquiry was conducted by SDM, Hojai, corroborating the details of the incident as related above. Twenty-six bullet marks were identified on the Military compartment.
Departmental Inquiry by the Army.
Station Headquarters, Dimapur, ordered a Court of Inquiry mainly to ascertain attributability of death and injury to Army personnel, and the Inquiry was completed in September 1993.
First Joint Inquiry.
The Governor and the Chief Minister of Assam were informed about the high-handedness, the unprovoked firing and excessive use of force by Assam Police on unarmed Army personnel. A Joint Inquiry headed by Shri Mishra, the Commissioner of Upper Assam Division, Jorhat as Chairman, and Brig Virender Kumar as the Army member, was ordered by Govt of Assam in August 1993. However, the Commissioner avoided meeting Brig Virender Kumar and insisted that he forward the Army's findings of the incident. This was not provided to the Chairman by the Army as premature disclosure of the Army's findings might lead to finalization of the findings of the Joint Inquiry without affording fair chance to the Army member to cross-examine the witnesses. Since the Inquiry was not progressing due to the uncooperative attitude, particularly of the Chairman, a case was taken up with Govt of Assam.
Second Joint Inquiry.
As a consequence, the earlier Inquiry ordered was cancelled, and a fresh Inquiry was ordered by the State Government in April 1994 with Shri Carae, IAS, Commissioner North Assam Division, Tejpur, as Chairman, and Brigadier Virender Kumar as member. It was decided that comments on the incident be prepared separately by the Army and Civil authorities. The Army member prepared his comments and forwarded them to the Chairman during October 1994. The Chairman was requested to forward the civil version of the incident to the Army, which he refused, also saying that the Government of Assam had not agreed to the separate findings of the Joint Inquiry. The Chairman was again approached by Army authorities in January 1995 regarding progress of the Inquiry. During discussions it came to light that the State Govt had not accepted the Army version. The Army authorities again contacted the Chief Minister during February 1995 for early action on the Inquiry.
Third (One-Man) Inquiry.
In February 1995, the Second Joint Inquiry mentioned above was dissolved and a One-man Inquiry under Shri Kubilan, IAS, Development Commissioner, was instituted by the State Govt in March 1995, requiring that the Inquiry be completed within 30 days. The Inquiry by the State Government of Assam had not even commenced even after nearly 2 years of the incident. With a view to obtain early and appropriate justice to the soldiers, the case was forwarded to the Ministry of Defence for onward submission to NHRC in June 1995. The Ministry of Defence, instead of forwarding it to NHRC, referred the case to Ministry of Home Affairs asking them about the desirability of referring the complaint to NHRC. This action of the Ministry of Defence was against natural justice since the complaint was against an organ of the Ministry of Home Affairs itself. Accordingly, the Adjutant General addressed a DO letter to the Defence Secretary, requesting that the complaint be forwarded to NHRC at the earliest, but there was no response from Ministry of Defence. In the meantime, the Third (One-man) Inquiry Committee forwarded its recommendations to the Govt of Assam, recommending action against one Excise Inspector, one Platoon Commander and two constables of the Assam Police, and compensation of Rs.2 lakhs each to the Next of Kin of the two Jawans killed and Rs.1 lakh each to four Jawans injured. However, implementation of the recommendations is not known.
The Army expected and hoped that justice would be done by the Civil Administration and Police to identify the police personnel who fired and killed/wounded unarmed Army personnel, and taking strict criminal action taken against them. However, there had been deliberate prevarication by the bureaucracy of the State of Assam. Army personnel are increasingly of the view that in dealings with civil administration, they are always at a disadvantage and that this is part of the attitude of Civil Administration and/or the Police Forces in general. There is a strong undercurrent of resentment in this regard, which makes the secondary-role deployment of Army units difficult on tasks which are the primary responsibility of the Police Forces. At the same time, defaulters among Army personnel deployed in counter insurgency operations, other aid to Civil power as well as incidents involving other authorities like Police, Railways, etc., are brought to book and punished expeditiously, while little or no action is taken against police personnel involved even in serious cases.
CASE STUDY 3
INCIDENT OF KIDNAPPING AND MURDER OF ARMY CHILDREN AT GOLCONDA, HYDERABAD
Two children of Havildar Rawat of an infantry unit stationed at Golconda were found missing on 31 January 1994. After carrying out a search of the unit and adjoining areas, the unit lodged a FIR with the Langar Houz Police Station. There was a difference of opinion between the Army and the Police regarding the case being registered as one of kidnapping or of missing persons. The Army suspected the hand of a Police Sub-Inspector and his brother in the kidnapping, and this was brought to the notice of the police. A couple of days later, the unit was informed that the mutilated bodies of the two children were found floating in a well behind the Golconda Military Hospital. Postmortem examination of the deceased children was conducted by the civil authorities, and later again by Army authorities. The results of the Postmortem examinations were not in agreement with each other regarding the cause of death.
On seeing the mutilated condition of the bodies of the children, the sentiments of the unit persons were aroused and a few personnel of the unit rushed to the Police Station. Altercations and a scuffle took place, resulting in a few policemen getting injured. A little later, some houses in the civil area adjoining the Army Lines caught fire, which was brought under control with the help of army personnel.
A Joint Inquiry Committee (JIC) with Army and Police members was ordered by the Govt of Andhra Pradesh, and its report was submitted in March 1994. The Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh held a meeting of Civil and Army officials soon after, to discuss the JIC Report, and the recommendations of the JIC Report were accepted. It was agreed that disciplinary action would be taken against the errant police officials, the Army authorities would take disciplinary action against errant army personnel, and that the case of kidnapping and death of the children and the incident of fire to the civilian houses would be handed over to the CBI for investigation.
Action against Police Personnel
The Joint Inquiry Committee blamed some police personnel for various lapses and recommended departmental disciplinary/administrative action against one DCP, one ACP, four policemen, one Fire Officer and the Medical Officer of Osmania Hospital who carried out the postmortem examination of the two children. On Army’s persistent requests regarding the action taken against the indicted persons, the State Govt stated that one ACP and three policemen had been warned to be careful and guard against such lapses in future, one policeman was awarded censure, and instructions had been issued for action to be taken against the Fire Officer by the concerned Department. It is noteworthy that the Civil authorities had used the word "lapses" when the acts were of a criminal nature, and the punishments awarded were not commensurate with the serious nature of the crimes. It also appeared that no action was contemplated taken against the other two indicted persons, namely the DCP and the Medical Officer.
Action against Army Personnel
On the other hand, the action taken against army personnel involved was comprehensive and fast.
(a) Officers: Lt Col Katkar and Maj Sethi were awarded Reproof.
(b) JCOs: Sub Maj Prem Singh, was awarded Severe Reprimand.
(i) Nk Govind Singh Awarded Severe Reprimand
(ii) Nk Kushla Nand Awarded Severe Reprimand
(iii) L/Nk Sujan Singh Awarded Reprimand
(iv) L/Nk Kamal Singh Awarded Reprimand
(v) L/Nk Than Singh Awarded Reprimand
(vi) L/Nk Hukam Chand Awarded Reprimand
(vii) L/Nk Dalvir Singh Awarded Reprimand
(viii)Rfn Ghanshyam Awarded 14 days detention
(ix) Rfn Manwar Singh Awarded 07 days RI(rigorous imprisonment)