Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member
The social media and the web is glut with issues pertaining to equivalence between the armed forces and the civil services, more specifically the AFHQ Cadre, and the issues pertaining to the Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFU). Many a correlation stems from mythical to distant historic events, in attempt to create rhyme with the current. Indeed, the heat so generated is inimical to efficient functioning of the Service HQ, causing its dark shadow on numerous others as and more important ongoing issues. There are also saner voices extolling the virtues of a conciliatory approach of mutual trust, and cautioning against stridency. The recommendatory direction to resolving the imbroglio is largely absent or underplayed, obviously implying the intractability and obstinacy of culling of an easy solution.
That the two issues of equivalence and NFU got entangled and intertwined is a truism. While the equivalence issue – as this article will delve into is certainly over four decades old, the NFU is of a recent origin, consequent to the 6th Central Pay Commission (CPC) Award. It was obvious that to bridge the gap within the Civil Services, the VI CPC awarded NFU, so that All India Services (AIS) and Group A Organised Services would attain the pay and pension upto an Additional Secretary in the Higher Administrative Grade scale. The attributes of an Organised Group A Service were laid down in 2009.
Though the issue is so well known that it requires no reiteration, yet for making the discussion wholesome and informed, it is being restated. Under the NFU schema, in the 6th CPC if an Indian Administrative Services (IAS) Officer is posted at the Centre to a particular grade carrying a specific grade pay in Pay band 3 or 4, then the officers belong to the batches of other AIS and the Organised Group A Services that are senior by two years or more and have not so far been promoted to that particular grade would be granted the same grade on non-functional basis. And this continues onwards to the HAG scale, giving in perpetuity, the IAS, a two-year advantage over other AIS and the Organised Group A Services, albeit on non-functional basis. Obviously there were no linkages envisaged with existence of vacancies. The AIS (other than IAS) and the Organised Group A Services have been representing, including with the 7th CPC, on removing the two-year advantage that the IAS possess. Stating that the Armed Forces have a different hierarchy, different scales and have their own structure, and are not Organised Group A Services, were not granted NFU. There is also a mention of the Military Service Pay (MSP). To kill the issue herein, the purpose of the MSP, which was granted till the rank of Brigadier, was different. It was to compensate for the trials and tribulations of service, and NOT to ameliorate the acute stagnation that the Services officers face. In the Services, over 97% superannuate at the Grade Pay of Rs 8700 of the 6th CPC regime or Level 12 of the 7th CPC.
It is important herein to mention that though the NFU was contemplated to be ‘non-functional’ and not a promotion in a functional form. It however did not turn out in that form. In the civil services nearly all obtained the advantage of the NFU, and hence there were no comparisons or equations; in the armed forces however there were close placements in the Military Engineering Service (MES)/ DGBR with the uniformed that were not covered by NFU. The cleavages appeared in no time, with the recipients of the NFU glossed over the ‘non functional’ part of the award, and quoted the higher grade pay to seek seniority and change in command and control systemic. As an example, a Superintending Engineer working under a uniformed Chief Engineer (grade pay 8900), jumped by NFU to Rs 10000 grade pay by say 20/21 years of service, sought a changed reporting system and perks, while in the Armed Forces this grade pay was applicable to a scanty few who were approved to Major General in say 32 years of service! The perks and privileges of service – travel entitlements and the like, were linked to the grade pay, thereby creating class differences and sharp undercurrents. Consequently, commencing from 2009 with the Chairman Principal Personnel Officers Committee (PPOC) raising the anomaly, and successive Chairmen Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Service Chiefs, and Adjutant Generals and their equivalent, the issue was constantly on top agenda. To top it, with intensive discussion by the Services with the 7th CPC, the Chairman of the Commission recommended that NFU be given to the Services, and Shri Vivek Rae, a member of the commission had, in his recommendations, while dissenting with the Chairman, stated that if at all NFU was to be given, it should, indeed, be given to the Armed Forces! It is instructive to read the Honourable Members’ view that, “…the Defence forces officers who are in no way lower in status or responsibility than Group A Central Services, though not classified as such, have fallen steeply behind IPS/IFS and 49 Group A Services. This has undermined the status and morale of the Defence Forces and has been a matter of serious concern for them over the last decade.” The Services position on NFU has been firmly, repeatedly and regularly postulated over last eight years, and stands on the firm foundation of conviction, that NFU is a must due to the acute stagnation that the Services officers face, and this obviously has Tri-Service consensus. Any contrary trolling is motivated, and is damaging to the aspirations of the officers, providing malicious pleasure to inimical elements.
It is necessary to shift track to the other contentious issue of rank equivalence with the AFHQ Civil Services, a designated Group B Service, which has recently been cadre-reviewed significantly. In its peculiarity, larger intake into the cadre is at Group B level, and with due time in service, the Cadre officers are promoted to Group A level. There is however some intake directly at Group A level too! The equivalence has seen many contentious decades, certainly goes back to 1988 designation of CR channels, which allowed Directors to be equated to Brigadiers. Consequently a spate of correspondence at varied levels till the Chairman COSC letter of 1992, reiterated functional necessity of this equivalence. In its aftermath the Service HQ for inexplicable reasons accepted a flawed equivalence in 2003, 2005 and 2008 for functional necessity –– correspondence which have been cancelled recently. Meanwhile regular cadre reviews have greatly restructured and expanded the AFHQ Cadre, without corresponding changes in the Service HQ, thereby constantly altering the command and control systemic. An issue that hung in a quandary for decades reached a crescendo, in the later half of 2016. A committee formed to reappraise the equivalence, with ADG Complaints Advisory Board (later DGMO) as member, remains unfinished.
Is there a way out of the imbroglios? The NFU case is yet subjudice, and the judgement will be far-reaching in consequence. Hence the debate needs to be pended till then, with hope that despite the rejoinder, a positive response will be forthcoming. Its in house implementation modalities should be contemplated, for seamless transition – including benchmarking and periodicity.
The equivalence is another matter. The Warrant of Precedence 1979 is stated to be for ceremonial and protocol purposes and it is only till Maj Gen rank. Drawing attention to any pre-Independence Warrant is of limited avail, the civil designations have dramatically changed! The transition of scales based on Grade Pay of 6th CPC to Levels of 7th CPC is explicit. The Pay Band 3 with grade pays of 5400, 6100, 6600 and 7600 are of ranks from Lt to Lt Col, have transited to levels of 10, 10B, 11 and 12A. Hence any statement that Captains/ Lieutenants will be equated to Section officers is far from actuality, and obviously germinates from a convoluted mind. The section officers are yet retained in Pay Band 2 and its equivalent levels in 7th CPC. This debate must end with a belief that the divide was deliberately planted as a methodology of information warfare, by those who tend to gain by damaging the cohesion of the Armed Forces Officers.
The likelihood of the stated Committee arriving at a firm recommendation seems distancing itself with time. There is a mention of formation of another expert committee. Pragmatically, the equivalence structure that has been firmed in and is in vogue for last forty years, howsoever incorrect or otherwise, may be difficult to be rescinded easily – being singularly contentious. Strange stalemate in actuality shows dilemma and the inability of policy-makers to correct the systemic – proverbially placed between the rock and the hard place! And status quo is problematic to the Service HQ, which, with regular cadre reviews of the AFHQ cadre, find adjustments in functioning and constantly amending command and control verticals extremely awkward, and the aversion of the trolling social media, to say the least, painful! At a glance the issue seems boxed in a no-go situation. This aptly brings to fore the conclusion that being a strongly divisive subject that defies clear solution, the debate must not be emotive or sentimental or to the galleries, for that will cause serious functional problems for the serving seniors in the Services HQ.
The Armed Forces are different indeed, and need to contemplate the issue internally. Why is a Director of AFHQ cadre promoted to PD, on posting to Service HQ, is designated as ADG? A Joint Director reports to the Service HQ as a Director! This equivalence had happened as the Service HQ had adopted designations of Director, Deputy and Additional DGs. The Service HQ needs to revert to rank based appointment across the board – as exist in the field/ peace formations. For example, a Maj Gen level administrative appointment is called MG Adm in field/peace formations, or a Colonel in charge of operations is Col General Staff (Operations). Similarly Service HQ need to conform to these appointments. The ADG Manpower Planning (MP) can be MG MP, the Military Secretary Branch should have MG MS A and B. The Directors should across the board be like Col Military Operations, and not Director Military Operations. The Government at the functional levels retains appointments as Deputy Secretary, Director, JS and Additional Secretary (AS). It is contended that we adopt our military rank based appointments, the appointments of ADG, DDG and Directors be done away with as they have led to the equivalence issue. In which case a PD should not be ADG as that would have no equivalence in the Service HQ, and should be PD only! As the Service HQ will have no ADG/DDG/Directors –the AFHQ Cadre requires no equivalence, and should retain their principal appointments, as they would, while posted in say Central Administrative Office.
The social media is unrelenting, and causes great consternation. Too many shibboleths get created, and are ruinous to the character and cohesion of the Services. The organisation is at the inflection point. The then Prime Minister had in 2008, consequent to review of the issues raised by the Armed Forces related to the VI CPC, approved a proposal for setting up of a High Powered Committee (HPC) to resolve the issues relating to command and control functions/status of Armed Forces other functionaries of the Government. The HPC, in the longer run, is the right way forward to ensure effective functionalities of the Government and the Armed Forces.