The Centre’s decision to cancel free ration for officers of the Armed Forces serving in peace stations (non-conflict zones) and replacing it with an allowance that was never agreed to by the Services has sparked off a lot of controversy between a senior Army officer and the government, according to The Times of India.
Deputy Judge Advocate-General of Headquarters 12 Corps Col Mukul Dev has sent a notice to the government via Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra seeking a reversal of the order in 60 days. He has threatened to move the court in case the reversal does not take place within stipulated period.
The government’s decision regarding the revised allowances for 3.4 million civilian and 1.4 million defence personnel was notified in the first week of this month. This revision was about the revised salaries granted to these 4.8 million privileged employees — whose salary is billed to the state exchequer. They had been awarded a generous pay hike by the Seventh Central Pay Commission which has been accepted by the government in its totality.
The Seventh Pay Commission had suggested a restructuring of the existing allowances of these employees. The reasons cited were viz that they receive handsome salaries compared to average earnings in India and monitoring various kinds of benefits for employees takes up a lot of time and effort for the government machinery. Also, a hike in the general allowances had been proposed to compensate the loss.
The Pay Commission had taken into consideration 197 special allowances given to a different set of employees and had come to a consensus that 53 of them should be done away with and 37 be clubbed with other existing allowances.
12 out of the 53 special allowances would be retained by the government keeping in mind the interests of both the civilian and the defence personnel.
One of such recommendation was related to free rations for the Army. The existing practice allowed military personnel to avail free rations and ration money allowances irrespective of whether they were posted in conflict zones or peace areas. The Seventh Pay Commission had recommended that the free ration and ration money allowance be continued as usual in areas of conflict but both should be done away with in the peace areas.
The government accepted the recommendation for the conflict-prone areas and continued with both the facilities. But about peace zones, it took part of the recommendation: it abolished the free rations for the defence personnel but continued with the provision of the ration money allowance.
The recent development
In his notice, under Section 80 of the Civil Procedure Code, Col Dev had stated that he joined the Army in 1988 after going through a UPSC advertisement/notification in a leading newspaper regarding the Combined Defence Services Examination.
“Besides other terms and conditions of service spelt out in the notification, there was the provision of free rations. There was no mention of the provision of cash in lieu of free rations. It was only after weighing all the conditions of service that I applied for a commission in the Army. It has now been intimated that officers of the Indian Armed Forces posted in peace areas won’t receive any free rations with effect from 1 July. They shall be paid a paltry sum of Rs 96.03 as ration money instead,” his report read.
Col Dev has also stated that the decision was taken without any written consent from any one.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Lieutenant general (retd) SPS Katewa, who is from Army Service Corps (ASC) said, “The rate was worked out by factoring in the Army’s all-India existing procurement rates. Those rates are low as we buy in bulk. It would have been better if it was based on existing retail rates that would be around Rs 250 a day.” The ASC is in charge of the procurement of rations.
In a recent development, the government has decided to go ahead with the free ration and grant of ration money allowance for Army officers posted in peace areas. This would be done keeping in mind the ‘important role’ of the Army, the Indian government said in a press release.