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Trained and successful, yet nowhere to go

The parliamentary Committee on Defence has recommended a five-year cooling off period for Army officers’ retiring in the rank of Brigadier upwards for preventing them to act as middlemen for defence procurement companies.
The earlier period was one year which if now implemented will be extended to five years. Is this a clear case of shooting the messenger and not addressing the system failure? Governments in question have always stated there are no middlemen in defence deals, how come veterans are now falling in this category? All that these officers’ did was work for a Government public sector defence undertaking, till now a holy cow, but suddenly milked dry and untouchable, a clear case of discard and throw away, both the men and a blue chip company. Those who have erred need to be brought before the judicial system. On the other hand, tarnishing the image of all, and stating that they fulfill the role of middlemen which is not allowed in arms deals is ruination of the image of the soldier. The forte of the soldier in Civvies Street is administration and human resource management, not financial transactions, thus why are they being held accountable for influence only. Are those who take decisions so easily influenceable?   What have been said about the source of the problem which leads to this heavy demand of surplus cash an endemic system failure possibly remains unaddressed, as nothing has come out in the media?
In order to maintain a young fit fighting force, the retirement profile of the forces is different than other Central Government services; thus the veterans are asking for one rank and one pension. Soldiers retire early by 41 or 42 years. Officers at the rank of Colonel retire at 54 years, thereafter, every two years per rank is the retirement age. Thus brigadiers retire at 56, Major General at 58, and Lt Gen at 60. The percentage of officers who retire in the rank of brigadier upwards would hover around 12 to 14 per cent per batch; therefore, this number is quite large, dedicated, skilled and motivated. These officers’ are young by any standards, politicians never retire yet recommend corporate age cut offs, at 58 most of them do not liked to be called touching 60. Civil servants post retirement at 60 cleanly shift to some post which can only be manned by them, like Chairmanship while police officers become security consultants of business empires, only the soldier works at the grass root level, and now that too is being denied to him. Retirement re-employed is only for Colonels and select few brigadiers that too for two years only, in the rank of brigadier.
By an extension of the logic of being able to influence a decision the soldier is in the least influencing position because the system has placed him on a lower position each time the pay commission has given its recommendations.

On the other hand, to say that all central services employees who have more influence as a group compared to soldiers, should not work post retirement is a typical dog in the manger attitude. It would be very poor human resource management because skill levels of these people are not optimally utilised? The corporate sector which believes in perform or perish has correctly employed soldiers in large numbers and never found them wanting.
The committee in its wisdom is stating that the villain in the piece is the hard working dedicated officer who has pushed sales and operated the system from inside, for whose gain one wonders? This may happen in a few cases but is not a generalist view and does not address the entire gambit. What has caused a glut in the system that `12,000 crore (twelve thousand crore estimates only in Tatra case), only the tip of the iceberg needs to be eaten up like a gluten by the system. What causes the system to demand more and more should be addressed first. If India imports `60,000 crore worth of equipment in the next couple of years and the defence sector which was capable of employing 75,000 employees had its industry indigenization process taken place, would these officers come to such a pass?

On the other hand, in other democracies, these officers are welcomed in the private sector as they have a good understanding of what the defence sector requires. This presupposes the fact that the forces give the officers the culture and ethos of service requirement first and profit later which is the ground reality, but our system has no place for upright people.
A man from 50 upwards till early 60 is at the peak of his personal responsibility. His requirement are at an all-time high, this is the time when children are settling down, completing higher education, getting married and the couple settling down in a house. The requirement of funds peaks. At this critical time when a soldier never lets the country down, he leaves the service in order to maintain its young profile, and as a gift is not allowed to work else where. Is the system being fair to the vast hard working majority, while at around 50, his civilian counterparts in Civvies Street are at the peak of their respective carriers and enjoying the fruit of their labour? Why are we being unfair to this man if we as a nation for reasons known best to us did not encourage a defence centric industry and instead choose to import weapons? This recommendation also smacks of a Delhi centric ethos pushing the agenda to an all-India level. Honey bees go where the nectar is, so do arms dealers, to the corridors of power which is Delhi.  A large number of service officers’ live and settle outside the nectar, spending time on their roots, with kith and kin. These people settle all over India, why is this man who can be an asset to his State or private business being denied this opportunity, where no arms industry flourishes? There definitely needs to be checks and balances in place, arms industry is a vicious circle, but a carte blanche order treating all as untouchables is not being fair to one particular community, especially when they retire early.

Brig CS Thapa (Retd) is an advisor to the Pioneer Dehradun and writes a column, 'Mount View' for its Dehradun and Chandigarh editions.

Courtesy: The Pionner (Dehradun), 06 May 2012



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Brig CS Thapa (Retd)
Contact at: [email protected]
Abraham Cherian
The 5 yr cooling off recommended is based on the premise that all those who retire are guilty before committing any offence. This branding of military officers must be opposed at all levels. Why not the same parameters for all civil servants who hold sensitive appointments. Many intelligence officers' children are studying and settled abroad - are they not vulnerable to counter intelligence ops? Should these officers not be sacked for exposing themselves to such vulnerabilities?
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