Uneasy truce between government, army chief

April 24th, 2012 - 7:07 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, April 24 (IANS) With a little over a month for army chief, Gen. V.K. Singh, to retire and the last three weeks passing without much public airing of differences, an uneasy truce appears to be prevailing between him and the defence ministry.

Officials in both the defence ministry and army headquarters are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping the next month or so of Singh’s tenure passes off without any embarrassing row for the government.

“As of now, everything is peaceful. Things have calmed down after three months of battle cries,” a senior officer in the army headquarters confided to IANS.

His views were shared by a joint secretary-rank official in the defence ministry who nodded when asked if the storm of the last three months - ever since Singh went to the Supreme Court to get his age records in the army headquarters amended - had subsided.

Officers in both the army headquarters and defence ministry were in agreement that the heat between the army chief and the defence ministry top brass largely ended following the exaggerated media report of an alleged attempt at troop mobilisation by the army Jan 16 night without informing the civilian brass of the ministry.

The events of Jan 16-17 night when the troops moved towards the capital in full battle gear have been described as a military exercise to test the efficiency levels to mobilise forces in quick time during foggy winter months by both the army and the defence ministry officials.

Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma and army vice chief Lt. Gen. Shri Krishna Singh deposed to this effect before a parliamentary standing committee on defence that questioned them on the media report that seemed to suggest that it was an attempt at initimidating the government.

“All is well as of now and we are keeping the fingers crossed for the rest of the army chief’s tenure to end without much event,” the army officer in the rank of a major general said.

He also clarified in the same breath that “the trust deficit, if there was any, has been bridged” after the army chief himself ordered that he be issued a retirement warning letter in end-February, paving the way for the government to name Kolkata-based Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh as his successor in the first week of March.

“All this media talk of two army chiefs in office May 31, the scheduled date for Gen. V.K. Singh to retire, is bunkum. The army chief himself has said he has got his pension advice issued to him,” the army officer explained.

“The report that the retirement warning letter has not been issued is being floated by vested interests trying to drive a further wedge between the army chief and the government,” a defence ministry official told IANS.

The latest salvo from the army chief at a veterans’ convention in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh during the weekend, when he hinted at implementing ‘one rank - one pension’ (OROP) for retired army personnel, may open a can of worms for the government.

Soon after the Sixth Pay Commission was implemented in 2008, the government had set up a committee under the then cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar to consider OROP. But the panel recommended only “close to OROP” by revising the pension figures for retired personnel, who got their last salary under previous pay commissions.

OROP would effectively ensure that officers and men, irrespective of when they retire and what their last pay was, would get the same pension, provided they had put in the same number of years in service and held the same rank when they superannuated.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony has, on several occasions, made it clear that OROP was near impossible to implement, but the government would ensure anomalies in pension are removed and the amounts increased from time to time to bring it “as close to OROP as possible”.

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