Defence Ministry response

Positive accommodation: Defence Ministry

Print edition : March 07, 2014

THE Ministry of Defence has its own explanations for many of the long-standing issues and problems faced by soldiers and ex-servicemen. Highly placed sources in the Defence Ministry argued that its track record over the past 10 years had been one of positive accommodation on issues such as voting rights of soldiers, housing and pension rules. The sources also pointed out that specific welfare measures had been devised across the Services on the basis of general and local factors to address the issue of stress-related deaths.

According to these sources, the Ministry had never opposed the idea of allowing soldiers the right to franchise by registering themselves at their places of posting. In fact, they added, the records of the Ministry showed that it had been actively pursuing the issue with the Election Commission and other related departments of the government even before the judiciary took a position on it. As recently as the first week of February, the Ministry had put a nodal officer of the rank of Additional Secretary in charge of further proceedings. “By no stretch of imagination can these be termed insincere or perfunctory,” the sources claimed.

The Ministry had made a concrete formulation of the term “residing with family” to include group residency in a unit or station in a common accommodation for the purpose of registration as a general voter at a place of posting. Again, it was the Ministry that suggested a downward revision of the Election Commission’s stipulation requiring the minimum period of posting from three years to two years in order to be eligible to register as a voter. All these were part of the procedures on this issue and highlighted the Ministry’s commitment to ensure armed forces personnel’s right to vote, the sources said.

The Ministry and the different Services together had taken up the housing concerns of armed forces personnel with increased priority over the last 10 years, pointed out the sources. “A comprehensive plan, conceived in four phases, is being implemented since 2004. In the past 10 years, at the end of phase I and partial completion of phase II, approximately 57,900 dwelling units, at a cost of Rs.8,817 crore, were completed and handed over. Though there have been delays, it is undoubtedly a housing project on an unprecedented scale. By the time phase III and IV are completed, the personnel would have as many 1,98,881 new dwelling units. The last two phases are expected to be completed by 2018.”

The sources contended that an objective perusal of the Ministry’s records would highlight the consistent efforts undertaken to address the charges regarding discrimination in pension rules for ex-servicemen. “Of course, there are some procedural and administrative tangles in dealing with some of the problems, but here too the approach of the Ministry has been one of positive accommodation.”

“There are several concrete programmes in place at different levels of the Ministry and in the different Services to address the shortage of officers and these have been ongoing for more than 10 years. Many of these programmes have shown positive results while several others need to be made more effective. The Ministry is constantly striving to fine-tune and improve the efficacy of these programmes,” the sources said.

“Eliminating stress-related deaths such as suicide and fratricides is a priority of the department. Institutions such as the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) are constantly addressing the different dimensions of the phenomenon and coming up with corrective measures. The suggestions of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, too, have been imbibed by the Ministry to evolve innovative measures. As a result of all these, a number of welfare schemes, such as the Stress Amelioration Action Plan, have been devised and are being implemented in different Services as per existing needs. All these have been operational for many years.”

The sources argued that an objective analysis of the figures on this count would show that these measures had helped bring down stress-related deaths. This drop had been significant since 2008, said the sources.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan