Few issues have given rise to greater angst in the veteran’s community than the ham-handed manner in which certain issues impinging on the armed forces have been dealt with. These pertain to taxing disability pension, the constant wailing over pension payments, the restriction on goods which one can buy from the Canteen Stores Department, and the like.
Disability pension has never been taxed for the Armed Forces. It was an additional pension granted to those soldiers, who had served in very hostile environments for at least some part of their service tenure and as a consequence, suffered some adverse physical impact on their health. Many sustained injuries in battle, losing their limbs, some being blinded and rendered deaf. That was the minimum a grateful nation could do for them.
A few in the military leadership, however, were of the opinion that the facility was being misused by some, who deliberately got themselves downgraded to a lower medical category in a bid to get a disability pension. They were also of the view that many such cases of disability were the outcome of their lifestyle. Consequently, to prevent misuse, the Services sought an income tax exemption on disability pension only for that military personnel who have been ‘invalidated’ from service due to disability, but sought to debar benefit to those with disabilities who retire after complete service.
Such an attitude is patently unfair and amounts to vilifying disability and casting a slur on the personnel concerned. It also reflects a lack of empathy and a rather cynical attitude towards disability. While misuse most certainly would have taken place, where people resorted to unscrupulous means to get this benefit, the remedy was not to ban or to put curbs on the same. It would have been better for all if the Services had gone about setting their house in order and making an example of those who resorted to manipulation, including the medical officers involved.
To simply make a case for banning reflects poor leadership and indicates a lack of ability to deal with defaulters, many of whom occupied senior appointments.
Pension and the armed forces
A lot of talks also takes place on the pension burden which the country has to endure because the soldiers retire young and the pension bill, consequently, increases every year. Pension, however, should never be construed as a burden. It is a cost that has to be willingly paid to maintain a fighting force with a youthful profile.
Let us remember that the consequences of losing a war are borne not by the Armed Forces alone, but by the whole nation. The neglect of our soldiers will most certainly lead to the country being enslaved yet again for another thousand years. Can we even imagine what that cost would be? Let us not then shirk from what has to be done and keep making the soldiers feel guilty of the pension they are getting. The nation owes that to its soldiers.
A quest for propriety in the Forces is essential, but to go about the same through placing curbs on the number of stores one can buy from the CSD or the type of car one can purchase, is ham-handed.
Earlier, we had Generals, who would seek to place curbs on the unit’s mechanical transport if a vehicle met with an accident. Some thought nothing of reducing ration entitlements in high altitude areas to save a little bit of money for the exchequer. This is pettiness at its worst and bespeaks a lack of leadership skills, competence and self-belief.
We need officers with ethical behaviour, but could well do without the self- serving moralizing kind. The latter lot need to constantly remind themselves of the pithy quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons”. Let us not tread that path. We are far better than that.