Jan 30, 2009

India - After pay sorrow, booze cuts hit armed forces

Rajat Pandit

NEW DELHI: A double whammy has hit the armed forces in the New Year. And it's hurting. First, the government took piecemeal, confusing decisions on
their pay hike demands. And now, officers and jawans cannot even drown their salary sorrows in adequate quantities of booze.

As per instructions issued by Army HQ's Quarter-Master General branch, the liquor quota of officers and jawans has been further slashed from January 1.

All officers up to Colonels and their equivalents in Navy and IAF, for instance, will now be permitted to draw only 10 liquor bottles per month from CSD canteens. The earlier limit was 16 bottles, which was reduced to 12 a couple of years ago.

Coming as it does after state governments began levying hefty excise duties on liquor sold through military canteens, which left officers and jawans shelling out much more for their daily ``chota'' and ``bada'' pegs, it has left the armed forces seething with anger.

``The price differential with the open market for most CSD goods, including liquor, is already quite less now. Our pay hike issues have been left largely unresolved. Now, to top it all, our liquor quota has been further curtailed,'' said a furious Lt-Col.

There is, of course, a pecking order even for liquor quotas in the rank-conscious environs of armed forces. The top-rung of Field Marshals and equivalents, serving and retired Service chiefs, can draw all the liquor they want since they have ``no limit''.

Serving and retired Lt-Generals, Vice-Admirals and Air Marshals have a limit of 14 bottles, while Major-Generals and Brigadiers can take 12 bottles home every month.

Serving JCOs (junior commissioned officers) like Subedar Majors, Subedars and Naib Subedars are entitled to seven bottles, while retired ones get six. All other ranks have to make do with five bottles. ``We were getting only six bottles till last month. Now, we will get even less,'' said a Corporal.

The new order says the quotas have been ``reviewed'' due to ``various representations received from the environment (Army lingo for its formations spread across the country)'', without elaborating any further.

But the fact that ``alcohol dependency'' is a growing malaise in armed forces could be one of the reasons for slashing the quotas. In fact, it has also been identified as one of the triggering factors towards stress-related problems like suicides and fraggings.

Incidentally, over 120 soldiers, airmen and sailors commit suicide every year. Moreover, figures show over 500 armed forces personnel are being ``boarded-out'' every year due to mental disorders and alcohol-dependency.

No comments: