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Posting Flaws In AFMS:SHORTAGE OF DOCTORS IN Field AREAS, by B.K. Mathur, 21 August 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 21 August 2006

Posting Flaws In AFMS


By B.K. Mathur

Small matters, at times, turn out to big on crucial moments. More so for the Defence forces, where men are equally important, if not more, than the machines.  The forces can be equipped with highly sophisticated and expensive machines, as the Defence Ministry has planned for the next five years, but the morale of the jawans, airmen and the seamen has to be kept high in time of a war.  One of the main factors to provide this is the public sympathy and support, as one saw during the wars free India’s armed forces fought in 1965 and 1971.  As the Army units moved towards the war front in special trains and other civil and military transport, the forces were given a fitting send-off by men and women all through the route.

More than 35 years have elapsed since the Indian armed forces fought a major war (Kargil in 1999 cannot be described as a war).  Today, if there is a major war on our borders, a possibility which cannot be ruled out on all fronts of the country, the forces may not get the same civilian sympathy and support for various reasons, significant among them being lack of respect for the forces, lack of planning and uneasy relationship between the civil and military in view of the latter’s increasing contact with the people of every kind during deployment in aid of civil power.  Take, for example, the planning flaws. How will you react if your land is acquired for military use without adequate compensation, relief and rehabilitation package?  Curse those who have grabbed it!

Likewise, how will you react, if in uniform and ready to move to the front area, if there is no adequate medical facility available there? Hell with the military career; there are so many other employment avenues for the youth with good IQ. These may be small matters for the Defence planners whose main aim today is to acquire expensive weapons and weapon systems.  But they are significant and crucial for the forces. The two issues, “land grab” and medical crunch have been studied recently by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence Ministry (2005-06).  In its 12th and 13th reports tabled in the two Houses recently, the Committee has made critical reviews of rehabilitation of persons displaced by acquiring their land without responsibility to ensure proper compensation and rehabilitation and medical facilities.

In its 12th report, the Committee expressed deep concerns over the shortage of doctors in the field units to ensure a proper medical care to the troops.  Let us take the medical aspect first. Shortage of doctors in the armed forces is an old story.  Young medical graduates are gradually turning commercial minded and are not keen to join Government service, leave aside the Armed Forces Medical Service (AFMS).  Shockingly, as many as 142 doctors quit the forces in two years, between 2003 and 2005.  The issue was raised in the Lok Sabha last week and Defence Minister Mukherjee informed the MPs that the doctors left either after being superseded or on compassionate grounds.

The disclosures made to the Parliamentary Standing Committee are alarming and loud and clear about lack of planning and ineffective command and control of the medical corps.  Knowing full well that fully-equipped field units are morale boosters for troops in operational areas, there is shortage of doctors in field units. Surprisingly, the number is far more than the authorized strength in Command hospitals and in Delhi and Mumbai. According to the Defence Ministry figures, about 450 doctors are posted in Delhi against the authorized strength of 250.  Similarly, the Command hospitals are having 543 doctors, though the sanctioned number is only 331.  Obviously, as this writer keeps on pointing out time and again that “civil pollution” has entered the forces in a big way, thanks to the increasing “civil entry” into the Cantonments and military deployment for civil duties.

Now, take the “land grab”, which the land owners can’t help or protest against, because the area is acquired for military use, meaning national defence.  It is another matter that the Cantonments across the country have large areas lying unused for years.  Take, for example, an observation of the Standing Committee which was “given to understand that in project like the National Defence Academy (NDA), 8000 acres of land was acquired, out of which not more than 25 per cent is utilized even after 60 years”.  During the study visits of the Committee to various projects, it had observed that there are large areas of Defence land lying unoccupied and they have not been given back to the ex-landlords.  In this connection, it needs to be remembered that the Standing Committee in its 5th report on Cantonment Bill 2003 had recommended a separate law on Defence land, which has not happened so far.

The Committee has also observed that the Ministry of Defence acquires land for temporary use of the armed forces like training, mobilization of forces and day-to-day operational purposes.  As a result the land owners/farmers have to lose their standing crops and other properties. But the land owners do not get adequate compensation for their standing crops and other properties. The Committee had been told that “there was no policy for giving rehabilitation assistance as a welfare measure to the persons displaced by the acquisition of their land for defence purposes”.  In regard to compensation, the Ministry pays some money to land owners through the State Governments, which routes it to the Collector concerned. The process leads to umpteen cases in various courts of law.

The Defence Ministry informed the Committee that as many as 15,600 cases of dispute over compensation were pending in various courts across the country ---from the district courts to the Supreme Court.  There are also execution cases, since under the Land Acquisition Act there is an in-built provision for the enhancement of compensation. If anybody is aggrieved with the Award amount declared by the Collector, he goes to the reference court and if he is still not satisfied he goes in appeal to the High Court, and on to the Supreme Court. These legal processes have been going on. In most of these cases the acquisition and compensation has been compensated to the utter helplessness and anger of the landowners against the armed forces.

Greater concern is created because the Defence Ministry has been acquiring vast tracts of land before independence and till date for the “operational use” of the armed forces and other defence purposes. Private land is being acquired under the age-old Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 1894 and the Defence of India Act, 1939, framed during the British time. These laws are colonial in nature. Although they have been amended from time to time, they are totally inadequate to meet the present needs and aspirations of the people. Such a need was amply highlighted when the Committee recorded evidence of the representatives from the Union Ministries of Law and Rural Development and State Government officials.

Undoubtedly, there is an urgent need to have a comprehensive and more democratic legislation to deal with an important matter relating to land acquisition for military purposes and a better package worked out for compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation of the affected land owners as a gesture of goodwill to ensure their sympathy and support to the cause of national defence. Also significant is the need to ensure that the military personnel posted in forward areas are provided good and timely medical aid.  Posting of doctors of the AFMS to border areas in difficult terrain is a crucial matter, not a small matter in military planning. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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