Beyond the tributes paid on fourteenth anniversary of the Kargil war, an investigation into the basic issue of housing for married armed forces personnel has revealed the unpleasant face of our administration, especially it’s indifference towards the men in uniform. So grave is the crisis that nearly 60 per cent of those entitled an official residence, to be provided by the government, are living on rent on the fringes cities in filthy, semi-slum like private colonies.
This issue was touched upon when following the Kargil episode, in 2001, then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee ordered that 100 per cent availability as per scale be made available to those entitled. Action followed and in May 2002, the organisation of Married Accommodation Project (MAP) was set up, headed by a Director General (DG). However, details accessed by this correspondent, using the Right To Information Act 2005 show little has been achieved. So dismal is that the state that none of the forces were unable to even provide an estimate as to by when cent percent accommodation would be achieved.
The Indian Navy’s staff which is authorised for official married accommodation is 7471 officers and 29905 men of which, as on date only 4421 officers and 16598 men have received the same. Since 2000, barely 2000 homes for officers and 2180 for men have been made with a further 2092 and 9991 Dwelling Units (DUs) being planned for officers and men. Similarly while the Indian Air Force (IAF), where the sanctioned number of personnel for married accommodation are 98944 where as the deficiency is of 48985 DUs, a whopping 49 per cent. Currently, while 7041 DUs are being built and a further 28144 DUs being planned. The Indian Coast Guard (ICG), a smaller force, where the requirement is of 1457 DUs for officers and 6463 DUs for men, what are available are 418 DUs for officers and 1580 DUs for men. The Indian Army was unable to provide its data. However, it forwarded a note from the DG MAP office which said that out of the 198881 DUs planned, they have been able to complete and deliver a little over 1/4th at 56833 DUs with the rest either in progress or yet to take off.
In Delhi’s general pool, which keeps a tab on accommodation to officers, while the requirement is of around 4800 DUs, what they have are merely 3120 DUs, thereby a deficit of around 1700 DUs.
When combined, out of a hundred, merely 41 men are getting their married accommodation from the government, forcing the rest to find what they can, on their own. This has many in the armed forces worried. Said a Delhi-based Brigadier-rank officer, “Every week men come, complaining of the trouble they or their families face in these localities. These people were promised much better and are now forced to come to terms.” Another officer said, “The nation wants the best out of these men but is not prepared to give them what is due and promised.”
When asked, Defence Minister AK Antony said he was aware of this matter. “In the times to come, lakhs of newly-built DUs are getting ready. We are sensitive to our men. More measures for welfare are being undertaken than ever done in the past,” he added.
Former chiefs however do not concur. Said Admiral (retd) Arun Prakash, “Individual officers and organisations may have justification but not the defence minister, who is India’s longest-serving defence minister. He should have cracked the whip and got people to deliver.” Air Chief Marshal (retd) PV Naik added, “This is an issue which has faced neglect in our system. And we have very late in the day begun rectifying it. Needless to say we are going to take time.”
Rented accommodation for serving personnel
In the armed forces, providing accommodation to unmarried personnel is an easier task. In land-based formations, unmarried personnel share rooms or are provided dormitories. In ships, whether docked or not, unmarried personnel are provided with beds and lockers to keep their belongings in.