Should the military brass get so many awards–Part II

In the first month of 2014, only this blog entry, ‘INS Vikramaditya comes home…'( has evoked more page views than my latest piece,
‘Should the military brass get so many awards?’ ( But the latter article has also triggered heated and passionate debate over the practice of granting awards in the Indian military. 

Some of the responses are already posted in the comments section of the piece on awards. But many serving and retired officers and remarkably, one retired JCO, have written in with their views. I can’t name most of them. 

In any case, individuals are not important in policy issues. So here’s a sampling of the views.


Totally endorse your views….these are NOT awards….these are rituals on every Republic Day….every general officer being humoured prior to retirement…a complete fresh look is warranted where the number of awardees in terms of recognition(not related to bravery) should be proportionate to the contribution by the troops on ground…….in my view it should be the Jawans, NCOs, JCOs and then Young Officers and a very very miniscule general/flag officers(who in any case over a period of time would have been felicitated earlier in life).


But the biggest hurdle is the mindset and the comfort zone.

I am of the opinion that distinguished service awards should be scrapped for ‘peacetime’. Earlier, the Sena Medal used to be only for gallantry. I was actually galled when a Sena Medal (Distinguished) was introduced, which makes no sense. Perhaps distinguished service awards in field could be retained.

The higher level distinguished service awards are on the whims and fancies of the Chief – the question on News Warrior why the CISC has not been given PVSM despite Uttrakhand Disaster ! The usual excuse is that “he still has time to retire” but then again it depends on whims and fancies of the Chief.

To that end, I am dead against the prevailing quota system for gallantry awards. Why should there be a quota? With this quota, lot many deserving cases miss out and to my mind the axe falls more on below officer rank though I may be wrong. Concurrent is the idiocy of linking the award to number of kills. I have attended Honours and Awards Committee where officials from MS (X), who represent MoD, were arguing things like that a recommendation for Ashok Chakra must have proof of the individual having had minimum five kills – some weird concept of bravery !

There is case also to rationalize cash awards to gallantry award winners pan-India. Presently, there is vast difference between what States are giving them. The straight logic is that when these guys are Central Govt employees and their pay, allowances and pension too are given by GoI, why should everyone not get the same cash allowance for the same award.

Serious re-look is also required to review the quota of Honoray Commissions to JCOs and NCOs and accompanying perks. Here again, a quota should be lifted with focus on deserving cases. then, many other ranks get conferred with a Honorary Havaldar rank after he has retired, which in any case does not have any financial benefit – so why this crap?

Finally, the desire to have more ribbons on the chest actually went up when interaction increased with foreign armies, especially US where a ribbon is even awarded for every course of instruction one attends. Perhaps the Chiefs themselves felt some sort of complex – which is a myopic. But then thank God we didn’t follow the North Korean Generals whose medals cover there entire coat front!

Thank you very much for the “Thought Provoking” paper on the subject which will attract both positive, negative and and neutral reactions; Unfortunately these awards have been linked to ranks;I am touring for the present. Will send you my “honest” views for what ever they are worth soon.
I would like to put across my views on how the transition in “Dilution of Awards” and “Honorary Ranks” has taken place.   Every one in the chain of command is responsible for these dilutions in the name of earning laurels for the unit, formation and individual glory to earn awards and higher ranks and nominations. One main cause now is also the rat race to earn Unit Citations.   This trend has also resulted in earning a bad name by our Army – False Encounters, Ketchup Brigadiers/Colonels, Sadbhavna Brigadier(s) and HMV (His Masters Voice) SOs.   A dangerous trend is also on increase of the breed of officers (including couples!) who are capable of pocketing some of their IOs & ROs towards earning good reports and awards…I would like to talk about the plethora of Awards which have been introduced over the years.  I do not want to give the impression that I am against awards but what I want to discuss with the environment is “Was there a need to introduce new series of awards when for the similar acts awards existed”?   The awards which existed earlier were PVC series, AC series and PVSM series, Sena Medal, Mention-in-Dispatches and COAS’s Commendation Cards (CC).  New introductions are SYSM series, GOC-in-Cs CC, CIDS CC and we now have SM (distinguished service) to add to the confusion.    Wonder how many more are likely to be introduced in the years to come.  Let us revisit the issue and stop introducing new awards for the sake of introducing something new.  The following suggestions merit deliberate considerations:-



Ø    Stop awarding the SYSM series.


Ø    Stop awarding the SM (Distinguish Service).


Ø    COASs CC and other CCs be only awarded to Capts and below.


Ø    Need to ensure greater transparency. Let the names being recommended in the chain of command be circulated within the Division for a true feedback with veto/enhancement/reduction. 


While serving in a Corps HQ a decade back I had analysed and brought to the notice that 60 percent of the CCs had gone to the personal staff/clks, peons and various categories of gladiators.  The same year during command a GOC, Cdr and myself the CO were awarded GOC-in-C’s CC.  I had echoed my views that it is a shame for awarding CCs to offrs above Cols.   It is better not to award if not found suitable for the award recommended than to dish out CCs as a consolation.  

Your message in the morning was like a breath of fresh air. Thank God someone out of uniform has woken up to it. 
Some facts first about the awards

The Army is permitted 19 PVSMs, 32 AVSMs, 40 SM(Distinguished) and 75 VSMs every year. The Navy and IAF get commensurately less but the quota is fixed and in fact the all three Services have asked for more because of the increase in senior ranks in recent years as the full implementation of the AVSC has been completed. The Chakra series and Sena Medal (Gallantry) do not have any limit. The Yudh series (SYSM, UYSM, YSM) also do not have any limit; which is why you find the scope being expanded for the recipients; earlier only officers from the CI areas were the recipients of this and that too based upon performance; now these are being dished out to create scope for officers from the peace stations to get the VSM series from the quota thus effectively diluting the Yudh series.

In my opinion, since so many three stars are being adjusted in the PVSM, UYSM, AVSM list two stars have to be pushed into the YSM, SM and VSM list therefore effectively ejecting one star and Cols/ other officers or deserving jawans and JCOs from these lists.
Not more than five or six Lt Gens should get the PVSM and it need not be the Army Cdrs and Corps Cdrs alone. It could go down to Maj gens too, just like it was many years ago. Very deserving performance by Lt Gens which made a difference at National level should be considered for civil awards like Padma Bhushan.
The UYSM and YSM series must be scrutinized very carefully; the problem is that when the custodians of probity in such affairs are themselves not clean then which other committee can be placed over them. I find no solution to this problem except a greater sense of honour among those who are to perform this sacred duty. At present it is done in a most pedestrian way. If no better way can be found let us do away with all awards. 
While I feel it is good to have decorations for as operationally deployed Army as ours we need to cut down the numbers and ensure that these decorations are not given as a matter of routine, for having reached a particular rank and appointment. It is the performance in each rank which must make the difference. However, who is to bell the cat; that is the million dollar question. This is where the moral fiber of the Army will be put to test; an appeal to its sense of balance and image would be necessary because otherwise the whole concept is becoming questionable and for the sake of the undeserving why should the deserving be faulted.


The monetary awards attached to these honors must be uniform throughout the country. It is not uncommonly heard that since a particular state gives more to its awardees why not give a greater quota to that state.


Sir, I just read your blog. It is unfortunate that our defence forces choose to follow pyramidal structure on command and control and inverted pyramid system when it comes to welfare/ amenities. Majority of journos are aware of this but won’t point it out like you did because they don’t want to strike their name from the good books of Armed Forces. Majority of news programmes aired on news channels are aimed to project the officer cadre. It is good to see that unlike the sister services the Army is willing to give gallantry awards to JCOs and other ranks.
 Some thing to ponder over for us defence journalists!

And before I close, this debate is not limited to India alone. Read this (sent to me by another General) about an American debate
  1. January 30, 2014 -

    The debate over giving awards has to be linked to the benefits these awards bring with them. The day benefits attached to each award get detached from the awards the clamor for the same will automatically disappear.

  2. January 30, 2014 -

    I think a lot has been written about the awards. But hardly anyone talked about the honorary ranks given to JCOs and NCOs. That is also a reward for distinguished service and these are also awarded on Republic Day and Independence Day. I think given a chance to choose, JCOs and NCOs will choose honorary commissions in place of distinguished medals because of monetary benefits. Hence it is wrong to say that only officers are awarded. As for as distinguished medals for senior officers are concerned, in my opinion they should not be given to army commanders and PSOs at Army HQ.

  3. January 31, 2014 -

    The problem of giving the distinguished medals not only lies with Army but also with other two services i.e Air force and Navy . The so called top brass literary gives these to each other at highest level i.e if you scratch my back , I scratch yours. Also, there is monopoly of certain branches in claiming. If you analyse the awards given in 2014 for Air Force for Instance, you will notice that the top brass from Fighter stream has taken almost 90% of awards. Technical branch is give remaining 8% and rest to Admn branch. The officers given these awards same not seen back of a ac since decades & employed in Administrative tasks. Certain branches as choppers, transport, logistics, accounts, Met , Education totally ignored.. Though there is a Committee of top brass for naming these awards, but mostly they look after their own people by branch, arm or race. So it is high time that these awards be banned for top brasses and be given maximum up to Col and equivalent level.Further, some corps or branch should not make a 'loot' of these award just because they are from elite branch i.e infantry or artillary, Fighters or executive branch of a particular service.

  4. January 31, 2014 -

    There are two issues here1. Awards being related to rank – Why should PBOR be limited to commendation cards and hony commissions. Also why should an act of exceptional service in peace time by say a Maj not be considered for an AVSM? The 3 examples quoted by Col Prakash are the exceptions rather than the rule. If wartime decorations are open to all ranks then shouldnt also peace time decorations ?2. If 63% of serving Lt Gens were awarded the PVSM/AVSM/UYSM, that means they delivered service of a “most exceptional/exceptional order”. Either the qualifying criteria for these awards is too low if over 60% were the exceptions (sic) or these awards are just being distributed as “retirement gongs” -the latter being the most likely. In fact today if by the time you retire as a Lt Gen and you don’t have a PVSM behind your name ,you in all probability would have rubbed up the COAS /Army Commander the wrong way somewhere down the line.We need a review of the whole system of peacetime decorations for all ranks.

  5. February 10, 2014 -

    Nitin,There is a prevailing view among professional militaries that the “banana ness” of a country can be judged by the amount of useless paraphernalia on the uniforms of its armies. The US is a notable exception, although they do wear most of their crap only on their Class As, and the BDUs are normally unadorned.With the amount of zari based poorly embroidered muck on our uniforms growing by the day, we seem to be heading into monkey land at a rapid rate. The malaise is not confined to the Army, but the Air Force seems to be following suit with collar dogs and the recent folly of silver buttons on summer uniform. The Navy, bless them, seems relatively unscathed so far.A point to ponder, both the AF and the Army field uniforms (combats) also are being enhanced by more and more bling, which is probably an indicator that our senior brass are getting more and more averse to getting anywhere near visual range of the enemy. Not a good thing….