On February 1, while presenting the interim budget in Parliament, stand-in Finance Minister Piyush Goyal claimed to have given the highest ever defence budget allocation, saying, "Our soldiers protect our borders in tough conditions. We respect their dignity". But three days later, the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (PCDA)—the agency responsible for payment of salary and allowances, and all claims of Army officers—has declared it will no longer process claims by Army officers going on courses, assignments and postings due to lack of funds.
“Due to insufficient funds available under temporary duty and permanent duty heads of Army officers, no TA/DA (travelling allowance), advances and claims can be processed till receipt of sufficient funds under the relevant heads. However, the facility for LTC (leave travel concession) will continue,” said the PCDA (officers).
The Army was allocated Rs 1,38,085 crore under revenue expenditure in the interim budget to pay salaries and day-to-day expenses. According to a defence ministry official, PCDA was allocated Rs 3,200 crore to pay transportation and other expenses for 42,000 officers and 12 lakh jawans and other ranks for 2018-19 financial year. But, the Army bill has already touched Rs 4,000 crore, which left no money for the PCDA to clear new claims.
The letter from the PCDA has upset the Army fraternity as they fear it will not only affect the day-to-day working but also create a fresh rift in civil-military relations. "On normal working days, almost half of the Army officials are either on temporary duty or attending some training course outside. With this order, how are they going to be paid?" asked an officer.
"I have never heard of a situation like this in my four decades of military service. We keep travelling on military exercises, movements or on transfers. One cannot stop making payment," Lt General Subrata Saha, former deputy chief of Army, said.
In a bid to control the controversy, a defence ministry official said that the funds in any specific head may fall short momentarily. "These are only temporary and resolved routinely through re-appropriations as in the instant case," official said.
In November, the PCDA had rejected temporary duty claims of several officers for staying in hotels. The PCDA raised objection over officers not submitting the required non-availability certificate from the authority. The PCDA had issued instructions on the lines that "availing hotel accommodation by the officers should be the last resort" and officers may preferably stay in circuit houses, messes, government guest houses and inspection bungalows.
In fact, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, in an effort to keep check on the daily expenditure, had asked his officers travelling on temporary duties to stay in service guest rooms instead of hotels.