I do not know who in the establishment is to blame for the mess made in the case of salaries and pensions of the armed forces. Of course, the IAS officers have processed the demand and they are the twice-born service which sees to it that they remain at the top. They knit a net of procedures and precedents so skilfully that others give up in exasperation. But why do political masters play into their hands? There must be an equation between the two that ministers allow the IAS set-up to maul or mutilate any proposal if it decides to do so. In this case, their action is horrifying. Then ordinary soldiers and officers with the rank of Lt General come to return their medals won for bravery in the field, they prove that they have reached a point where they have abandoned the hope of getting justice in a normal way. It is time that the nation realises that something has been done drastically wrong because the armed forces do not go beyond the domain of discipline. Something has happened which has pushed them into the domain of despair. Still the establishment has not been able to belittle the dignity with which the hundreds of men from the armed forces surrendered the medals of their individual bravery. At the Jantar Mantar, they assembled to express their protest. All that they wanted was: one rank, one pension. From the ordinary soldier to the Lt General, this was their common demand. It was a fair demand which surprisingly the government had spurned. The other Sunday, the Sabbath day, as many as 200 of retired men from the army packed their medals in transparent plastic bags, with their names written on them and put them in three cardboard boxes. They were forwarded to the President of India. Their effort was to meet President Pratibha Patil but she was away to Mumbai. They were not satisfied after meeting the deputy secretary. They do want to meet the president who, after all, gives away the medals for extraordinary courage and bravery. I do not think that there is anything wrong in the demand of one rank, one pension. A Lt General who retired in January 2005 gets a pension of Rs 27,700. The same rank officer retiring one year later has Rs 37,700 as pension, which is Rs 10,000 more. In the case of Brigadier, there is similar anomaly, a difference of Rs 5,000, between those who retired early and the ones who did later. I believe that the Congress Party's election manifesto in 2004 acknowledged the demand for 'one rank, one pension'. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee promised to remove the anomalies. Still over the years, the disparity has grown. One officer contends that the gap has grown by 82 percent. The matter came up before the Parliament's Standing Committee when I was retiring from the Rajya Sabha in 2003. I am told that the committee recommended one rank, one pension. Still the government refused to act. On the one hand, we say the country is safe in the hands of defence forces and on the other we treat them miserly. My query from official quarters reveals that the government is afraid to implement the demand because it may trigger similar claim from other public sector employees. This is not a fair comparison. The job of the armed forces is full of hazards and exposes them to dangers all the time. Those sitting in secure, cushy seats in heated rooms cannot even imagine what the front means, whether at peacetime or during the war. I do not want to introduce the emotional argument like the defence of motherland. Yet the fact remains that those in the armed forces give their life to make us live in peace. To deny them their due should not be even thinkable. I take this opportunity to point out serious disparities within the defence services. Some 85 percent are from the category which comprises of Persons Below Officer Ranks (PBOR). They are the most neglected lot because they have preferred not to raise their voice. Rations are free to officers and jawans. But there is a disparity in the quantum of rations. For example, an officer gets 260 gm meat while a soldier gets only 110 gm. The government can at least end such disparity even if it cannot dare to touch others. The government has no defence when grievances over salaries, pensions and their placement in the protocol hierarchy have been piling up for years. Instead of improving their lot, it or, for that matter, the IAS officers have been downgrading them, emolument-wise and status-wise. The last Pay Commission's recommendations were the proverbial last straw on the camel's back and hence the return of medals. The writer is a former member of the Indian Parliament and senior journalist