Dharamshala, Pay Parade and Me

One of the venues for the World Cup Cricket 2023 Tournament is Dharamshala.  On 22 Oct 2023, India beat New Zealand in Dharamshala. The administrative Headquarters of Kangra District in Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala took me down my memory lane.  In Dec 1969, after completing the Young Officers’ Course in the School of Artillery Deolali, I was posted to 191 Mountain Regiment at Yol Camp, about 20 kms from Dharamshala. Those days we had heavy, medium, field, mountain and light artillery regiments. Light regiments had mules and fired 120 mm Mortars. Mountain regiments like 191, had 76 mm Yugoslavian Guns or 3.5” Howitzers, which could be stripped and carried on mules. These mortars and guns have become obsolete.

Mountain and Light regiments were capable of operating in high altitude areas, which did not have good road networks those days. We walked and, the mules carried the guns, ammunition and logistics. Incidentally mules were authorised 26 large pegs of Rum per month! Sundays were “no alcohol” days for the mules! One large peg of rum used to be mixed with the “Chara” (fodder) every day.  Mules are very tough animals and were looked after better than the soldiers! If a mule got hurt, Court of Inquiry was ordered to find out how the mule got hurt and apportion the blame for the lapse! My days with the mules for another blog!

I retired from the army on 4 July 1995, more than 28 years ago! I am not sure if artillery regiments in high altitude areas still have the excellent animal called mules! “Don’t work like a donkey but slog as a mule!

Those days, we did not have UPI or digital payments or even credit cards. While officers got their pay credited to their bank accounts, Junior Commissioned Officers and Jawans were paid by cash on Pay Day. Money was drawn from the “Imprest” account, maintained normally in the nearest State Bank of India. Nationalisation of banks came in 1969 because between 1948 and 1968, a total of 736 private banks collapsed!

I was detailed as the “Pay Collection Officer” and I went to the SBI at Dharamshala in a 1Ton army truck with a guard of one Havildar and three jawans, all with rifles and ammunition. I gave the cheque to the Bank Manager, who gave me a metal “token” with a number on one side. The Bank Manager was courteous and offered me a chair in his office. When my token number was called, the Bank Manager was gracious to accompany me so that I could collect the cash, count it and put it inside a steel “cash” box, lock it and put the key in my shirt pocket. I took the cash box and with the guards, went to the vehicle where the cash box was chained to the vehicle and, we commenced our return to Yol Camp.

I went straight to the Adjutant’s office with the guards and the cash box. The Adjutant asked me to leave the cash box, which was chained to the leg of his steel table, asked me to go the Officers’ Mess, have lunch and return to disburse the amount to respective subunits (known as batteries in an artillery regiment). The cash box was guarded by at least two guards while the other two went to have lunch and return for these two guards to go for their lunch.

An officer was detailed to collect the cash the Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and Jawans in every battery as per their “demand.” The calculation of pay for every individual used to done by a clerk, checked by the “BK” (battery captain) who was the second – in- command of that battery, while the Battery Commander (BC) was a major! Now, you know why both of them could not be BCs! The regiment was commanded by a Lt Colonel and the second-in command of the regiment was also a senior Major! These ranks and appointment have since changed. We were 23 officers in an artillery regiment which included an officer from Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineer and an doctor from Army Medical Corps!  When I commanded my regiment in 1990-91, we had 12 only officers posted! I do not know the current status since I retired in 1995, 28 years ago!

When I was having lunch, the Mess Havildar came to me and said, “Adjutant is calling you immediately. You can continue with the lunch on return!” I took my bicycle and went to meet the Adjutant. I saw the Bank Manger there! Captain CK Pathak asked me, “where is the token given by the Bank?” I told him that I got the money and obviously the Bank has taken the token. He asked me to search my shirt pockets. Lo and behold, the token was found! The bank manager heaved a sigh of relief.

The Adjutant fired me for being irresponsible and by not giving the token back since I could have misused it again. That though never occurred to me since nearly Rs 3 lakhs was a huge money those days! My salary was Rs 472/- per month! The Adjutant fired me and “awarded” three extra duties continuously which meant that I had to check all the security sentries in the regimental area, the Quarter Guard which had all the small arms, ammunition, cash boxes, locker as well as two rooms for prisoners (our jawans) who were awarded Rigorous Imprisonment (RI) by the Commanding Officer!

The Quarter Guard is the pride of the Regiment and the Guards are immaculately dressed. Their duty is for 24 hours. The guards are changed every day by the Duty Officer and whole ceremony is worth watching. Duty Officer had to report to the Adjutant who would ask you to roll a dice with timings for checking security in the Regimental area. Depending upon the roll of the dice, the guard checking time could be from midnight to 0230 hours in the morning, at an interval of 30 minutes. More or less, no sleep. In the day time the duty officer had to attend to all his work plus check the Guards for their turn out in the Quarter Guard, cleanliness of the regimental area, kitchens (Langar) and dining rooms of Jawans, taste food from the Langar and record the observations in a book kept with the Langar Commander, check CSD Canteen, sentries at the Gates, check various registers, check stock balance in the stores and match it with the Bin Cards for each item, check family welfare centre,  Medical Inspection Room for cleanliness etc. And remain happy!

Three consecutive extra duties for not returning the token to the bank manager but bringing the cash is not justice! But this is our army where you learn not to repeat mistakes!

By Colonel Achal Sridharan, VSM


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