Feel free to contribute on burning issues concerning the armed forces. Contributions would be acknowledged - Use the 'Comments' tab or email navdeepsingh.india[at]gmail.com. No operational/business/commercial matters to be discussed please. Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained. Information on this blog is opinion based and is neither official nor in the form of an advice. This is a pro bono online journal in public service related to issues, policies and benefits, and the idea behind it is to educate and not to create controversy or to incite. Be soft in your language, respect Copyrights.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Department of Personnel & Training abolishes regressive stipulation for reservation of military veterans

Many military personnel, due to early retirement, look for jobs in the government/public sector after release. Many of them apply for multiple employment opportunities, but then (till now) there was a catch. If an ex-serviceman applied for various civil posts under the ex-servicemen quota and joined one such post, he/she could later not opt for any other post under the said quota. A veteran could hence avail of it only once. 

To take an example, if a person had applied for two posts, one lower and one higher, but got selected for the lower post first and joined the same, he could not then join the higher one even if he got selected for the latter since ex-servicemen quota was treated as ‘exhausted’ on his joining the first post.

This was of course regressive and also fortuitous and chance-based in the sense that a person was forced to join the post or the appointment where the result was declared first to avoid losing out on a job opportunity.

Actually, according to my construal, this blanket ban was based on misinterpretation of various instructions issued from time to time, but that’s another story and now pales into insignificance because of the latest development.

The Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) has now abolished this incongruous stipulation and has provided that if a person had applied for various vacancies before joining a civil employment, he/she can avail of the benefit of reservation for any subsequent employment.

This is a major move and should come as a big relief to military veterans looking for employment on the civil side.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Another landmark: With strong words, the Supreme Court again stands up for the dignity of our disabled soldiers released by the system without pension

Shocking it is that while a civilian employee cannot even be discharged on account of disability, some soldiers are not only discharged but also denied their disability pension by mechanically declaring their disabilities as neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service. It is yet another issue that most disabilities actually fall within the four corners of attributability/aggravation as per rules but are not considered as so by the establishment due to a literal and perfunctory interpretation of the applicable rules. Of course, when there is a positive finding returned to the effect by judicial bodies, the system is quick to challenge such findings out of egotism rather than accepting such decisions with grace, empathy and sympathy.

In line with the judgement of the Supreme Court last year in Dharamvir Singh vs Union of India, which was also followed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in its landmark and detailed judgement titled Umed Singh vs Union of India, the Supreme Court has now rendered another detailed judgement on the subject which should wake up the establishment. The strong words of the highest Court of the land again go to show that more than any other entity, it is our Constitutional Courts that are more concerned for the dignity, livelihood and morale of our soldiers.

In this case, a soldier recruited in 2000 was released on medical grounds in 2002 without disability pension since his disability was considered as neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service by a military medical board. Needless to state, the rules clearly stipulate that a member is presumed to be in sound health when he or she joins service and any deterioration in health is presumed to be due to service. Further, the rules also provide that soldiers would not be called upon to prove their entitlement and shall receive the benefit of any reasonable doubt.

Granting the soldier his due disability pension, the Supreme Court had this to opine on the issue:

....We are not a little surprised that although the Rules or Regulations (Chapter VII of the Regulations for the Medical Services of the Armed Forces, 1983) specifically postulate the formation of Invalidation Medical Boards, they do not set out the medical parameters justifying or requiring serviceman/officer to be removed from service. This feature renders decisions taken by such Boards pregnable to assaults on the grounds of capriciousness or arbitrariness, and this is especially so where the extent of the disability is below twenty per cent. Can the Authorities be permitted to portray that whilst a person has so minor a disability as to disentitle him for compensation, yet suffers from a disability that is major or serious enough to snatch away his employment?

We, just as every other citizen of India, would be extremely disturbed if the Authorities are perceived as being impervious or unsympathetic towards members of the Armed Forces who have suffered disabilities, without receiving any form of recompense or source of sustenance, since these are inextricably germane to their source of livelihood.

We are of the persuasion, therefore, that firstly, any disability not recorded at the time of recruitment must be presumed to have been caused subsequently and unless proved to the contrary to be a consequence of military service. The benefit of doubt is rightly extended in favour of the member of the Armed Forces; any other conclusion would be tantamount to granting a premium to the Recruitment Medical Board for their own negligence. Secondly, the morale of the Armed Forces requires absolute and undiluted protection and if an injury leads to loss of service without any recompense, this morale would be severely undermined...

Salute to our Constitutional Courts! Jai Hind. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mr Derek O’Brien takes up the issue of disabled soldiers in Parliament, just as Ms Smirit Irani did last year

Close on the heels of a similar issue raised by Ms Smriti Irani in the Parliament last year, Mr Derek O’Brien (TMC) has raised the subject of irresponsible litigation by the Ministry of Defence against its own disabled soldiers.

The Defence fraternity should be thankful to both Ms Irani and Mr O’Brien for taking a stand for our soldiers.

August, 2014

It is a cause for alarm that 90% of the Ministry of Defence’s cases pending in Courts are against pension claims of its own disabled soldiers. The Ministry has been denying pension claims of soldiers on shallow pretexts like the disability occurred in peaceful conditions and not in an active war zone. Military boards have also been rejecting diseases such as neurosis and schizophrenia for being ‘constitutional’ in nature and not aggravated by service conditions. In contrast, pension claims for such diseases are routinely allowed by medical boards of Central Armed Police Forces under the Home Ministry.
Even though the Supreme Court has rendered a series of judgments in favour of the soldiers’ claims, the Ministry of Defence has continued to files appeals against claims at all stages. While the Income Tax Department does not go to the Supreme Court till the amount involved is more than Rs 25 lakhs, the Ministry of Defence has been dragging wounded soldiers to the Supreme Court for amounts as small as a few thousand rupees. Most soldiers cannot afford the costs of protracted litigation and are forced to abandon their claims.
It is shameful that tax payers’ money is being used to field top lawyers and pay exorbitant legal fees in an attempt to deny our soldiers their rightful dues. I strongly urge the Government to ensure that bureaucratic hurdles in the release of pensions are removed at the earliest. The Ministry must cease filing frivolous appeals and grant our soldiers the respect they deserve.

August, 2013

Though the rules of granting disability pension are inherently very liberal and also endorsed as such by the Supreme Court in the recent judgement of Dharamvir Singh Vs Union of India, yet many cases of disabilities arising during military service are restrictively and hyper-technically declared ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service’ by the MoD leading to denial of disability pension to disabled soldiers. Also military personnel with non-service related disabilities discharged with less than 10 years of service are not entitled to any form of pension leading to denial of the right to live a life of dignity, whereas the employment of civilian employees on being disabled is protected under Section 47 of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 enabling them to earn full pension. Majority of appeals and SLPs filed by MoD before the Supreme Court are against their own disabled soldiers on the specious ground that Courts and Tribunals have granted relief against Defence Ministry’s policy.
More than one lac retired defence personnel have been affected.
Ironically, far from safeguarding the welfare of retired soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of them disabled from battle injuries or the bleak conditions of service, the DESW stonewalls and holds off payment until an ex-serviceman claimant is either dead or broke
In view of the above, I urge the Government to intervene in the matter to resolve the issue and ensure that soldiers who made sacrifices for the Nation get their rightful and respectful due.

The Prime Minister must also take immediate steps to rein in the staff of the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW), which till date, has been able to misguide and mislead the political executive on this very important subject.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The tiresome fight for the rights of our men & women in uniform and veterans

I’ve been receiving multiple messages and mails on the subject of Toll Tax exemption.

Apparently, the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) has issued a Circular stating that serving Military personnel would not be eligible for toll exemption in their private vehicles.

Needless to state, this circular issued by the MoRTH is in contravention of the provisions of the Indian Tolls (Army & Air Force) Act, 1901, and also against the clarification issued by the same Ministry in the year 2003 in consequence of a case filed by me wherein the following was ordained by the said Ministry, in consultation with the Ministry of Law & Justice:

“The matter was referred to Ministry of Law. Ministry of Law and Justice have indicated that Indian Tolls (Army and Air Force) Act 1901 is a special Act which overrides general acts such as National Highways Act, 1956 and private vehicles of the officers, soldiers and airmen of regular forces are exempted from paying toll irrespective of whether they are on duty or not.”

The above was followed by multiple clarifications and letters by various agencies on the subject.

The same Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had later also issued Letter No NH-11065/12/2003-P&M dated 15 Sept 04 to National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) vide paragraph 1 of which it had clearly stated that private vehicles of defence personnel shall be exempted. The subject line of the letter also indicated that all categories of exemption under Section 3 of the Indian Tolls (Army & Air Force) Act, 1901, would fall under the definition of ‘defence vehicles’ which is an exemption term usually used on National Highways.

The subject was also adequately clarified on this blog through this blogpost.

Although I do appreciate the concern of all of you, especially serving personnel, on the subject and the anxiety in consequence of this latest illegally issued letter, but I would rather request you to look towards the Services Headquarters for resolution of your grievances.

I say so since I had communicated all material on the subject to all concerned including the Chief of the Army Staff, The Vice Chief, the Adjutant General and the Additional Director General Movement vide a detailed letter (Nav/Toll/Mov/2) in the year 2008 with fourteen annexures and the said authorities are now well equipped to take up cudgels for our men and women in uniform since they have the material to do so. In any case, it is the job of the three services to look after the interests of its personnel.

It is not that I do not empathize with the subject, but the last few years have resulted in an extreme form of dissatisfaction when I have discovered that while we keep fighting for the rights of our service-members and veterans, many of those in uniform tasked with protecting those very rights, incorrigibly stand in opposition of these causes. Believe me, it is a sad sight to see officers in uniform taking stands opposite of what we all stand for- justice and welfare for the military community, restoration of status, rights and privileges of our serving personnel. Yes, it is distressing and disheartening to see uniformed officers take hyper-technical objections and laugh and chuckle and rejoice on dismissal of rightful and genuine claims of soldiers, disabled veterans and widows in Courts forgetting that their prime duty is to assist the Courts or the system at arriving at justice and not to bludgeon the prayers of such people by hook or crook.

If some serving personnel of today are not wanting to reclaim their rights or to live a life of dignity with their equitable benefits guaranteed by law after retirement, if they want to only file appeals against decisions of Courts rendered in their favour rather than sounding the clarion call for change of anomalous and unjust policies, if they want to celebrate their own defeat, so be it.

It is tiresome to bang one’s head against a barricade that divides the just from the unjust.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NDTV’s “The Buck Stops Here” from Kargil: How our soldiers are treated by the system!

You may want to squeeze out some time to watch this important panel discussion on NDTV's “The Buck Stops Here” with Barkha Dutt, live from Kargil.

The Central theme of the discussion was the treatment meted out by the system to our military veterans, especially our disabled and war disabled soldiers.

The panelists were Former Vice Chief Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, Former Defence Secretary Mr Ajay Prasad, NDTV’s Senior Editor (Defence) Mr Nitin Gokhale, Member of Parliament Mr Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Maj Navdeep Singh, Advocate Punjab & Haryana High Court.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rank Pay: Positive development, new letter and fresh monetary benefits

As was discussed on this blog on 16 September 2013 with reference to the rank pay controversy (See this and this), the Attorney General had supported some of the issues raised by the Defence Services on which there was a difference of opinion with the Ministry of Defence on interpretation of the decision of the Supreme Court. 

Taking into account the legal advice tendered by the then Attorney General, the Ministry has today issued a fresh letter on the rank pay issue which is to be read in conjunction with the earlier letter.

The Ministry has also agreed that the reduction/deduction of rank pay from the fixation during 5th Central Pay Commission was also incorrect and that the fixation would be rectified for the period of 01st January 1996 and beyond too.

The letter can be downloaded by clicking here. 

Thanks to the ones who relentlessly fought the battle, including RDOA and the Pay Commission Cells of the three services.

Lots more to do....

Saturday, July 19, 2014

New letter on ex-servicemen status for boarded out recruits

This is in relation to this earlier post of 23 March 2013 on the subject of grant of ex-serviceman status to boarded-out recruits in receipt of disability pension.

The Government, by way of a clarification had only granted the said status to recruits boarded out after 01 Feb 2006, which in my opinion was incongruous and to which my objection was recorded in the following terms in the earlier post:

“...Though the subject has been clarified in the above terms, in my opinion, boarded out recruits in receipt of disability pension would ipso facto be included in the pre-existing definitions in force prior to 01 Feb 2006 too since unlike officer trainees, recruits are entitled to pay and disability pensionary benefits as applicable to regular Sepoys and are also under the purview of the Army Act and hence cannot treated differently than others. Even otherwise, the MoD clarification issued on 01 Feb 2006 did not contain any cut-off date for the applicability of the clarification which has now been superimposed through back-door...”

Thankfully, the Ministry of Defence has now issued a clarification in consistent with the view as above that boarded-out recruits in receipt of disability pension shall be treated as ex-servicemen irrespective of the date of discharge.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bringing to the knowledge of the top what is happening at the bottom

The Prime Minister, on occasions more than one, has made his pain felt at the litigation initiated by the Ministry of Defence against disabled soldiers in the Supreme Court. The issue also forms a part of the manifesto of the ruling party.

The ruthlessness of the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) of the Ministry of Defence is bewildering, and it is also a cause of concern that the Three Services Headquarters have not protested this sadism strongly enough in the recent past.

It is thus very clear that the Prime Minister, and also the current Defence Minister, who in all probability are very busy in the upcoming budget, are unaware that it is business as usual for junior functionaries of the DESW and that the said department and Govt lawyers in the Supreme Court are continuing with their tirade against disabled soldiers and other pensioners.

It is however heartening to note that people have taken a lead in informing the political executive of this malaise and one such letter written to the Prime Minister can be accessed by clicking here.

It is the duty of all of us to ensure that the sentiments of old and infirm pensioners, both civilian as well as military, and of disabled soldiers and military widows, are brought to the knowledge of the Prime Minister and the concerned Ministers, so that the dubious intentions of junior functionaries of the Govt are not allowed to override law, equity and justice or even to contravene the opinion expressed by the Prime Minister.

The issue has been covered in the press too:

The Hindu

The Tribune

The Hindustan Times

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cheated, eh?

It is indeed ironic.

The pension wing of the Ministry of Defence, now under the so called Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) has cheated military veterans and their families since long. It is however sad that these downright deceitful actions did not elicit any protest from the Services HQ, who, especially during times of yore, either did not have the capability of keeping a sharp eye on issues concerning defence veterans, or were not clued up or were simply too timid to react.

Whatever be the reason, I am pointing out four out of many such instances of how Cabinet decisions have been openly given the kick by a few junior level functionaries of the Ministry of Defence leading to denial of crores of rupees to poor unsuspecting veterans and their families:

1. Pensioners other than commissioned officers who retired prior to 10-10-1997 : When the 5th CPC was implemented with effect from 01-01-1996, a gazette notification was duly issued which stated that though the scales were being mentioned for ranks other than officers, the Ministry was carrying out trade rationalisation and removing anomalies from the said scales and the scales would finally be implemented once the said rationalisation was complete and that the said anomaly-free scales would replace the anomalous scales with effect from 01-01-1996. However, when the anomalies were removed and the new scales were finally implemented, these were implemented w.e.f 10-10-1997 through Special Army Instruction (SAI) 2/S/98 and were not implemented w.e.f 01-01-1996 as already approved by the Cabinet. The retrospective implementation w.e.f 01-01-1996 notified vide a Gazette notification was conveniently forgotten. Later when pensions were improved from time to time, the said improvement was based on the anomalous scales of 1996 rather than the anomaly-free rationalised scales introduced in 1997 which were in fact to take effect from 1996 thereby replacing the old anomalous scales. Many decisions in favour of pensioners were rendered by High Courts on the said issue and affirmed by the Supreme Court but still the Ministry did not take any action on the subject. The situation was finally rectified by the Defence Ministry w.e.f 01-07-2009 thereby denying our pensioners the correct pension from 01-01-1996 till 30-06-2009. The Ministry not only managed to flout and contravene a gazette notification issued after approval of the Cabinet, but also managed to disregard directions of our Constitutional Courts.

2.  Removal of requirement of 10 months’ service in a particular rank to earn the pension of that rank: The 6th CPC abrogated the requirement of the 10 months’ formula and provided that pension shall be calculated on the basis of 50% of the emoluments last drawn unlike the position earlier where service of 10 months in a particular rank was required to earn the pension of that rank. The same was made applicable to both pre and post-2006 retirees by the Government. Prior to the 6th CPC, the pensions of Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR) were calculated on the basis of the maximum of the pay-scales which was different than the system followed for all civilian employees and commissioned officers of the defence services for whom the pension was calculated on the basis of the minimum of pay scale. Accordingly, again to provide an edge to PBOR as was the case till 6th CPC, the Government constituted a committee under the Cabinet Secretary who opined that the pension of pre-2006 retirees should be calculated based on the notional maximum within the new 6th CPC scales corresponding to the maximum of pre-6th CPC (5th CPC) scales as per the 6th CPC switch-over fitment tables thereby extending the edge granted to PBOR which was applicable to them earlier. This new stipulation was made applicable with financial effect from 01-07-2009. The said report was accepted by the Cabinet. However, when the DESW of the Ministry of Defence issued the implementation letter, they on their own again added a line re-introducing the 10 months stipulation back into the pensionary provisions for pre-2006 retirees which in reality now stood abrogated for pre-2006 as well as post-2006 retirees after the 6th CPC. Meaning thereby, that if a Naib Subedar had served only for 6 months in that rank prior to retirement, he would be granted the pension of a Havildar, and not a Naib Subedar. The interesting part however remains that even the notings sent to the Cabinet for approval of the Committee’s recommendations contained no such stipulation and the same was mischievously added by lower and mid-level officials of the Ministry of Defence without any reference to the Committee of Secretaries or to the Cabinet, which itself is a serious mischief in an elected democracy.

3. Grant of pension limited to maximum terms of engagement rather than 33 years as applicable to all government pensioners : It is commonly known that earlier, pensionary tables for defence personnel used to be prepared only till the maximum possible service in each rank since individuals were compulsorily retired on attaining the maximum terms of engagement. However, the 4th Central Pay Commission recommended that full pension should be fixed on the basis of 33 years of service including weightage and proportionately reduced for lesser length of service. The system of 33 years is followed as on date for all pre-2006 pensioners. However still, the Defence Accounts Department continued paying pension in accordance with the maximum terms of engagement for each rank and not based on 33 years of service as applicable after the 4th CPC. For example, if a Naik had served for 28 years, or if a DSC Naik had say 30 years of combined service of two spells, they were only being paid a pension for 22 years of service on the specious pretext that the maximum terms of engagement possible for a Naik were 22 years. This was later questioned and quashed by Courts being against the notifications issued after various CPCs which contained no such prohibition. Now last year, the cabinet improved the pensionary benefits of Sepoys, Naiks and Havildars by increasing their weightages. The Govt was then asked to issue a letter. The letter was issued, but again mischievously, in Para 8 of the Letter dated 17 Jan 2013, a line was added by the DESW that the pension shall be revised subject to the maximum terms of engagement for each rank. Giving a benefit to some by one hand and taking it away with the other. This prohibition was never a part of the Union Cabinet’s decision or the recommendations of the Committee of Secretaries on the basis of which this Govt of India letter had been issued but was made a part of the draft letter prepared by the Defence Accounts Department. From where did this line creep in mysteriously and illegally? As on date, all govt employees are being paid pensions in accordance with the length of service rendered by them, however Other Ranks of the defence services are being paid only in accordance with the terms of engagement applicable to their ranks from time to time rather than their actual service. This is not only unfair, but also patently illegal.

4.  Enhancement and fresh Categories of Casualty Pensionary Awards including Disability, War Injury and Liberalized Pensionary Awards, introduced after the 5th CPC : The 5th CPC had introduced certain new categories and enhanced the existing casualty pensionary awards w.e.f 01-01-1996. These were extended only to post-96 retirees vide a Govt of India letter for civil pensioners issued on 03-02-2000. The same stipulations were later extended to post-96 defence pensioners by the MoD vide a letter dated 31-01-2001. Later, the benefits were extended by the Govt of India to pre-96 pensioners vide another letter issued on 11-09-2001 and a copy of that letter was sent to MoD for implementation. The MoD however sat on the letter and never issued similar instructions for defence pensioners. Till date, w.e.f 01-01-1996, pre-1996 retiree defence pensioners have been denied the benefits of the Govt of India letter dated 11-09-2001 despite the fact that the Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare (DoPPW) has reminded the MoD time and again to do the needful. One stipulation of the letter of broad-banding of disability percentages was implemented by the MoD for pre-1996 retirees but only with effect from 01-07-2009 thereby denying such disabled personnel the arrears from 01-01-1996 till 30-06-2009, which of course had been released and paid to similarly placed civilians.

Yes, all of you were cheated. And the most striking feature of this sadism is that the particular officer in DESW who was responsible for many of the above actions and is also a signatory of a majority of these letters, is now dealing with the process of implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP). He is still functioning in the DESW on re-employment, after retiring from regular service.

Unless veterans are on the same page and cease and desist from their internal battles, and the Services HQ acquire expertise and knowledge, overcome timidity and involve stake-holders, no progress can be expected.

The state seems much better in the Pay Commission Cells of the Defence Services at this point, but only time would tell if the hammering can be reversed or if further hammering can be arrested.

Best of luck!

Saturday, June 14, 2014



Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman (Retd)

A recent news item appearing in a national daily referring to the Principal Secretary to the new Prime Minister expressing concern of the new government at the military-bureaucratic disconnect in the Ministry of Defence and calling for measures to streamline decision making at the MOD is indeed a wake-up call for the latter and the nation expectantly looks forward to the new PM to revamp the MOD within the ‘100 days agenda’.

India’s armed forces are universally acknowledged as a highly reliable professional military force. However they suffer from being unable to fully optimise this very professionalism towards contributing to a more robust and efficient system of higher defence management due to the de facto translation of constitutionally mandated rules of democratic governance which restrict uniformed services from holding Secretary level posts or other appointments under the Central Staffing Scheme or otherwise being representatives of the government of India.

Periodic attempts at revamping the Higher Defence Organization, notably the Kargil review committee and one of its derivatives designated as task force on defence management led by Shri Arun Singh and the Shri Naresh Chandra led committee (whose recommendations are not yet in public domain), have not addressed the fundamental dichotomy that exists between the de facto responsibility that the  three Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force have in ensuring the territorial integrity of the country and the de jure placement of  Secretary Defence as the single authority responsible to the Defence Minister with regard to the department of defence, that is, all matters dealing with the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Government of India’s Allocation of Business Rules, 1961, derived from Article 77(3) of the constitution stipulate that only Secretaries to the government as designated by the Minister concerned are responsible to carry out the duties entrusted to the departments placed under the Secretary so specified. In this case the territorial defence of any part of India, is the responsibility of Secretary Defence as the head of Department of Defence. The other Secretaries in the Ministry of Defence entrusted with their respective charters are Secretary Defence Production, Secretary Defence Research and Development and lastly Secretary Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare(DESW).

The reforms in Higher Defence Management, so far implemented since independence, relating to creation of the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) under a Secretary level three star ranked officer designated as Chief of Integrated Staff to Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC) and raising of C-in-C (Commander-in-Chief) A&N Command and C-in-C Strategic Forces Command (SFC) have created more joint organizations of the Services but have not made any difference to garnering the professionalism of the uniformed mind in decision making. Suggested reforms on meaningful integration of the Services Headquarters with the MOD have also fallen by the wayside because of  lack of clarity in bridging the gap between how the Government of India has chosen to manage the departments under the Ministry of Defence and how best can the nation’s interests be served in making full use of the vast pool of experienced senior defence officers.

The Armed forces have, kept the nation’s trust admirably, so far. However growing asymmetry with China on account of as yet inadequate border infrastructure, persistent hollowness in warlike inventory of the armed forces, niggardly modernization and continuing dissatisfaction of retired personnel on personnel and pension matters (leading to needlessly and forcibly imposed litigation and loss of faith in the system), should all be a serious cause for concern. The resignation of Admiral DK Joshi cannot but highlight more this frustration on the part of the knowledgeable and nationalistic strategic community of senior officers past and present at this paralysis of inaction. It is time we carry out a reappraisal of the Rules of Business so as to optimise the output of the Secretaries to the Government of India given the non-utilisation of professional competence and vast experience of a plethora of  senior Secretary level  officers  in the three services.

The first and inarguably the most important of the Secretaries in MOD is the Defence Secretary who has direct responsibility over the three Services. The three Service Chiefs and the likely fourth Joint Chief of Staff (reportedly as per the recommendation of Naresh Chandra committee) outrank the Defence Secretary and have direct access to the Raksha Mantri but are not responsible per se for defence. Logically the three Vice Chiefs should then be included as Secretaries responsible for departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force. This would require due amendment to the Rules of Business. In addition it is also time for a single file system to be adopted in the MOD with service officers of the three star rank and holding Director General’s post and above to be included in the Rules of Business.

The second of the departments under the Ministry of Defence is the Defence Production. Repeated failures and under-performance of this department having all the Defence PSUs under the Secretary Defence Production calls for drastic changes towards active involvement of, and accountability to the three services. The charge- sheeting and incarceration of a former Chairman of the Ordnance Factories Board should have been a wake-up call. It is time the Secretary Defence Production is chosen from a panel of approved Lieutenant Generals/equivalents and given a minimum tenure of two years as Secretary Defence Production.

The third Secretary level Departmental head is the Secretary Defence Research and Development, who is also the Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri. It is time that while as SA the DRDO Chief can carry on unfettered in purely design and development of original systems, the decisions affecting the services in the realm of applied technology  are taken by a specially constituted Board with the three Vice Chiefs and CISC as its members as also the Secretary (Finance) in MOD.

Coming to the last of the four departments under the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare, it is worth recalling the accepted maxim that ex-servicemen’s interests are best looked after by the serving military. If it is so, then why shouldn't the Secretary DESW not be a serving uniformed officer specially selected from a suitable panel and given minimum two year tenure or a recently retired officer selected by the government. In most democracies, affairs of the veterans are looked after by officers with armed forces background.

Changes recommended in the foregoing for making out a case for injecting greater professionalism in the functioning of the Defence Ministry would only require a few amendments to the rules of business of the Government. At a time when Indian defence establishment is faced with a growing militarist China and there are fresh fears over increased instability on our western borders, we would be well served to  carry out these amendments in order to optimise the available specialist professional expertise of senior service officers in the MOD, by re-allocating two of the departments, that is, the Departments of Defence Production and Ex-Servicemen Welfare to selected serving military officers as Secretaries. Further,the potential of the department of Defence under Secretary Defence be optimised by involving the principal stake-holders, again the military, by including service officers of Director General’s posts in the government’s Rules of Business and adopting a single file system of files movement in the MOD as is being done in other sensitive Ministries/Departments of the government. Finally, with regard to the fourth department ie, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, its decisions  be ratified by  constituting  a Defence Technology Board akin to the Railway Board with the Vice Chiefs of the Services being members of the Board alongwith the Secretary Defence Research and Development and Secretary Defence (Finance).

The author is a former Vice Chief of the Army and has also been a founder member of the Armed Forces Tribunal