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Monday, June 20, 2016

My opinion piece: Sly machinations of the officialdom can reduce Political Executive and the Higher Bureaucracy to a naught

Sly machinations of the officialdom can reduce Political Executive and the Higher Bureaucracy to a naught (Published @ The Quint)

File noting initiators are experts at deriving incorrect decisions from the political executive which may militate against the broad stated policy of the Government. Political will, thus, must be imposed with an iron hand.

Navdeep Singh


Having dealt with litigation and public policy for long, one thing that constantly bothers me is the lack of proper inputs to the political executive and even to the senior bureaucracy finally leading to improper decisions which do not reflect the collective will of the Government but only the personal opinions and limited understanding, or lack thereof, of the army of section officers and under secretaries who initiate file notings, ultimately resulting in issuance of policies that at times militate against the broad stated position of the Government itself. In the end, the restrictive and limited understanding of the initiators of the file notings at the lowest echelons of the Government is imposed upon millions of citizens in the form of public policy, which, good or bad, the Government later has to defend even when genuinely attacked, and which, even if realized to be imbalanced, is not usually rescinded since it becomes a prestige issue for the higher ones who signed it.

I was reminded of this disturbing reality again while going through a recent Office Memorandum (OM) issued by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) on the subject of litigation, issued on 7th of June. But more on it later in this piece.

It needs no emphasis that our Courts are overburdened with litigation, especially appeals and challenges initiated by the Government and its instrumentalities. The Government, over the years, has become a compulsive litigant rather than a responsible one. The reason is simple- the Government is faceless and responsibility is seldom fixed on individual personalities, and there is no personal financial pain involved since it is the taxpayers’ money that is squandered on litigation.

Alive to this, the Prime Minister commendably conveyed to various departments that such litigation should be decreased and even disputes within various departments and Ministries should be resolved. The Law Minister further, as he has made publicly known, is trying to tune-up a new National Litigation Policy, which besides other measures, would be attempting to curb irresponsible litigation initiated by the Government and its agencies.

But the situation on ground is quite hazy. One latest example of this condition is the above mentioned Office Memorandum. To put it crudely, the said circular, by a sleight of hand, wants to put to naught the efforts of the current regime, the endeavour of the Law Minister and even honest legal opinion recorded on file.

Since on many occasions, when Courts render decisions which are perceivably against policy as interpreted by DoPT, the Law Ministry opines that the decision should be implemented without filing any appeal, the DoPT has found a unique solution, and that is, by way of an innocuous looking line in Paragraph 1(a) of the OM it has decided to do away with the process of referring the file to the Department of Legal Affairs of the Law Ministry altogether and rather to go in for an appeal if the matter is perceived to be against ‘policy of the DoPT’. Needless to state, this practically means that appeals shall be filed in almost all cases where positive decisions are rendered by Courts and Tribunals in favour of employees since in the first place such employees would have taken recourse to judicial remedy only when their departments would have rejected their claims based on their interpretation of ‘Government Policy’. Of course, the reality also is that more often than not, appeals and reviews are filed in employment related service matters not out of any genuine reasons or judiciousness, but out of ego and prestige. As far as litigation is concerned, the Government has always been trigger-happy, and the only speed-breaker, at times, was the candid legal advice by the Department of Legal Affairs, which is its first bounden duty under the Allocation of Business Rules, and with that now out of the way, the raging bulls of litigation are bound to have a free run putting the efforts of the Prime Minister and the Law Minister to jeopardy.

So what is the solution? The quest for an answer to this is admittedly not an easy task. But then some very basic steps can be taken:

(a) Follow a collegiate method of decision-making rather than the one-way file noting system. Make face to face meetings by the competent final authority more frequent where polices or even regular decisions affecting the public, before issuance, are thrashed out and brainstormed rather than relying upon notes put up from below. Look beyond the comfort zone of the coterie that insulates from practical ground realties.

(b) Follow a more aggressive system of stake-holder consultation to get a well-rounded view of the issue at hand. For example, on the issue of litigation or public policy, the authority empowered to take a decision, while retaining that right to take a decision, must consult all stake-holders, experts and also representatives of the affected parties so that he or she gets an unbiased 360 degree viewpoint rather than just the perspective of the official establishment. In such meetings, there exists the very useful opportunity of rebutting incorrect or imbalanced views which might go unchecked on file when there is nobody to counter them. The regular meetings of the Standing Committee of Voluntary Agencies (SCOVA) and Joint Consultative Machinery (JCM) under the same DoPT are worth emulating in other spheres of policy making.  

(c) Ensure that the political will is enforced with an iron hand. India is a democracy where the desire of the political executive should reign supreme. Once a particular pro-people broad decision on public policy is taken, any projection of hurdles should not be accepted and a strong top-down approach must be maintained.

All of us must understand that since times immemorial, our governance and policy have been slaves to ego-enhancement tools of those in key positions, even if at junior levels, where the ability of creating impediments for the public or to make the masses run around in circles, are symbols of power, prestige and a perverted form of augmentation of self-esteem. In such a scenario, our Ministers must understand that officials down the chain would not want to let go of the power concentrated in a few hands- such officials thrive on the sadistic pleasure from red-tape and license-raj, they love the way they can derive decisions out of generalists and political leaders, and thus to overly rely upon such elements would be the greatest disservice to what our nation, incidentally a democracy, stands for.

India should be governed by robust policies made for public good powered by good intentioned outlook of a strong political executive, and not by the personal opinion of some bored babu sitting in the corner of some dull room in Delhi wanting to impose his or her limited exposure and approach upon us. Representatives of the people must apply mind and should not be taken for a ride, you are answerable to the people, not that babu.

Political executive, please stand up and take charge!  

----

Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate in the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels. He was also a Member of a Committee of Experts constituted by the Defence Minister on directions of the Prime Minister to reduce litigation initiated by the Ministry of Defence. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Some updates: (1) 33 years rule, and, (2) An interview link

Removal of 33 years’ condition for grant of full pension:

Many letters have been floated lamenting the delay by the Ministry of Defence in issuing orders for removal of the 33 years’ condition for grant of full pension that has already been issued for civilian pensioners as informed on this blog in April 2016. Many have also expressed dissatisfaction at the time being taken by the MoD and some mails have also been pretty alarmist in nature. On this, I would request you to kindly be patient. The issuance of the letter is underway and the delay was quite expected since unlike the civil side, defence pensionary modalities are quite complicated and involve the preparation of many tables using different formulae and which would have to be appended to the said letter. Also, the system of calculation of pension is different for Commissioned Officers (calculated at minimum of Pay Band) than for ranks other than Commissioned Officers (calculated at notional maximum) and hence adequate protection clauses would have to be introduced. A protection clause for OROP also needs to be incorporated. A little patience is required since the delay is not of much significance since arrears anyway have to flow from 01 January 2006.

An interview published at Bar & Bench:

My interview @ Bar & Bench was published recently and can be accessed by clicking here.


Thank You, and sorry for the long gap :) 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Disability/Casualty awards notification with effect from 01 Jan 2006, issued today by the Ministry of Defence for defence pensioners

As explained in this earlier post of 30 April 2016, the Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare (DoPPW) had issued the letter for grant of arrears of casualty benefits with effect from 01 Jan 2006 rather than 24 September 2012.

The same had been necessitated since though the Central Government had issued orders revising the pensions of central govt pensioners after removal of the anomaly of ‘minimum of pay band’ versus ‘minimum of pay within the pay band’ from 01-01-2006 rather than the artificial future cut-off date of 24-09-2012 based on the decision of various High Courts as affirmed by the Supreme Court, the parallel rates for disability and casualty awards however had not been revised by the w.e.f 01-01-2006 and the file had remained pending with the Ministry of Finance.

After issuance of the said letter by the DoPPW, the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare has also today issued the parallel letter for military pensioners. The same can be accessed by clicking here.

There were voices questioning the delay by the MoD in issuance of the said letter, but it may kindly be appreciated that there are various kinds of modalities on the defence side which need to be catered for flowing from the fact that there are certain complex situations in defence pensionary provisions which are not existing on the civil side, and hence some delay was expected. In any case, the arrears are w.e.f 01 Jan 2006 and hence the short delay hardly makes a difference. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Look at yourself in the mirror....

This post is free flowing. Triggered by a variety of events in the last few months, I cannot pinpoint the exact contours of my feelings.

Ad nauseam it is heard from the serving and the veteran community as to how key appointments in the Ministry of Defence should be manned by uniformed personnel. Some faujis continually blame the babus for all ills, which emotion I have tried to address, and to an extent, contest, a couple of times earlier on my blog essentially stating that the answers to this quandary are not easy and the situation that we are in emanates from an interplay of complexities which are not easy to comprehend or resolve and that the military community has to share the blame.

LACK OF SENSITIVITY TOWARDS HERITAGE AND A COTERIE THAT INSULATES TOP ECHELONS FROM THE REALITY AND THE PAIN AND THE SUFFERING:
Some happenings in the recent past solidify my feelings about our total lack of sensitivity to our heritage, welfare and wellbeing- issues which could be easily resolved at the end of the military establishment or matters that could have been made easier to resolve had the military establishment taken a strong but genuine stand. In certain cases, the military establishment with its rigid stance and holier than thou attitude is also leading to bad press, a complete breakdown of trust and also increase in infructuous litigation and pointless official work. And seniors, when complained to, either do not (rightly) have the time to go into the nitty gritty or are unduly influenced by the make-believe cheeriness perpetrated by the coterie around them thereby insulating them from the ground realities and the pain of the common veteran or kin. Of course, till the time the stakeholders are not consulted and their voice is not heard, the senior authorities are bound to be influenced by their staff which has an easier access to the ear of the seniors with no channel of rebuttal of what may be blatantly incorrect.

The first instance that comes to mind is the case of a 99 year old widow of a disabled World War II pensioner of the Burma Army. The British at one time had common military administration for India and Burma which underwent a change later. The Government of India through the Ministry of Defence pays family pension to widows of such Indian citizens of the Burma Army who came back and settled in India. Particular Record Offices have been tasked to look after them. The lady on her husband’s death in 2012 accordingly applied for the family pension as was due to her. To her horror, various Record Offices kept on tossing the file to one another and to the Army HQ intermittently and ultimately one such Record Office also asked her to contact the authorities in Rangoon for the needful, not even for a moment applying mind to the fact that it is under the authority of the Ministry of Defence, reiterated as recently as in 2009, that the family pension was to be released and Myanmar had nothing to do with it. In any case, it was only after tough talk by the Punjab & Haryana High and when the Raksha Mantri personally took note and the Adjutant General also apparently pulled up the concerned officers that things started moving and within a few days her pension was sanctioned. Of course, it would not be out of place to mention the positive role played by the Central Government Counsel in the High Court and also the officers at the Records Office of the Punjab Regiment who ensured the release of pension at lightning speed after the case was highlighted, but that is not what I am trying to address. The lady was aware of her rights, managed to approach the High Court and senior functionaries also took due interest, but what about those who are/were not so lucky? Aren’t we aware that World War II veterans and also their wives are today on a diminishing scale? Is it too much to expect alacrity from Record Offices in cases of such extremely old veterans and their families or would the rights of such individuals only depend upon Courts and VIP references? I don’t think that a proactive Minister or Chief or Adjutant General would be able to reach out in each and every case, this bounden duty is that of the military staff, but is that happening?

LACK OF EFFECTIVE RESPONSE BY RECORD OFFICES AND BIZARRE REPLIES TO RIGHT TO INFORMATION REQUESTS OF SOLDIERS:
Speaking of Record Offices, let us open our eyes and ask veterans about the quality of responses received for their problems. There are multiple instances wherein representations are simply not replied, not just by the Record Offices, but also by the Manpower Directorate for officers. It is shameful that almost seven decades since independence we have not been able to ensure that offices mandatorily reply to all letters received by them. Then there are instances when policies have changed but Record Offices reject representations without caring to open the rule book. Another area of concern is the Right to Information Act. Some Record Offices are going to absurd lengths on the subject. The Artillery Records, in response to requests for Medical Board proceedings of veterans is asking them to send a copy of an ‘FIR’ for lost medical board proceedings wherein there is no such requirement under the RTI Act. When a veteran seeks his medical board proceedings, the said Record Office is also sermonizing RTI Applicants about the ‘Official Secrets Act’. I fail to understand as to how the Official Secrets Act can be invoked by the Artillery Records on a request of a veteran for his own medical record! The Records Office of the Sikh Regiment, otherwise quite sensitized and responsive, is illegally placing a white sticker on the percentage and attributability/aggravation part of medical board proceedings citing some godforsaken outdated letter of the Director General Armed Forces Medical Services. Needless to state, any such outdated instruction cannot override the provisions of the RTI Act which is an Act passed by the Parliament. Also this action is contemptuous since the Delhi High Court, way back in the mid 2000s, had directed that medical record needed to be provided to every disabled soldier. Moreover, such mind games are being played with applicants not realizing that this increases heartburn and fuels infructuous litigation and cases till the Central Information Commission which involve movement of manpower and resources, heavy burden on tax payers’ money and also on the pockets of veterans and their families, and that too, out of ego and exuberance which should be nipped right in the bud by senior officers. And for what? For a piece of paper which anyway belongs to the veteran being his own health record?

BECOMING AN ACTIVE PARTY TO UNETHICAL ACTION AGAINST OWN PENSIONERS:
Another example that comes to mind is letters being issued by the Personnel Services Directorate of the Army HQ to Government lawyers, supposedly on instructions of the Ministry of Defence, asking them to file appeals and reviews in matters where arrears have been paid from 01 Jan 2006 on Court orders to litigants by removing certain anomalies arising out of the 6th Central Pay Commission and even in cases wherein litigants, mostly of lower ranks, were illegally denied their due benefits but were released the same on judicial intervention. The Personnel Services Directorate has directed Government lawyers to contend in Courts that the arrears may not be paid from the date they fell due or from the date the anomaly of the pay commission was removed but should be restricted from a future artificial date. Firstly, such a stand is contrary to law laid down by the Supreme Court wherein it has been held that arrears are to flow from the date of inception of the anomaly and not from a future artificial date. Secondly, the said issue has already been agitated by the Ministry as well as the Personnel Services Directorate and filly decided by the Supreme Court in Union of India Vs Subhash Chander Soni wherein orders have been passed in favour of affected litigants and even the Attorney General of India has advised the Ministry and all three Military Chiefs not to cause loss to the State and embarrassment to the Government by continuing filing appeals. Thirdly, the Department of Pension & Pensioners Welfare (DoPPW) has already issued universal orders with financial effect from 01 Jan 2006 (and in certain cases even from 01 Jan 1996) vide various circulars issued in 2015 and 2016 based on Court orders for all affected individuals and it is not understood as to why is the Army insisting upon filing such frivolous appeals and reviews seeking to restrict benefits to its own pensioners. Fourthly, it is well known that anomalies are to be removed from the date of inception of the anomaly which arises on the date of implementation of the Pay Commission report and not from any future artificial date and the officers who are recommending such appeals or reviews against our pensioners of lower ranks or who are signing on or approving such noting sheets would be well advised to first deposit back their rank pay arrears which they themselves may  have received from 1986 or 1996, also the arrears on account of upgradation to Pay Band-4 for all Lt Cols which we had achieved with our sweat and hard-work from the Government and which such officers had received at a later date but with financial effect from 2006 must also be deposited back, similar should be the case with Lt Gens who were later upgraded to a higher scale retrospectively from 2006. Not to forget, all these officers who are recommending restriction of arrears for lower ranks should undertake not to receive arrears of the 7th Central Pay Commission from an earlier date as and when its anomalies are resolved and should solemnly affirm on affidavit to be governed by the same morbid logic and yardstick as they are applying to our pensioners of junior ranks, and this includes the JAG officers who may have rendered any such opinion on restriction of arrears. All officers who have recommended restriction of arrears for their jawans must also solemnly resolve to refuse any such similar arrears as granted to their civilian counterparts in the future in view of their own negative stand for the pensionary arrears of their subordinates. Of course, this shall be in line with that motto of Philip Chetwode, remember? Yes, that one!

COMPARING APPLES WITH APPLES- MILITARY APPLES WITH CIVIL APPLES:
Having seen the functioning of the Ministry of Home Affairs and some State Governments in the field of litigation, I can say it with responsibility that it is only the three defence services which put undue pressure on their officers to ‘win cases’. But at what cost? The first and foremost duty of a counsel in a Court is to assist the Court and secure justice, not to score a ‘win’. Litigation is not militaristic; you are not fighting a war with the enemy. No other department or organisation gets personally involved with cases or makes litigation a prestige issue, not even the Ministry of Defence. Unnecessary pressure is put on JAG officers and even Government lawyers in the field of litigation. They are encouraged to adopt an adversarial role rather than an approach of resolution. They are questioned and adversely commented upon if they ‘lose’ cases.  They would immediately circulate the rare cases which are decided in favour of the system terming them ‘landmark’, but with the same yardstick cases that lay down law in favour of litigants are never circulated or even implemented. While universal policies are issued by the Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare as soon as an SLP is simply dismissed by the Supreme Court or a decision is rendered by the High Court, in case of military personnel, the Defence Services at times are themselves filing appeals including in matters settled multiple times by the Supreme Court by way of detailed decisions. Disability pension cases being an apt example.

IT IS NOT EXTERNAL, IT IS INTERNAL:
I therefore feel queasy when veterans and serving military personnel blame external agencies for the pathetic condition that they are in, or leave it all at the door of ‘babus’. I also have zero faith when the military community states that the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare should be manned exclusively by military personnel- it could well take it further below nadir unless there is an adequate mix of sensitized experts on key positions. We are turning out not only to be the masters of self-defeat by crushing the rights of our own but also meek spectators who do not even put our disagreements on record or on file for our own little personal gains. It is also clear that we have so much time on our hands in our Headquarters that we display excessive zeal and waste negative energy by looking for loopholes in noting sheets and files to impress seniors to scuttle beneficial policies with a crab mentality. This is the kind of negative enthusiasm that needs to be curbed. On the civil side too, similar exercise is carried out and keenness is shown, but it is to aid and assist employees and pensioners keeping in view the spirit of the beneficial and benevolent nature of policies.

In one of the Raising Day celebrations of my father’s Regiment in the early 1980s, I remember an old Subedar Major saying “Fauj mein koi doosre ko khush nahi dekh sakta”. Is that the root cause? I don’t know, and like I said in the beginning, I cannot pinpoint, but I want him to be proved wrong.

Sorry to sound harsh in this post, but veteran welfare is not just distributing sewing machines and shawls to veer naaris at veteran rallies, it goes much beyond. But then the voice has to come from within.


Before pointing fingers at others, look at yourself in the mirror. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

My oped for 'The Quint': India, we are fighting our own disabled soldiers...

Here is my recent opinion piece for The Quint:


India, we are fighting our own disabled soldiers


Navdeep Singh


Most nations recognize the inherent stress and strain of military service and its detrimental effect on the health and daily lives of soldiers. India does too, but only in theory, not in practice. Lip service galore, zilch on-ground support.

Not many must be aware, contrary to popular perception, the life expectancy of soldiers is lower than their civilian counterparts. The reason is not far to seek. Living in a regimented lifestyle, most of the year away from their families and at times under the shadow of the gun, 24 hours covered with a tough disciplinary law, soldiers face unique stressful conditions which result in aggravating and accentuating even regular diseases and ailments. It doesn’t take much enlightenment to understand that soldiers face higher stress levels than ordinary citizens living with their families since the former are away from commune living and hence cannot adequately cope up with domestic commitments and stressors, but in a strange and ironic kind of incorrigibility, it is the defence establishment itself which is not ready to accept this proposition which is not rocket science but common sense.

Medical specialists all over the world recognize higher stress and strain in uniformed forces. All democracies endorse this. Disability Rules in India also state the same. The Prime Minister thinks on the same lines too. The Defence Minister also feels so. The apex military medical body also speaks the same. The Courts, including the Supreme Court, have directed thus. But still many of our disabled soldiers are released from service and sometimes even thrown out of service on medical grounds, without pension or disability pension, thereby denying them a life of basic dignity, on the pretext that their disabilities were declared ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service’ by military medical boards- a blatant disregard of practical realities to say the least.

And when such soldiers fight long legal battles for their dues, the official establishment is quick to file appeals till the Supreme Court in order to deny these soldiers and their families a few thousand, and at times a few hundred, rupees. The officialdom is comfortable wasting money and resources on expensive lawyers and litigation but not with releasing lesser amounts to those who have served us.

Nothing could be more shameful for us as a nation.

Our rules, paradoxically, are liberal and sensitive. The rules provide that in case a soldier is recruited in a fit medical condition, then any disability arising during service, except when caused due to his/her own illegality such as substance abuse, is deemed as having been affected by service conditions. This presumption is not unique to India but is followed in almost all democracies since the harmful effects of insidious and invisible pressures of military life are known to manifest themselves negatively on the health of soldiers. Still, benefits are refused on unforgivable excuses such as ‘disability was incurred in a peace area’ or ‘disability was due to domestic stressors’ without realizing that the inability to attend to personal and familial requirements has a direct linkage with the military since it is due to service in the defence services that a person is not there all the time to take care of his/her domestic needs, a fact even recognized by successive Defence Ministers who themselves have underlined the rise in stress levels due to this very reason. Also, for soldiers living in barracks who need permission even to go to the washroom and are required to sign registers and take an out-pass for a visit to buy a toothbrush from the market and are denied basic needs such as physical proximity, emotional warmth or even sexual fulfillment for months together, it hardly matters whether they are serving in a ‘peace’ area or ‘field’ area, and to top it all, the rules anyway progressively provide that service in ‘peace’ or ‘field’ makes no difference for disability benefits..

The Supreme Court, in a series of decisions, has directed the Ministry of Defence to grant benefits to disabled soldiers. A Committee of Experts constituted by the Defence Minister to look into rising litigation against soldiers, of which incidentally I was a Member, had also recommended the withdrawal of such litigation and appeals by the Ministry of Defence against its own soldiers. As explained above, the Medical Services Advisory Committee, which is the apex medical body of the military, has also supported the grant of such benefits. The rules too are favourable. The Defence Minister himself has shown resolve to alleviate the problems of such disabled soldiers. Despite all this, recently, elements in the Ministry of Defence had asked the Army Headquarters to file appeals in the Supreme Court against Tribunal and Court orders wherein disability pension had been granted to disabled soldiers, and the Army Headquarters, it seems, readily complied.

Having worked for disabled soldiers for close to two decades now, what pains me greatly in writing this is the fact that while all stakeholders, including the political executive, are on board and there are all encompassing directions of the highest Court of the land, still the system is held hostage to contemptuous file notings of lower level officials purportedly based on some legal advice egging on the establishment to file appeals against verdicts rendered in favour of disabled soldiers, and the Headquarters of the Defence Services are also meekly accepting this bloodbath without taking a strong stand on file by pointing out this malaise to the powers that be.

In the ultimate analysis, it seems that it is not the directions of the Apex Court or the will of the political executive that would be allowed to prevail in our homeland, but the sadistic urge of a few stray voices that are holding the morale of our nation to ransom. The Courts are clogged with mundane disputes and unwanted litigation thereby burdening the judiciary to unprecedented levels, and here we are, in this great nation of ours, wasting taxpayers’ money in fighting cases against our own disabled soldiers, the ones who silently sacrificed their health to protect us.

Shame on all of us.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Disability/Casualty Awards revised with arrears from 01 Jan 2006 rather than 24 Sept 2012, by the Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare, expect orders for defence pensioners soon

In July last year, the Central Government had issued orders revising the pensions of central govt pensioners after removal of the anomaly of ‘minimum of pay band’ versus ‘minimum of pay within the pay band’ from 01-01-2006 rather than the artificial future cut-off date of 24-09-2012. This was based on the decision of various High Courts as affirmed by the Supreme Court. This was followed by orders by the Ministry of Defence for military pensioners in September.

The parallel rates for disability and casualty awards however had not been revised by the Central Government w.e.f 01-01-2006 and the file had remained pending with the Ministry of Finance.

The orders have now been issued by the Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare (DoPPW) and all disability and death related benefits now stand revised from 01-01-2006 rather than 24-09-2012 and arrears shall be released for the period 01-01-2006 till 23-09-2012 to all affected retirees. The orders can be downloaded by clicking here

The DoPPW is the nodal ministry for issuance of such orders and similar orders would now be notified by the Railways and the MoD after suitable amendments, for their own retirees/family pensioners in due course. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rumours on military promotion boards, and then some....

The Tribune has today reported that the defence minister, while addressing senior military commanders, has clarified that he had not passed any instructions for some sort of civilian oversight in military promotion boards as rumoured.

If it is true that the Minister has made this statement, then I am glad on this proactive step of clearing the air since this was a regrettable rumour doing the rounds and which was also unfortunately bought by many (otherwise well meaning) senior retired veterans. It had been incorrectly stated that the Minister had passed directions that civilian officers shall be members of promotion boards of the defence services.

The truth is totally the opposite and the rumour has other origins. In fact, the issue had not even emanated from the Minister or his office and relates to the Committee of Experts constituted by the Government, of which even I was one of the Members.

Within the military environment, there are murmurs regarding lack of transparency in selection boards. Some may call it perceived, some may label it real, but a fact that cannot be ignored is that there has been a spurt in complaints related to this aspect. To counter this, the Ministry of Defence came up with the suggestion of a civilian member in promotion boards of the defence services. This recommendation was deliberated by the ibid Committee of Experts specifically constituted to look into ways of reducing litigation and improving redressal of grievances, and ultimately the said proposal of the Ministry was REJECTED. Instead, we recommended the strengthening of the existing system of observers by providing that out of the total observers, two could be from sister services or even civilians (not Civil Servants) to alleviate any negative perception. Hence the rumours were wrong on various levels- Firstly, there were no such directions from the Minister, in fact, the Minister did not interfere at all with the Panel and rather wanted us to be totally objective and truthful. Secondly, the proposal was initiated due to constant complaints by serving officers of the defence services and not by the Ministry on its own volition. Thirdly, the said proposal was rejected and we did not agree with the Ministry. Fourthly, the system of observers already exists and the ultimate recommendation was to continue with the same with the minor change as above and without any voting rights.  

I sincerely feel that attempts should be made to verify facts before floating messages which have the propensity to damage institutions and cause disaffection. Also, ultimately the military must, and would have to, yield to transparency which is a pertinent need in this time and age, except in operational and strategic matters, to counterbalance both sides of the spectrum and offset misgivings. We would be indulging in the greatest disservice if we close our eyes and rationalize or attempt to justify that all is well. Since apparently there is nothing to hide, measures of openness should rather be welcomed. A closed non-dynamic system resting on the supposedly ‘time-tested’ past laurels may ultimately be counterproductive. There is no right or wrong in many of such issues and it is the duty of all stakeholders to ensure objectivity and lower the levels of dissatisfaction. Of course, for that, we need to have an unbolted mind and not react negatively to every hint of a wind of change. As Kennedy once addressed, “conformity is the jailer of freedom and enemy of growth”.

I hope we can rise to the occasion and become mature enough to debate the merits and demerits of adjustments and readjustments in the existing dispensation with the openness it deserves

Monday, April 11, 2016

Independence and objectivity of thought and action

An interesting article by Tim Dunne on Military Justice in Canada (Military Justice, past its “best-before” date) was published in Frontline Defence.

While referring to Justice LeSage’s ‘independent review’ of the system of military justice, the author states the following regarding the inputs made available to the Justice and then asks a very pertinent question:

“...In his foreword, Justice LeSage noted the cadre of professionals who provided “valuable comments, recommendations and observations that have helped […] shape the content of the Report. That list includes Colonel Patrick K. Gleeson (Deputy Judge Advocate General/Chief of Staff); Colonel Michael Gibson (Deputy Judge Advocate General – Military Justice); and numerous other members of JAG, who undertook “the considerable challenge of educating me, regarding the military justice system.” He also added Major Patrick Vermette (Directorate of Law – Military Justice – Strategic) “who shepherded us through all the base visits, was unwavering in his patience, courtesy, and providing me with invaluable information and guidance throughout this process.”
This begs the question, with so much participation by Judge Advocate General legal staff in educating Justice LeSage, just how independent was his “independent review”?
Sadly missing from the list of educators and advisors is an advocate for the sailors, the soldiers and the air force personnel whose lives are so profoundly affected by the National Defence Act...”
Why I have reproduced the above is because the same reminds me of the praise showered by the Seventh Central Pay Commission in its foreword on a member of the Indian Defence Accounts Service for his intricate knowledge of defence financial matters which helped the commission in “determining the pay structure for the defence services”.

And what about those who were affected, those who were at the receiving end?

:)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Biggest news of 2016 for Central Government pensioners

Most readers would be aware that the orders regarding calculation of pension of pre-2006 retirees based on minimum of pay within the pay band for each separate grade/rank and not on minimum of the pay band itself, with arrears from 01-01-2006 rather than 24-09-2012, were issued for Central Government pensioners in July 2015 by the Government as per the decision of the Delhi High Court, which essentially followed a decision of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, and then upheld by the Supreme Court. The High Court had held that the anomaly (though later removed by the Government itself from 24-09-2012) had to be removed from the date of the inception of the anomaly, that is, 01-01-2006. Similar orders were later issued by the Ministry of Defence.

On a similar analogy, many decisions by various Benches of the Central Administrative Tribunal (and then upheld by the High Courts) were rendered de-linking the service requirement of 33 years for grant of full pension for pre-2006 retirees at par with post-2006 retirees for whom there is no such requirement. Some Special Leave Petitions preferred by the Government against such orders were also dismissed, though not by way of detailed decisions. The Punjab  Haryana High Court had also passed a detailed verdict on the same subject for pensioners of the Central Armed Police Forces. Till date, the pensions of pre-2006 pensioners with less than 33 years of service (including weightage) were being calculated by way of proportionate reduction.

Through this earlier post dated 22-01-2016, in view of multiple queries in this regard, I had informed by way of general information that the matter of issuance of orders on this subject for similarly placed retirees was being examined by the Department of Pensions & Pensioners’ Welfare, Ministry of Law & Justice and Ministry of Finance.

The Department of Pensions and Pensioners’ Welfare has now issued universal orders giving effect to the judicial decisions of the High Courts and has removed the requirement of 33 years service for full pension. Now, irrespective of length of service, all pre-2006 pensioners shall be eligible for full pension as is admissible to those pre-2006 pensioners who had rendered 33 years or more service including weightage. Full arrears are also admissible with effect from 01-01-2006. The biggest gainers would be voluntary retirees and those released from service on medical grounds or before completing full service. The orders can be downloaded by clicking here. Similar orders should now be issued for defence pensioners also by the Ministry of Defence.

A word of caution- This change would not affect the concept of One Rank One Pension (OROP) applicable with effect from 2014 since while this development is based on 50% of minimum emoluments introduced by the 6th Central Pay Commission for each grade, the concept of OROP is based on live data of actual pension based on real time emoluments as per length of service of in-service personnel. Readers are hence requested not to mix up the two dispensations which operate by way of separate dynamics. 

We must again place on record extreme gratitude to the Department of Pensions and Pensioners’ Welfare functioning under Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions which has once again taken a stand for all Central Government pensioners and ensured issuance of universal directions just on simple dismissal of a Special Leave Petition by the Supreme Court even without a detailed order. One cannot also help but compare this with the attitude of the Ministry of Defence which continues to file appeals against its pensioners and disabled pensioners based on artificial distinctions even when the law has been fully settled by the Supreme Court in a plethora of detailed landmark decisions and which also militates against the grain of the opinion expressed by the highest of political executive, including the Prime Minister. I however maintain and retain full hope that the current Raksha Mantri would be able to rein in the unruly horses.  

Jai Hind.