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 Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained.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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Seventh Pay Commission Gazette Notification (Updated)

The Gazette Notification for the implementation of the recommendations of the Seventh Central Pay Commission has been published by the Government of India, Ministry of Finance.

The same can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

The said notification primarily deals with civilian employees but there are elements common to both civil and defence staff. There is also a mention of some military modalities in the notification. Additionally, the appointments of Commandants of the National Defence Academy, Defence Services Staff College and the National Defence College would be examined for  upgradation to the Apex Grade as applicable to Army Commanders (GOsC-in-C) and equivalent in other two services/Secretary to Govt of India. 

Detailed notifications for defence and railway staff shall be issued by the respective ministries in due course.

Please do not mail me individual queries on the subject, please however feel free to discuss it through the comments section of this post.

Thank You.

Update: The Central Civil Services (Revised Pay) Rules, 2016 have also been notified today with all detailed instructions and the same can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Human Rights and the Armed Forces: The Unfilled Space


My oped for ABP news:

These are the times for extreme views. These are times when people choose to let their fingers do the walking on their keypads without putting the brain into gear. These are times when important Supreme Court decisions are ridiculed as judicial overreach without even first taking the pains to read them or understand the broader import. Or else how could anyone justify the sharp reactions to the Supreme Court’s verdict on fake encounters in Manipur?

The past many years have seen extreme comments against Human Rights activists by those claiming to be patriots and also similar remarks against the security forces by the other side as if our Armed Forces are some kind of heartless mercenaries. How I wish proponents of both views could understand each other and fill up the space which is unfortunately lying empty in our discourse today! I would go to the extent of saying that both views act as a check and a counter-balance, and holistically viewed, are not opposite but rather complement one another and ensure that neither has a free run. That is what a democracy with a rule of law is all about.

So does the Supreme Court decision indict the Armed Forces or tie their hands? Not at all.

The decision merely reiterates the law that already exists and reminds us that semblance of balance or respect for human life (or Human Rights) should not be lost sight of, even in such extraordinary situations.

SC IS AGAINST FAKE ENCOUNTERS NOT REAL OPERATIONS

What people need to realise is that the decision comes down heavily upon ‘fake’ and staged encounters and not real operations. Those making irresponsible comments in the garb of support for Armed Forces should understand that the Armed Forces themselves consider fake encounters the greatest form of cowardice and hence would go all out to punish those who are actually found involved in such crimes or for that matter in other proved Human Rights violations.

PRAISE FOR THE ARMY’S APPROACH

What commentators have also failed to realise is that the Supreme Court has taken note of the “Ten Commandments” issued by the Chief of the Army Staff for operations and has praised the same and has in fact recorded that “nothing can better elucidate how the security forces are expected to act in Manipur.” The Commandments lay emphasis on compassion, integrity, minimum force, moral strength, professionalism and dharma. If there are people, including on TV panels and social media, who want the Army to be ruthless, then sorry to burst your bubble- that is not the ethos of the Army and such approach goes against the very grain of the same Commandments. The Army is a ‘defence’ service of protectors not an ‘offence’ force of aggressors and the Army believes in upholding Human Rights to the hilt and those found violating them are punished and those wrongly accused of violating them are protected.

ARMED FORCES PERFORMING AN UNPLEASANT TASK AND A FUNCTION MEANT TO BE PERFORMED BY CIVIL ADMINISTRATION

Another aspect that the Supreme Court has rightly brought out is that the Central forces are performing a task that they are actually not meant to perform and such situations are ones which are meant to be handled by the civil administration. It is not an ordinary situation and the Apex Court has actually indicated that deployment of the Armed Forces for internal disturbances is not of their own volition and has frowned upon their prolonged deployment and that the State has not been able to restore normalcy thereby requiring their deployment. While this may sound harsh, it is the bitter truth. The Armed Forces are not performing a pleasant task and it is not that they chose the same.

ASPERSIONS HAVE NOT BEEN CAST ON THE ARMED FORCES

The Supreme Court has also emphasized that by no stretch of imagination could it be deemed to be casting aspersions on the Armed Forces. The Supreme Court has reiterated that personnel of the Armed Forces are not immune to the judicial process, a fact that the Armed Forces themselves fully recognize. Also, if there is confidence about the lack of wrongdoing, there should be no resistance to any inquiry into any allegation and the Supreme Court has also not reached any conclusion about veracity of all allegations and has only focussed upon investigation and due process of law.

Beyond the extreme narrative, it would be in national interest if individuals and organisations with supposedly contrary views try to understand all facets of this vexed issue devoid of political polarization and view each other with respect and attempt to find a meeting ground rather than indulge in shrieking matches on electronic and social media. It also must be understood that the Armed Forces vouch for protection of Human Rights as well as the rule of law and shall ensure that violators face (a fair) trial, but at the same time, shall also strongly stand behind their troops wrongly accused of violations due to political considerations.

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Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate at the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association at Chandigarh. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels. 



Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kashmir, from an Armchair!

My opinion piece on the commentary on military strategy in Kashmir by armchair and keyboard warriors, published by ABP News:

Kashmir, from an Armchair!


Major Navdeep Singh

Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) went down for us recently in Pampore, Kashmir. Before the nation could absorb the shock or their families could come to terms to the tragedy, there was whole lot of noise on the incident in the media and the social media, amusingly mostly from those who know nothing about military strategy, battle or insurgency except the in-depth knowledge gained through video games and who dished out ideas on how terrorism should be dealt with by our forces and how a befitting reply was called for. Then there was a small group of military veterans who lamented as to why the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) could never professionally compare with the regular Army.

To my limited understanding, three things starkly stood out from this most unfortunate incident and the debate it generated. Firstly, that the narrative is increasingly being taken over by armchair warriors who have no inkling about what they’re talking about. Secondly, our troopers from the CRPF and other CAPFs and even their capabilities as individuals, unfortunately, are constantly being shown in bad light. Thirdly, the turf war between agencies, real or perceived, is not in the interest of the country and too much over-correction and micromanagement may also kill the military initiative of troops operating in trying circumstances.  

Let me attempt to explain these three aspects in detail.

War, more specifically counter-insurgency, is not mathematical. There is no textbook solution in military strategy. While broader principles are to be kept in mind, the unpredictable nature of such warfare makes it impossible to foresee every single step of a brainwashed enemy who is out to die and who has no value for life- his own, his peers’, innocent civilians’ or soldiers’. Troops operate in a hazy zone and it would be nice if people with no inkling of the actual on-ground situation of that moment, including this author, keep their mouths zipped and let experts in that area handle it. Contrary to popular propaganda, growing incidents of such attacks do not reflect the failure of our security establishment but simply the frustration of our enemies, and there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the current leadership in the area is not just capable, but also the best. Also coming back to those who comment from afar, as I always say, military operations sound exciting only for those who watch them on TV thinking as if war is some kind of fireworks display- ask those who suffer the legacy of war and their families.

Whenever personnel of CAPFs go down for our national cause, immediate comparisons are made with the defence services wherein it is stated how poor they are professionally when compared to the Army. And this is stated in such a manner as if it’s the fault of the individual trooper. Yes there may be deficiency in training, yes there could be lack of professionalism and equipment, but the same is not the fault of the person who is wearing the khaki uniform and performing his or her role to the best of ability. The fault may lie in long standing policies which have resulted in lack of attention to issues related to the CAPFs. In case of CRPF, it has assumed the role of Chalte Raho Pyare Force wherein there is no cohesion and small sections of personnel keep moving here and there on varied and multiple duties without any kind of regimentation, but for this the individuals wearing the uniform cannot be blamed and it is the policies which would need to be reviewed, and which review, we hear, is in the offing in the very near future. Let us realize, our men and women of CAPFs do not lack in bravery and they emerge from the same populace as personnel of our military, and sacrifice of every soldier deserves the same respect, irrespective of the colour of the uniform. Though not exactly mutually exclusive, should our nation be concentrating more on the missiles that we’re never going to use or the basic equipment of the soldier on ground, is what we should introspect about.

Coming to the last of the three points that I would like to touch, incidents of turf wars between organisations, as also partly initially seen in this occurrence wherein there was a controversy as to which force killed the militants, are growing by the day. Of course though since times immemorial we have been told that success has many fathers while failure is an orphan, this tendency of glorification should not extend to absurd extremes where national interest is forsaken for narrow pomposity and fleeting fame. The magnanimity of the Army’s Northern Command in officially clarifying that such operations are conducted by way of synergy between various forces hence came as a much required development. Even the tendency of micromanaging the reaction of troops when they are faced with the enemy can at times kill the initiative of soldiers in Catch-22 situations and that is where the Prime Minister’s statement about freedom of operation for our troops also comes as a welcome announcement.

While a space for free, candid and open discussion is the very foundation of democracy, we must display due sensitivity towards those whom we lose in such unfortunate incidents. Before blaming them individually or commenting upon the merits or demerits of various strategies in complex military situations, let us close our eyes and think of the families the tears on whose faces have not yet gone dry.

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Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate at the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association at Chandigarh. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

The 7th Central Pay Commission: only cool heads shall prevail


What good is the mind of a man if it’s run by another ~ Prince

There are some individuals who remarked that I did not stoutly condemn the regressive ‘recommendations’ of the 7th Central Pay Commission (7th CPC) insofar they pertain to the Armed Forces. Some even floated some kind of a conspiracy theory stating that I was ‘supporting’ the ‘recommendations’ since I was a Member of a Committee constituted by the Defence Minister to look into the resolution of service and pensionary issues, forgetting in the bargain that I and other Members were a part of the same in an Honorary apolitical capacity and the said Committee is no longer in existence since we submitted our recommendations way back in November 2015, and those recommendations, currently under active examination, were highly objective, and could not, by any stretch of imagination, be termed pro-government (or anti-government for that matter). We were given a task which was undertaken honestly, objectively, without fear or favour and without any interference from any quarter.

Having said that, though I do not wish to think much about theories of fertile minds who wish to politicize such important issues, let us get some things clear here.

Firstly, it is a fact that there were some totally absurd recommendations rendered by the 7th CPC. And it is also a fact that I had fully brought them out on my blog and those posts can be perused to get an idea about some of the faulty parts of the 7th CPC. In fact, some observations of the 7th CPC were not just illogical, but also factually incorrect and against law laid down by Constitutional Courts. Some of these issues were discussed on this blog here, and also here. If that was not enough, the total benefit recommended by the 7th CPC, to both civil and military employees, was meagre, to say the least. 

Secondly, on 29th June 2016, the cabinet approved some of the recommendations of the 7th CPC, and contrary to rumours being spread, many regressive recommendations have NOT been approved by the Government. To take a few examples, the anomalous allowances recommended for the military vis-a-vis other services have NOT been accepted and it has rather been directed that existing dispensation shall continue till the anomalies are removed and allowances rationalized by a Committee constituted for the said purpose. The recommendation for discontinuance of rations has also NOT been accepted by the Government. The recommendation of reduction of disability benefits has also NOT been accepted by the Government, and as I understand, shall be analysed by one of the constituted Committees. In case there still remains any anomaly pertaining to our disabled soldiers, rest assured it shall be legally contested with full force. The divided recommendation on  Non-Functional Upgradation has also NOT been accepted by the Government and shall now again be examined administratively, which is not a good step in my opinion, but better than being rejected by the Cabinet- the window for resolution is still open.

Thirdly, in my humble opinion, the focus since yesterday has been on the faulty recommendations of the 7th CPC, which is old news, rather than what has been finally accepted. Messages and mails have been generated based on the recommendations and not the final acceptance. The issuance of implementation instructions could not have been kept in abeyance till the resolution or consideration of all anomalies of multiple services and hence execution of the entire Report was not even being expected at this stage. Also rather than focussing on only the financial aspects, I feel that the spotlight should be more on the insidious aspects such as the degradation of status which interestingly is a legacy of the 6th CPC and also the services’ own doing in many instances. Moreover, our attempts should be on due representation of the defence services on the anomaly committees set up by the Government or representation of experts in the field rather than only officers who are guided by noting sheets prepared by the lower echelons of the bureaucracy. Long existing anomalies have not yet been resolved, and day by day, the list is getting longer.

Fourthly, blind forwarding and acceptance of the content of group messages and disinformation campaigns can result in unnecessary frustration and disaffection which must be avoided at all costs. In my perception, rather than shooting from the hip in the dark, issues need to be identified and a step by step course for resolution be charted for their redressal. In a democracy, we have the right to express ourselves against what we perceive to be unjust, but then my only request is that the projection should be based on the right data and facts. I do not feel it’s an unreasonable request that hot-headed comments may be controlled since the modalities are not even out yet in black and white and specific problem areas have not even been duly identified.

Coming back to the start point of this post, I would wish to remind readers that my approach has been consistent in this regard (See the disclaimer on this blog above) and similar myth-busters were posted by me at the time of the 6th CPC also. For one such example, you may have a look at this post of May 2008.


Thank You. Stay Calm!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Salient features of the acceptance of 7th Central Pay Commission

Some salient features of the acceptance note of 7th Central Pay Commission recommendations:

Separate Pay Matrices for Civilian employees, defence personnel and members of the Military Nursing Service.

Minimum starting pay for an employee would be Rs 18,000, minimum for Group A officer Rs 56,100.

Fitment of Pay and Pension shall be 2.57.

Pay matrices for Lt Col, Col and Brig enhanced.

Ex-gratia enhanced till Rs 45 lacs

Military Service Pay for Officers (upto Brigadier), Junior Commissioned Officers + other personnel enhanced to Rs 15,500 and 5,200 respectively.

Terminal Gratuity to be calculated at the rate of 10.5 times of emoluments for Short Service Commissioned Officers who are released between 7 and 10 years of service.

Both recommended options of pensionary revision accepted. The option with 2.57 fitment of current pension to be implemented immediately while the modalities of the other option shall be examined by a committee which shall render recommendations within 4 months.

The fresh allowances recommended by the Commission shall not be implemented till rationalized by a committee which shall also render its report within 4 months.

Increment retained at 3%.

All benefits to be paid within this year.

The issue of Non Functional Upgradation (NFU), as far as my information goes, has not been rejected and the deliberation shall remain open.

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!  

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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.