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Monday, February 8, 2016

Some pertinent incongruities in the OROP tables and the Circular issued for implementation of OROP by the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pensions)

On careful perusal of the OROP tables issued by the Office of the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pensions) vide Circular Number 555, the following preliminary observations take shape:

(a) The Circular, on its own, has added many ifs and buts to the parent Government of India/Ministry of Defence Letter dated 07 Nov 2015 on OROP. These additional clauses are not a part of the OROP Scheme as implemented vide the above letter of the Ministry.

(b) As per Govt of India Letter above, pensions of past retirees are to be re-fixed on the basis of 2013 retirees of the same rank and same length of service. However, in the Circular, the PCDA(P) has reintroduced the distinction between the ‘rank last held’ and ‘rank for pension’ [See Note (b) under Para 11 of the Circular]. This has been apparently stated so because prior to 2006, service of 10 months in a rank was required to earn pension for that particular rank. Hence, as per the PCDA(P) Circular, if a Naib Subedar had served only for 6 months in the said rank, he would be paid the pension of a Havildar and not that of a Naib Subedar. This stipulation is incorrect since the parent MoD letter does not discriminate between ‘rank last held’ or ‘rank for pension’ which is a dispensation anyway abolished w.e.f 2006. The pension, as per the Ministry’s letter, is to be based on ‘same rank and with the same length of service’ and not as per ‘rank for pension’ [See Para 3 (ii) of the Letter].

(c) As per the PCDA(P) Circular, pension is only to be granted as per maximum terms of engagement existing at the time (See Para 7 of the Circular). So for example, if the maximum term of engagement for a particular rank was 22 years but the person was made to serve for 26 years, or had 26 years of combined service based on two spells, his pension would be capped at 22 years. This also is a condition superimposed by the Defence Accounts Department and does not find mention in the Ministry’s letter. The Ministry’s letter is simple: pension is to be based on live data of 2013 based on similar rank and similar length of service. Hence, if a person retired in a particular rank with 26 years of service, he is to be paid a pension in accordance with a person of the same rank with 26 years of service retiring in 2013, nothing more, nothing less, and as simple as that. An imposition of an additional condition is undue display of creativity.

(d) It seems that the system of full pension at 33 years and proportionate reduction below the said length has again been applied in the tables, which is incorrect, since as stated above, the pensions are to be linked with live 2013 data as per the Govt of India letter. Hence for example, if a Colonel had retired in 1996 with 22 years of service, he is to get his pension in accordance with a Colonel retiring in 2013 with 22 years of service, similarly, if a Colonel had retired with 33 years of service, he is supposed to get pension in terms of what a Colonel with the same length got in 2013. The system of 33 years is not applicable after 2006 and since OROP is based on live pension data, it cannot be brought back by circumventing the main notification.

(e) The pension tables of Territorial Army personnel seem incorrect. The system of non-grant of weightage to TA stands abolished in 2006 and the pensions are to be granted as per the live pension data of 2013 wherein TA and Regular Army personnel were at par. However, still, the system of calculation is woefully off the mark. For example, a Lt Col of the Regular Army with 33 years of service has been shown with a pension of 34,765 while an officer of the TA of the same rank with same service has been granted a pension of 16,405, the logic of which is totally incomprehensible since both TA and Regular Army Lt Cols in 2013 were in receipt of the same pension with the same length of service.

(f) Pensions of Lt, Capt and Maj of AMC, ADC and RVC seem awry. For example, the pension of a Major of the AMC which should be much more than other Arms due to addition of NPA, is shown as 17,010 while that of a Major of other branches is shown as 23,815.

(g) Calculation of pensions for the ranks of Major and below, on notional basis, have not been undertaken correctly. Since nobody retires in the rank of Major as per the current dispensation, the pension of past retirees was to be based on notional fixation. The figures in the tables however fall below the notional fixation for the said ranks. An officer of the rank of Major, if taken as not promoted to Lt Col and progressing in his own rank with due increments in his own pay-band would retire with a higher pension than what has been recorded in the tables.  

(h) Rounding off of qualifying service has been undertaken based upon various cut-off dates in the circular (Para 10). This is incorrect since the concept of cut-off dates in now otiose in view of the Ministry’s letter- pension is simply to be based on the live pension data of 2013 linked with the length of service with the same length of service, which takes into its ambit the system of calculating the said length of service too.

(i) Honorary Naib Subedar and Naib Subedar are supposed to be at par w.e.f 2006 since the grant of Honorary rank of Naib Subedar is now to be treated as a regular promotion for the purpose of pensionary benefits. Further, the distinction in pension between pre and post-2006 retirees of the rank of Honorary Naib Subedar has been struck down and upheld as such till the Supreme Court, hence the wide difference in the tables of both seems to be a little incompatible and perhaps more clarity would be required on the same.

As per my opinion, various disabling factors that existed earlier as per old dispensations including some of which have already been set aside by judicial fora, have been reintroduced by the Defence Accounts Department in the tables and in the Circular while giving effect to the Ministry’s letter dated 07 Nov 2015 whereas no such conditions were imposed by the said letter of the Ministry. Needless to state, the DAD/CGDA/PCDA(P) could not have superimposed their own conditions over and above of what had been prescribed by the Ministry of Defence. I am sure the Services HQ would convey the above (and other anomalies) to the concerned competent authority and that the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare, as also the Judicial Committee, would take note of the infringement of the conditions of the letter issued by the Govt of India on 07 Nov 2015.

The above is an analysis only after a cursory glance. Shall update in case more issues crop up.

Let us work towards resolution of all anomalies in a methodical manner. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"One Rank One Pension" tables issued today (Download here)

OROP tables have been issued today for all ranks.

Total envisaged financial implication at current rates: Rs 7500 cr

Total implication on arrears from July 2014 till December 2015: Rs 10,900 cr


Post Script Note: On careful perusal of the tables, it is observed that some of them are terribly off the mark and are riddled with wrong calculations, especially for the disabled and the war disabled. Will convey the issues to the Government and all stakeholders after a more concentrated scan. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pre-2006 pensioners with less than 33 years of service

As everybody is aware, the orders regarding calculation of pension of pre-2006 retirees based on minimum of pay within the pay band rather than minimum of the pay band itself, with arrears from 01-01-2006 rather than 24-09-2012, have already been issued for all Central Government pensioners.

On a similar analogy, many decisions by various Benches of the Central Administrative Tribunal (and then upheld by the High Courts) have been pronounced delinking 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 orders. Indeed, some of such appeals preferred by the Government remain pending before the Supreme Court as on date. 

The matter of issuance of orders in this regard for similarly placed retirees is currently being examined by the Department of Pensions & Pensioners Welfare, Ministry of Law & Justice and Ministry of Finance. The file is currently pending with the Law Ministry.

This is for general information in view of the multiple queries in this regard. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Spare Military Casualties from Cynicism: My Response to an oped in ‘The Telegraph’

Spare Military Casualties from Cynicism: My Response to an oped in The Telegraph

Navdeep Singh

I, for one, am not emotive or touchy when negative articles and opinions are written about our Defence Services. I sincerely feel that the military forces should never be treated so hallowed so as to prevent the citizenry at large from holding a mirror to them, but then the mirror should be held not to shame but to trigger introspection and debate for our common good. This I say since the military, like any other institution, belongs to, and if I may say so, is answerable to the people of this country.

That said, the oped in The Telegraph titled ‘Martyr’s Rites’ published 7th Jan 2015, rankled, nay, hurt me.

Besides stating that Lt Col Niranjan EK of the National Security Guard lost his life due to his ‘stupidity’ (Yes, that was the word used), the opinion piece gets it wrong at many places. First things first. Battle is not mathematics. Nor is it a scientific formula. Battle is gray. Battle is ambiguous. Battle is bad. It seems that the mandatory Statutory Court of Inquiry into Colonel Niranjan’s demise too may not be necessary, now that the editorial team of the paper has reached the conclusion that he was at fault, providing a detailed list of his acts and omissions, and has also declared that the standards of discipline as well as security of the Indian Army have fallen. Further, the editorial has also pronounced the verdict that the ‘booby trap’ planted by the terrorists was ‘simple’.

The write-up further questions the honour bestowed upon the Late Colonel on his death, forgetting that such honour was not just the done thing in such eventualities but also in many other circumstances, including in certain situations for retired officers, people of eminence and even political personalities. To question whether he ‘deserved’ it, is nauseating, to put it mildly.
Now coming to main issue that I would want to address for clarity of the general reader.

Military operations, the world over, do not just involve bullets and bombs, as perceived by many. Military operations, from start till culmination, involve aspects that are at times invisible, volatile and fickle even for the elements who participate in them. It is redundant even to question whether the Colonel’s death was an operational casualty or not! Of course it was. To put it in simple terms, would he have died if the Pathankot terrorist attack had not taken place? Negative. Recently four of our soldiers died in an avalanche near one of the highest battlefields in the world, was it not an operational casualty? Of course it was. Surely they were not there on a picnic but were deployed for our defence in an operation notified in that area in the Gazette of India. To be killed by a bullet or the vagaries of nature is inconsequential when the task at hand is operational. A soldier falling down a gorge while patrolling in a counter-insurgency operation or an officer dying of cardiac arrest while deployed in one of the coldest battlefields or dying of a snakebite in a trench on the border, are all battle casualties, even as per regulations. So much so that the rules related to monetary benefits to such casualties ordain that even an element of negligence, if any, would not come in the way of such grants.

None could’ve describe it better than the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a case decided in the year 2010 when it recorded that an ‘act of heroism’ was an exaggerated expression and a person need not have his finger on the trigger or hurling a bomb so as to be entitled to benefits and any person who suffers injury, including an accident in an operational area, is a battle casualty. The Delhi High Court, in 2013, also reiterated that all personnel who are present in operational areas and whose aid and assistance is essential and perhaps crucial for success and those who imperil themselves, directly or indirectly, and are in the line of fire during the operations, would be covered under the category of ‘battle casualty’. In any case, for the gallant ones, the line between fearlessness and ‘stupidity’, as the editorial puts it, is pretty thin and breachable, and it is all very well to comment on it while writing a piece on a laptop in one’s room.

Rather than commenting in vacuum that there was lack of discipline on the part of the late officer or that the Army is being reduced to an object of ridicule, we would have been rather fortunate if the oped had set its energy on calling for better equipment for our foot soldiers and restricted itself to the improvement in procedures to prevent such casualties in the future, since after all, what are we going to do with all those Missiles and deterrent hardware which in reality we are never going to employ, if the men and women on the ground go to battle without basic necessities or safety! Instead, The Telegraph indulged in cynicism about the life of a soldier we just lost in a terrorist attack and before the dust in the lives of the families of all those we lost could settle, took the path of tastelessly and insensitively calling out and stating that “an officer like Niranjan should be taken to task even after his death”.

If this is the reaction a military casualty is going to elicit, I wonder where we are headed. But then there is solace in the thought that it was just an opinion.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Rank Pay: The engulfing evil

Much has been written about the constant downfall of military ranks vis-a-vis civilian counterparts over the years. Of course, the anomalies of the 7th Central Pay Commission are topical and central to every discussion.

Many of us however do not realize that the root cause of the lost of sheen in this regard has been a concept that was sold as a victory for the forces after the 4th CPC- the Rank Pay. The hit has been so bad that multiple litigation and tumult later, the position has not been redeemed.

The genesis of the problem also lies in the clamour of the defence services to show that they are different or superior than others, and then trying to look for the applicability of amusing concepts which ultimately ship them afar from reality. Rank Pay was one such concept.

Prior to the 4th CPC, the pay scales of the defence and civil services followed a similar pattern. This changed with the 4th CPC when an integrated running pay scale was introduced for all ranks from Second Lieutenant till Brigadier with an additional element of Rank Pay. The civil services of course remained in fixed scales as earlier.

The concept of Rank Pay blurred the comparison between the defence and civil officers and also created a problem in fixation of pay and pension that continues till day even three decades later, notwithstanding a Supreme Court verdict.

So much so, that the 6th CPC, on Pages 73 and 74 of its Report, presented a twisted comparison of civil and military scales wherein the Senior Time Scale (STS/Under Secretary to Govt of India) which was reflected with a Captain till the 3th CPC was suddenly shown at par with a Major after the introduction of the Rank Pay. It is yet another story that the 6th CPC created this imaginary comparison without the support or reference to any executive order which lowered the status of a Captain from the STS to below the STS, but with time this incorrect comparison was solidified. The after effect of the Rank Pay was also that while the 3rd CPC Civil Selection Grade Scale of 1650-1800 got placed in Pay Band-4 with Grade Pay 8700 by the 6th CPC, our Lt Col with the 3rd CPC Scale of 1750-1950 got placed in Pay Band-3 with Grade Pay 7600 (Later upgraded to Pay Band-4 with Grade Pay 8000). The same incorrect comparison has continued with the 7th CPC without removal of the earlier anomalies. More on this can be discerned from my following blogposts in the aftermath of the 6th CPC:

And it is not always the civil establishment that is to blame for the mess. Even we have continued to send mixed signals to the environment at large without sitting back and taking corrective measures. While we claim that Lt Cols are equivalent to Superintending Engineers, we at times post even Time Scale Full Colonels as Garrison Engineers which is a post tenable by Major-equivalent Executive Engineers from the civil side. While the appointment of Assistant Garrison Engineer is tenable by civil officers with Grade Pay of 4600 and 5400 (which is a Grade Pay enjoyed by a Subedar and Lieutenant respectively), we continue posting senior offices of the rank of Major to the same appointments. We have allowed officers of the Armed Forces HQ Civil Service of Joint Director rank (Grade Pay 7600) to be granted the “local” designation of Director while posted in the Services HQ while we post our own senior Lt Cols with Grade Pay 8000 as Joint Directors within the same Services HQ. This despite the fact that a Group of Ministers headed by the then Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee had recorded that a Lt Col outranked a Deputy Secretary to Govt of India/Joint Director and therefore was to be paid more than the said grades after which the Pay Band for Lt Col was upgraded to Pay Band-4. Hence, over the years, we have ourselves solidified or accepted wrong equivalence and even an incorrect pay parity which continues to haunt us.

But while there is a requirement to strongly stand up for our rights without being servile and subservient, at another level, there is also a requirement to remain humble and not project ourselves as some holy superior beings who need to be treated differently by the society as if the world at large owes us something. Had the defence services continued with the normal scales as applicable to other civil services officers, things would not have come to such a pass. It is always better to remain considerably close to the system of pay and allowances of other Government services rather than clamour for special dispensation. I also feel that at times there is any element of disrespect shown towards other professions by the serving and retired community which is counter-productive and which must be curtailed. Chain mails regarding the pay and allowances of the men and women in khaki is just one example of it. There has to be mutual trust, respect and understanding between various services and the military staff must also carry the civilian staff with them and treat them with due regard and attempt to resolve their genuine grievances wherever they are serving under defence officers. After all, everybody is serving the same flag and the same country!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A detailed article in “Outlook Magazine” on the Military Justice aspect of the Report of the Committee of Experts

The Outlook Magazine, 28 Dec 2015, carries a detailed article on the Military Justice Reform part of the Report of the Committee of Experts submitted to the Raksha Mantri last month.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Judicial Committee on One Rank One Pension (OROP) notified

The Judicial Committee on OROP has been notified today by the Ministry of Defence.

The One-person Committee shall comprise Justice L Narasimha Reddy, former Chief Justice of the Patna High Court.

The Terms of Reference shall be:

Measures for removal of anomalies, if any, that may arise out of implementation of OROP

Measures for removal of anomalies that may arise out of inter-service issues while implementing OROP

Implication on Service matters

Any other matter referred by Central Government on OROP or related issues.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

An important decision by the Delhi High Court on rank-based priority in ECHS

The Delhi High Court has rendered an important decision on the subject of Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) on a Public Interest Litigation seeking an egalitarian approach for all ranks based on the averment that “as per policy in vogue, persons who are in possession of White Card (War Disabled/disabled) and Senior Citizens (male 75 years and above, female 70 years and above) are entitled for treatment in ECHS Polyclinics on priority” and that priority is not based upon the rank held in the military on retirement. 

Without stating anything for or against, on merits or demerits of the issue, it would be interesting to hear from the readers on this very complex subject in a military backdrop.

The questions that come to my mind are:

(i) Though it is fully understandable that some differentiation would always prevail in a military milieu, how far should it continue after retirement and in which spheres?

(ii) Is it time to gradually move towards a rank-neutral system in some aspects after retirement?

(iii) Does the CGHS follow a system of priority based on rank/grade held prior to retirement?

The excerpts from the decision are as follows:

“6. We can however well imagine the scenario prevalent in the ECHS Polyclinics, Military Hospitals / Empanelled Hospitals. The same is not typical of ECHS Polyclinics / Military Hospitals / Empanelled Hospitals only but of all institutions. We, as a country, ruled first by the kings and chieftains and later by the British, have it ingrained in us, to respect and give priority in all walks of life to rank, office and wealth. Rank, office and wealth opens doors to holders thereof without even there being any provision therefore in law, Rules and Regulations. Though our Constitution set the course right by ingraining therein the equality clause (Article 14) and by abolishing titles (Article 18) but the same has not been achieved in practice in the last more than 65 years.
7. We are in this matter, faced with a practice which is as ancient as mountains in this country. The said situation in our view cannot be changed merely with directions of the Court. Such practices, highlighting which and seeking redressal where against this petition is filed, are found not only in ECHS Polyclinics but at nearly all places providing services/amenities of public utility. In our view, the cure thereof is not in Courts. We have for this reason only not deemed it appropriate to issue notice of this petition and to give an opportunity to the respondents to show, whether despite being not in the scheme, elsewhere in the rules and regulations governing Armed Forces, there is such a distinction as maintained amongst officers and personnel of other ranks, because even if that be so, in our view, the same cannot continue post retirement, when both fall in the same category i.e. of ex-servicemen and when the Scheme does not provide there for. Once the Scheme does not classify its members according to their rank and does not provide for priority, in the matter of benefits under the Scheme or in the working of the Scheme, to be given as per rank, there can be no basis for such sub-classification or micro-classification or further classification among the class of ex-servicemen in treatment under the Scheme. The guarantee contained in Article 14 of equal protection extends, besides to substantive law, to procedure as well. There does not appear to be any basis for such sub-classification amongst ex-servicemen in relation to the object of the Scheme. We may however mention that "Regulation for Medical Services of Armed Forces-1983" also not providing for any such classification on the basis of rank and to be rather under the heading "Medical Ethics" providing that while dealing with a patient, the medical officers primary duty is always the patients welfare.

8. We are also of the view that even if we were to issue a direction for all members of the ECHS to be treated equally and even if the offending display boards were to be removed, the same may not eliminate the problem inasmuch as, the Doctors/Physicians and other Paramedics are likely to continue to give priority to the officer ex-servicemen. It cannot be lost sight of that the Defence Forces, more than any other, are steeped in hierarchy and the Doctors, Physician or Paramedics of a lower rank are likely to, out of habit and deference, give priority to those superior in rank, even if ex- serviceman.

9. We have wondered the solution for the problem.

10. The only solution according to us can be by building consensus and awareness not only amongst those who are imparting / rendering services at such Polyclinics / Military Hospitals / Service Hospitals / Empanelled Hospitals but also amongst the members of the Scheme. Not only have the doctors, paramedics and other staff of such Polyclinics / Military Hospitals / Service Hospitals / Empanelled Hospitals have to be taught to see patients strictly as per appointment if permissible or on first come first served basis but the members of the Scheme also have to be taught to respect the Scheme and to not seek any priority / favour in the matter of being attended to at the said Polyclinics / Hospitals. It is only when the ex-servicemen, of whatsoever rank, if not entitled under the Scheme to preferential treatment, starts respecting the que and not expect to be attended to first that the requisite correction in the society can take shape. The same in our opinion can be achieved by sending circulars, putting up boards / placards at the Hospitals / Polyclinics and by organizing group discussions, talks etc. on the subject, to build consensus amongst the providers and beneficiaries of the Scheme.

11. Yet another thought which comes to our mind is of equitably dividing the time and / or by introducing a system of consulting by appointment for certain hours of the day so that at that particular time only those with appointment are attended to and at other times the beneficiaries of the Scheme are attended to strictly on first come first served basis.

12. The above, but are our meandering of a solution to the issue and is by no means exhaustive. We are sure that the providers under the Scheme, being specialist, are better equipped and would be able to come up with a suitable solution to the problem so as to avoid heartburn amongst a certain category of ex-servicemen, of being denied equality under the Scheme and which is the cause of action for this petition.

13. We have faith in the good sense and well meaning intention of the ECHS organization which as per Chapter-5 of the Scheme is headed by a Managing Director (Major General) of the Indian Army.

14. We therefore dispose of this petition by directing the Managing Director of the ECHS to look into the issue raised in this petition and to address the same in the best possible manner, after considering the suggestions made by us hereinabove.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Do not get disheartened on 7th CPC, not yet!

It is not just the military community, but all Central Government employees who have expressed concern over recommendations of the 7th Central Pay Commission.

The concern is even more marked in the military because there was hope of restoration of parity with civilian counterparts, which of course did not materialize and rather recommendations have been rendered in a manner which can be called regressive to say the least. Then there are statements recorded in the Report which are factually incorrect as also reflected in my earlier post of 21 Nov 2015 on disabled soldiers. It also seems that the Pay Commission has heavily relied upon data provided by an officer of the Defence Accounts Department attached with it without due verification or even rebuttal from the Defence Services or even veteran organizations. What is more surprising is that there are statements in the Report which are in the teeth of decisions of the Supreme Court.

The disenchantment with the Pay Commission recommendations is understandable, but not all is lost.

As we all know, these are ‘recommendations’ and not the final word, and it is unlikely that the Government would accept the abolition of certain allowances or privileges postulated by it. Pay Commissions are known for liberalization of benefits and not the opposite, and the Services HQ and even to an extent, the MoD, would not let this pass so easily. Also the Raksha Mantri would be appropriately apprised.

All I would say is, stay calm, stay easy, experts are on the job and all stakeholders would put joint efforts on all issues emanating from the 7th CPC. If still there remain some pitfalls, rest assured that there are people who would stand up for your rights!