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 Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained.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

Saturday, 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. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Circle of infinity

How easy it is not to take a decision and to send any welfare oriented proposal into an orbit of perpetuity in India!

This short post, with a particular example related to the military, is just a reflection on what all is wrong with our governmental systems and which consequently afflicts every single wing of governance and is imbibed by many of those who are in public service, including the military.

Many anomalies arise in Government policies related to pay, allowances and pensions from time to time. Of course, since these emanate from letters issued by the Government at various levels, the same authorities are competent to cure those defects. But to avoid resolution, things are given a different twist. Let us take the example of pay and other related anomalies of the defence services. A Committee of Secretaries was specially set up by the last Government to look into some such anomalies related to the military. But rather than resolving the same or attempting to find a solution, it was recommended by the Committee that the said anomalies should be referred to the Pay Commission being an expert body in the subject. But why should existing and identified anomalies in Government policies be looked into by a Pay Commission when under the Rules of Business the Central Government itself is competent to alter or amend those policies? And then what happens, when referred to the Pay Commission, the said Commission does not comment on the referred points at all, or throws the ball back into the Government’s court asking the latter to look into the same, thereby relegating affected personnel by ten or twenty or even thirty years since it is only after a decade that a Pay Commission is constituted.

So where does this end? Nowhere. The Circle of infinity.

One can only hope that the current Government takes a hard look at all pending issues and decides the same, this way or that way, to end the lingering suspense.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

Redressal of Grievances in the Defence Services: Testing times!

Mixed feelings is how I would rudimentarily describe the moment I read the news about the Defence Minister’s retort to the Defence Services for seeking to take action against those who complain to him directly.

On one hand came the realization that in no hierarchical organization would jumping the queue be taken very kindly since it does affect command and control in a way. But on the other side of the spectrum, my mind was divided as to what would then be the answer if a person is not heard by his or her own or if he or she is blocked from informing the authorities up the chain!

There can be no easy answers and thus the predicament in my mind persists.

In an ideal situation, hopping the chain is not apt. But then, as I say always, we do not live in an ideal world and there can be no mathematical or straitjacket solutions to such situations.

The reaction of many senior retired officers to the news above was that it would disturb the equilibrium of the defence services and encouraging personnel to directly approach the very top is not a healthy phenomenon. There can be no cavil with this proposition. But have we introspected as to why things have come to such a pass? That answer is not far to seek- that clearly the system of redressal of grievances is in shambles which is why unconventional or rather non-regulation methods are being employed by those who are not being heard or who perceive themselves as not being heard. There is no sounding board. There is no catharsis.

It is well known that non-statutory or statutory complaints, especially by the lower ranks, are not being decided in the prescribed time-period and at times linger on till inordinately long periods and by the time the relief becomes redundant in many cases. It may not be out of place to mention that the time limit prescribed for redressal of such grievances by the Government of India is 3 months and in the services the time limit prescribed for decisions on statutory complaints is 6 months, but even that is not adhered to in most cases. The military does not even encourage complaints, especially by the lower ranks, and most of the personnel keep groping in the dark about the ‘format’ of such complaints and many of these are returned by various intermediary authorities indulging in infructuous correspondence for not being in the ‘prescribed format’ or due to other hyper-technical reasons. Some of the personnel posted in remote locations are also consigned to the backboard of red-tape and left scampering for formats and all that wondrous jazz. Worse, the statistics would prove that relief is finally granted only in a minuscule number. Pulling strings and over-reliance on file notings, at times initiated by those who have been complained against, in case of all ranks, is also an open secret and no amount of denial could hide this reality.

In such a scenario, what do you expect? Frustration of course, which finally manifests itself in skipping the hierarchy. And once that happens, can such behaviour be truly blamed on the individuals when it emanates from our own deficiencies?  

In a changing world and changing dynamics of public grievances and interactive formats, including social media, it would be futile to rely upon outdated practices or live in a time warp. While formal complaints cannot be initiated to one’s seniors in the hierarchy directly bypassing the proper channel, there is no strict bar on informal letters, including Demi Official communications, which are simply now being substituted by emails and informal electronic communications to seniors and hence may not exactly fall foul of regulations since these are not formal ‘complaints’ but mere written substitutes for face to face interaction. The way to avoid this is to brace up with the times we live in and make grievance redressal receptive, humane, objective and quicker. True, there are incorrigible elements and habitual complainants but genuine grievances cannot be subsumed by disputable ones. We also need to introspect as to why Demi Official letters are commonplace with officers but similar informal communications frowned upon when initiated by other ranks. 

One of the cardinal references to the Committee of Experts constituted by the Raksha Mantri, of which I too was a Member, was strengthening of the system of redressal of grievances in the defence services. The issue, which has been engaging the attention of the Minister, weighed heavily on our minds also, especially on my senior colleagues, who with their progressive approach were totally attuned to the changing interface of modern life in the age of internet and social media, after which we had recommended a few changes in the existing dispensation. Some of these were providing a better system of personal interaction and opportunity of hearing, reducing red-tapism and hyper-technical approach in grievances redressal mechanism, initiating faster redressal and following existing Government of India guidelines for the same. Some of these have been enumerated in Paragraphs 3.3.2, 3.3.3, 4.2.2, 4.2.5, 4.2.7, 7.2 and 7.4 of the Report which now stands declassified. I would be failing in my duty if I do not mention that many senior officers of the Defence Services Headquarters were also concerned about mandating improvement in the existing mechanisms and were not oblivious to the contours of the subject.  

Just as the head of an organization is supposed to be in the know of all that is happening under him, the Defence Minister is doing a good job in ensuring that systems work. He is not an outsider external to the chain of command; he is the political executive heading the Ministry of Defence. In my opinion, he is not micromanaging, he is not encouraging personnel to bypass the existing channels, but only functioning as a de facto ombudsman for ensuring that in the long run the systems are so well oiled that personnel get the desired decisions and redressal at the lowest possible level within the laid down time-limits. His methods may be unconventional, but for that, we should be thankful that he is taking active interest in the portfolio allotted to him and also that he cannot be evaded by the talent of wiliness and craftiness.

The discussion makes me want to recapitulate what the Delhi High Court stated in 2004 on the fine balance between discipline and fairness:

“...Discipline is highly desirable and is essential for achieving the purpose for which Armed Forces have been created and set up. However, in order to obtain discipline and obedience, it is essential that the personnel of the Armed Forces are dealt with an innate fairness and justice is meted out to the members of the Forces. This is necessary to not only ensure discipline but to motivate these brave soldiers who perform their duties in the service of the nation and who have to be motivated to lay down their lives to the cause of the nation. When guidelines have been laid down and procedures prescribed they should be applied to the letter lest the same shall result in demoralization in the lines and ranks of the forces which may lead to insubordination and indiscipline...”

Ideally hence, there should be no occasion to bypass the existing channels for redressal of grievances but it is ultimately for the system to ensure that the rank and file repose so much faith in it that they do not run helter-skelter. For sure our systems are time-tested, but then the times have changed and we need to match up and catch up. And till that happens, till our systems adjust with the times we live in, there are bound to be minor corrections and tribulations which we must take in our stride.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Defence Services: whipping boy for the merchants of falsehood

I am not ideologically aligned. I am also not much enthused by the two extremes of the national and anti-national debate since the foundations of India can hardly be shaken by polarized views at both ends. I am not against human rights activists since checks and balances, arguments and counter arguments, make any system more robust. I am even not impressed by retired officers of the military shouting out loud about the ‘sacrifices’ of our uniformed personnel as if other professions have no role to play in the largest democracy. I would say that the milkman who rings your bell every morning is playing an equally important role.

But then, this piece by Kavita Krishnan with a shrill headline talking of ‘Systematic Sexual Violence by the Army’ still makes me queasy. And it is not a random write-up but a drop in a series of such propaganda.

Never the one to defend wrongdoing by uniformed men and women, even by my harsh standards, this tirade mainstreams stray incidents of the past. It broad-brushes an entire organization based on individual aberrations. Should it mean, and I asked this on social media, that tomorrow if a university professor is involved in a theft, we blast off with lines like “Systematic Theft by Teachers”. Or if a Chartered Accountant is involved in an economic offence, “Systematic Fraud by CAs”? No end to such senseless overstretching of logic! How loosely has the word ‘systematic’ been used, where is the data? Where is the empirical backup?

Strange also is the bogey raised time and again by some members of the intelligentsia that the Defence Services let off lightly their personnel accused of crimes. In fact, the opposite is true. Constitutional Courts have time and again reprimanded the Defence Services for awarding punishments that are disproportionate to the offence. We ourselves feel that at times charges are trumped up and exaggerated and a single offence broken up into multiple charges. We have, on the contrary, raised a voice that military law does not meet Constitutional or international norms under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights for separation of powers. And we say this since we find that though discipline is paramount for the forces, the basic judicial norms are hazy in the military leading sometimes to excessive punishment and a much higher incidence of conviction and punishment than normal rates, arguably in order to ‘set examples’. Military Justice hence needs to be rationalized, but not since it lets off people scot-free as is being wrongly propagated, but since, it, at times, results in harsher punishments than warranted.

Any person who has served in uniform, especially of the Defence Services and the Central Armed Police Forces, would be able to say with certainty that much of the officers’ time in operational areas is spent on sensitizing troops on dealing perceptively with the elderly, women and children. Not just in India, but almost in all democracies. Black sheep, just as they exist in our society, are bound to be found in the uniformed forces, being the extension of the same society.

My request to Ms Kavita Krishnan would plainly be not to scandalize the very delicate issue of crime against women. Such baseless headlining not only results in painting a wrong picture of our forces but also trivializes the very grave matter of sexual violence by giving it a backdrop of falsehood. The only thing systematic here is the careful surgical maligning of our forces in an irresponsible and unethical manner. Our forces are being projected as some ragtag militia from the middle ages.

But more than that, it demoralizes our men and women in uniform, who are serving in trying circumstances away from their families, but who, unlike Ms Krishnan, rather unlike all of us, do not have the luxury of effectively voicing their opinion or issuing rebuttals or writing opinion pieces and participating in debates. In fact, bound by service regulations, they have no voice at all, which makes them an extremely soft target.  

India believes in defence services, not offence services, as some would try to fallaciously project. Do not make them your whipping boy. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Govt of India issues guidelines on recovery of excess amount from employees

The issue of recovery of excess amount from pensioners and employees has remained quite vexed since the past many years. The problem was compounded with the Supreme Court taking a varied view in various decisions.

Going into great detail of the subject, the Supreme Court in December 2014 however laid down the law quite clearly in Stateof Punjab Vs Rafiq Masih wherein certain guidelines were postulated for such cases.

To the credit of the Central Government, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has today issued a universal circular implementing the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the ibid case.

The circular is significant since it is probably for the first time that a department has floated a universally applicable pro-employee circular in this regard. Though departments are quick in circulating decisions of High Courts and Supreme Court rendered against employees, it is rarely that a similar exercise is conducted when law is laid down in favour of employees or retirees.

The said Office Memorandum issued today, detailing the cases where recovery is impermissible, can be accessed and downloaded by clicking here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ministry of Defence declassifies the Report of the Committee of Experts on litigation and allied issues

In a step towards greater transparency, the Raksha Mantri has ordered the declassification of the Report of the Committee of Experts constituted for reduction of litigation, review of service and pension matters and strengthening the institutional mechanisms of redressal of grievances. The panel had submitted its Report on 24th November 2015.

The Raksha Mantri has already directed all wings of the Ministry of Defence to submit an “Action Taken Report” on the same.

The entire Report has been placed in public domain on directions of the Raksha Mantri and can be downloaded from the official Ministry of Defence website.

The official press release at the time of submission of the report can be accessed here

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Steps by the Raksha Mantri to reduce litigation

Some guidelines have been issued by Mr Manohar Parrikar on Government initiated litigation earlier this month.

Some reports on the same are as follows: