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 Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained.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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Time for Moral Courage- We Must Deal With Suicides in Armed Forces: The Quint

My opinion piece for The Quint on the ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’:

Ironically, one of the strongest organisations of our nation, our pride- the Indian Army, is downright timid in certain respects. I say so since this sturdy and powerful establishment has not had the moral courage to admit its deteriorating physical and psychological profile over the years, perhaps in order to maintain a certain kind of image in the public, but for what? And with what consequence?

The inherent stress and strain of military life is universally recognized and we have discussed it here at The Quint before. India is no different. The rigours of military duty coupled with distance from one’s family takes a toll on the health of troops, thereby exploding the myth that defence personnel enjoy a better health profile than civilians. Closer home, studies show that military personnel die a decade earlier than civilian employees but then such studies are kept dormant and are not put in the spotlight as they should be. But it seems that the focus is more on brushing this aside and delinking it from military service and blaming ‘domestic reasons’ rather than admitting that stress and strain of service is taking a toll on the health of uniformed personnel and also leading to a rising rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicides. Of course, this is intertwined with even the rising rate and aggravation of physical diseases since the thread of stress and pressures of military service commonly runs across.

It goes without saying that the Indian society has failed its soldiers. When a soldier is away on military duty, his or her mind is not at ease. The mind wanders. The mind is where the family is, the mind is where the local goon is troubling the parents, the mind is where the children are struggling for admissions, the mind is where the property is usurped by the neighbour but the administration or police do not give a damn. But then all these are ‘domestic reasons’ for the Army, not realizing that the stress which emanates is a direct result of military service since the person cannot be there to handle domestic commitments like his civilian peers. To put it bluntly, these problems would not have emerged had the person not been in military service- a situation which even the Defence Minister of the country understands when he writes to State Chief Ministers elaborating that “frustration arising out of inability to resolve domestic issues is a major contributing factor to stress”. Still however, at times the Army’s medical boards or even finance and accounts officers sitting in their air conditioned offices declare them ‘domestic reasons’ thereby  washing the system’s hands off and also denying such soldiers their disability benefits, a grim reality discussed in detail in Paragraph 2.2.1 of the Raksha Mantri’s Committee of Experts of which this author too was a member. The British were better since even in the 1930s, they considered behavioural and psychiatric disorders in the Indian uniformed forces, including suicides under certain circumstances linked with service conditions, a stipulation which exists in the rule book even today but is very conveniently ignored by the system.

Whatever be the rate of suicide and such problems in the Army as per our perception- high or low, it’s a problem the existence of which needs to be accepted. The situation cannot be salvaged merely by steps such as meditation and yoga and liberalized leave policy or by training General Duty Soldiers in counselling. The situation can only be addressed if there is ample confidence in the men and women in uniform that the civil administration would be responsive back home when the family needs them, the problem would only be controlled if within the system there is reasonable catharsis and vent to the grievances of soldiers through more interaction between seniors and juniors rather than the hackneyed ‘statutory’ and ‘non statutory’ complaints which are seldom decided in time or with due application of mind. The problem would only be sufficiently taken care of when it is admitted that this indeed is an issue that stares us in the face.

Other modern Armies are doing much better and taking it head on. Soldiers are trained to recognize symptoms such as emotional outbursts, avoidance of interaction and other unusual behaviour. It is being imbibed that seeking help is not a sign of weakness. The US Army has embedded more than 60 behavioural health teams in operational military establishments consisting of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers.

In our country, while the Army incorrectly thinks that their regular soldiers imparted training on counselling or psychiatrists of the Army Medical Corps can handle it, it is the Indo Tibetan Police Force (ITBP) which has shown the way and taken the apt progressive step by recruiting Education and Stress Counsellors, a specialized cadre at lower ranks specifically meant for the purpose of handling stress. Moreover, the job of identifying and addressing these issues is that of Clinical Psychologists and professional Counsellors, not of Psychiatrists. So if a person repeatedly ‘wanders out’ of the unit in a dazed state or displays irritable or erratic behaviour with his peers or seniors or suddenly starts indulging in binge drinking, the answer to it may not be a ham-handed ‘red ink entry’ or disciplinary action or throwing him out of service, but adequate care to understand the root cause.

To sum up, the following steps are the need of the day in order to contain the concerns of the rising behavioural and psychiatric disorders in the uniformed services:

A.      Inculcating the moral courage of admitting the deteriorating health profile due to rising stress and strain in the forces which primarily emanates from a highly regimented lifestyle and time away from the family coupled with the demanding nature of the job. It must be realised that admitting the problem is not a sign of weakness.

B.      Ensuring that such disorders are not blamed just upon ‘domestic reasons’ and the organisation takes full responsibility since mostly there is a direct or indirect link with military service. Moreover, transgressions by soldiers due to behavioural disorders or irregular behavioural patterns should not be dealt with by way of punishments but through counselling or medical care.

C.      The States should be made to understand the gravity of the situation and district administrations be made aware of the fallout of not addressing complaints and representations of soldiers.

D.     Redressal of grievances should be realistic in the Armed Forces and not merely a formality through the system of formal complaints that are not decided in time or which are not satisfactorily addressed. There should be more interaction between senior and junior ranks so as to allow catharsis and vent to ease troops’ pent up emotions. Electronic forums introduced by the Indian Air Force and the Army’s Western Command are good examples of encouraging such interaction.

E.      Focus should be on counselling and clinical psychology and not on psychiatry alone. Not all such functions can be performed by psychiatrists who are medical professionals and not trained to handle these issues. Professional Counsellors at Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) level must be inducted on lines of the ITBP in all uniformed services and embedded in operational units or formations.

We must realise that the tough looking soldier standing guard for us is as much human as any other person on the street. He or she is extraordinary in bravery but very ordinary in other human attributes- has the same family, the same feelings, the same emotions and the same problems as all of us and of course the same flesh and blood. It would therefore be a travesty if the response of the society or the establishment is not commensurate with his or her impeccable service. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Defence Pay as per 7th Central Pay Commission Pay Matrix, notified

After the removal of the controversial line concerning ‘parity with Central Armed Police Forces’ by the Ministry of Finance (the issue was discussed earlier in this post of 29 July 2016), the Ministry of Defence has issued the notification related to pay of defence personnel of all three services.

The notification concerning Officers can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

The notification concerning Ranks other than Commissioned Officers can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

The anomalies, including those concerning allowances, have been referred to separate committees.

This paves the way for release of pay as per 7th Central Pay Commission scales.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Latest on dispensation of the “33 Year” rule

I have seen a slew of angry messages regarding non-issuance of the letter dispensing with the “33 Year” rule for earning full pension for defence pensioners. It may be recalled that the letter for civil pensioners was issued in April 2016 as informed by this post published on 07 April 2016. Further the reasons for further delay were enunciated by this post of 05 June 2016 but it seems that impatience takes the better of sane thought as a result of which venomous mails and messages are floated and even comments with unparliamentary language were left on this blog strangely as if it was the fault of the blog for the delay in issuance of the letter.

A little knowledge is dangerous they say.

While the orders for civilians were issued for the dispensation of the 33 year condition for full pension in April 2016, what most do not know is that a problem of interpretation arose soon thereafter even for civilian pensioners wherein it was not clear to various agencies whether the said dispensation would also apply to service element of disability pensioners. In other words, a question arose that would those in receipt of service element of disability pension also be allowed full pension, irrespective of length of service, that was earlier admissible only to those who had completed 33 years of service, or would the dispensation be allowed only to regular pensioners?. The problem was more extreme for defence pensioners since most of the affected pensioners with less than 33 years of service are not those who have retired with a service length between 15/20 and 33 years but those who are in receipt of disability pension and have been released with less than pensionable length of service.

It is now recently, this month to  be precise, that a clarification has been issued by the Department of Pension & Pensioners’’ Welfare (DoPPW) after due sanction from the Ministry of Finance that the said rule shall apply to service element of disability pension also, thereby now clarifying the issue in toto.

Of course unlike the DoPPW, the Ministry of Defence would have to issue a letter with separate detailed tables because of the inherent difference in the system of calculation of pensions for ranks other than commissioned officers due to which protection clauses would have to be introduced.

More than officers who have taken pre-mature retirement, the fresh dispensation is expected to appreciably be of much benefit to other ranks released with a disability with less than pensionable length of service.

Readers are requested to be patient and not spread discontent amongst the military community. In any case, as informed earlier also, the arrears are to flow from 01 Jan 2006 and the delay hence hardly matters. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My opinion piece: The political executive must now rise to the occasion on the Pay Commission

My opinion piece for ABP:


Raw deal for the forces: Govt must set right pay panel follies

Navdeep Singh

There can be no dispute with the fact that members of the military community have had some major misgivings with the recommendations of the Seventh Central Pay Commission. The incoherent report has added multiple anomalies to the pre-existing list of unresolved issues affecting pay, allowances and pensions of the defence services. While a debate on the subject is more than welcome, one needs to be cautious that the surrounding cacophony must not result into a schism or a feeling of ‘us’ and ‘they’ between various services since every government employee, uniformed or otherwise, serves the same flag and no cog of our large national wheel is more or less important than the other. The Government must therefore ensure that before finally implementing the contentious recommendations, a participative decision-making process is initiated to ensure resolution to the satisfaction of all stakeholders so that decisions are not taken at the back of various sections of employees based on one-way inputs of only those who happen to have the ear of the higher echelons.

Many members of different government services, including those from the military, have taken tough positions in public overemphasizing their importance and value over others. There was a time when mature public servants fully understood that all professions and services had their own roles to play in building India as a whole and irrespective of remuneration, there was no superior-inferior relationship between them. It therefore appears quite unsettling when some retired officers of the military take on the debate on social media and other forums purely with emotions coupled with rhetoric and the plank of tough life while trying to prove that the sacrifice of other services is not as important or central to the national narrative, forgetting in the bargain that such broad arguments do little to ameliorate the situation and on the contrary widen the rift, a situation which is not in national interest. For example, while a young Lieutenant of the Army manning a remote post has a tough job cut out for him, the life of his IAS counterpart who may be posted as a Sub Divisional Magistrate would also not be entirely stress-free or easy since at a young age he would be performing executive, quasi-judicial, revenue and magisterial functions for an entire sub-division, and so would be the case of a young Assistant Superintendent of Police from the IPS who would be looking after the law and order of his area as the sub-divisional police officer overlooking multiple police stations in his jurisdiction. While all three jobs are important in their own ascribed roles and equally paid for at the beginning, it serves no good to pit one against the other or pass disparaging comments. Similar is the case at other levels, for example Constables of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) who face almost the same hardships as those joining as Sepoys in the Army. With this disclaimer, let me take the next step.

As I say above, various services are performing different duties, but that of course does not mean that there could be a vast variation in how they are paid. I was therefore surprised and also taken aback when I heard the Chairperson of the Seventh Pay Commission state in a recorded interview on a TV debate that there could be no comparison between the defence and the civil services. Surprised since in Para 6.1.3, the pay commission itself talks of historical and traditional parities between the two, in Para 6.1.4 it specifically lists out the parity of defence services with the IPS and other Class I (now known as Group A) services, in Para 7.2.52 again the report reiterates the parity with the police. And taken aback because the opinion of the Chairperson did not match the legal reality whereas the whole report is based on the premise and the fundamentals of parity. While a high level committee of the Government formed after the Fifth Pay Commission laid down (and subsequently implemented) that the pay of an IPS officer in his 14th year of service should be equal to a military officer with similar service, the Seventh Pay Commission has placed even a military officer with 28 years of service at a disadvantage compared to an IPS officer with 14 years of service, an anomaly later rectified to an extent by the government. The situation therefore reflects a total mismatch and with the job of the pay commission now over, the ball therefore has rolled towards the court of the government to address this chaos. While a little here and there does not make much of a difference, it is the net result that has been troubling a vast majority, in the backdrop of which I spill over to my next point.

While I stand by my disclaimer of due respect to each service, I also sincerely believe that allowances for hardship must not be so grossly off the mark that these create bitterness between various services. In the same vein, I do stand by the rationalization of such allowances even if other government employees need to be enhanced up to the level of the military in case it is felt that in similar circumstances or terrain, there is a wide difference between the two classes. But more often than not, due to various reasons, what practically happens is that while the anomalies of other employees do get resolved and they are able to attain the ‘military level’, the allowances of the military stagnate resulting in a lower payout ultimately. Let us take a few examples from this Pay Commission. Officers of the All India Services (Indian Administrative, Police and Forest Services) of the cadres of the North Eastern States were eligible for 12.5% of Special Disturbed Area Allowance plus 25% Additional Monetary Incentive (a whopping 37.5% total over and above the basic pay in NE). This allowance has been rationalized at 30% in total by this pay commission and is applicable to all such officers posted in the said area and to Ladakh. Let us ignore the labyrinth of the rules and figures for a moment and take a look at the hard facts- the net result is that a Brigadier posted at Leh would now be entitled to an allowance of about Rs 10,000 while his IPS counterpart in the same area would draw approximately Rs 55,000. Similar would be the case in Gauhati. While in Shillong the civil officer would continue to draw about Rs 55,000 while the Army counterpart would get zero. I am not suggesting for a moment that civilians do not deserve it, I am only saying that these figures need to be rationalized based on hardship and not just for officers of the All India Services vis-a-vis the Armed Forces but for all other central government employees who have been recommended an SDA at a total of dismal 10%. Similarly, instead of showing sensitivity towards the deteriorating health profile of the military due to the inherent stress and strain of  service which decreases their life span by almost a decade as compared to civil employees, the pay commission has cast aspersions on the officer cadre of the defence services stating that more percentage of officers are in receipt of disability pension than jawans, forgetting the very basic fact that while jawans start retiring in their 30s, officers retire in 50s and hence naturally the scope of health problems would increase at a higher age and with a longer length of service. The recommendations of the Commission for disability pension were also quite bewildering, and the following table adequately reflects the same:

(100% Disability)
Current rates as on date under the 6th CPC 
Rates now proposed by the 7th CPC
Lt Gen
Rs 52560 (100% disability)
Rs 27000 (100% disability)
Head of Central Armed Police Force
Rs 52560 (100% disability)
Rs 67500 (100% disability)

Can the above escape even an untrained eye? This brings me to the next level of thought as to what can be the solution!

Thankfully, these were only recommendations by the Commission and are not binding upon the government which has in fact not accepted many of the bizarre ones. However, now that anomaly committees have been constituted, without, as always, any representation of the military, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that no injustice is caused to the uniformed or any other services merely because of lack of presence at the decision-making level. The bane of decision-making process in our country is the propelling of incorrect inputs from below to the top which results in decisions being taken based on a one-way file noting method rather than a collegiate brainstorming manner enforced with the desired top-down approach. The government and the committees must ensure that issues are discussed in a participative democratic manner wherein representatives of the defence services and even individual experts are confronted with the views and inputs being discussed so that rebuttals, if any, or the correct positions can be put across there and then, in real time. This is one sphere where the Pay Commission massively faltered. While it did provide adequate opportunity of interaction to the defence services and veterans, it merely relied upon (and recorded in the report) the data and perhaps personal opinions of an officer of the Defence Accounts Department attached to it without seeking clarifications or rebuttal from the defence services or even the Ministry of Defence. One can only be more secure about justice being rendered to the subject in case a proper opportunity of hearing and rebuttal is provided to all stakeholders. And this is where the political executive has to take a call and impose its political will for a well-rounded outcome.

While I started this opinion piece with my disagreement with shrill voices directed towards other services by members of the military community who blame the bureaucracy and the political executive for the constant loss of sheen of the military rank in the society as a whole, I honestly feel that the problem is compounded by the fact that even the military is responsible for the degradation of military in the society and also accountable, paradoxically, that many benefits do not reach its own rank and file. The defence establishment itself posts senior military officers in junior appointments thereby not only affecting their self esteem but also sending a wrong message to civilian counterparts. While the defence establishment has been (rightly) crying hoarse over denial of the concept of Non-Functional Upgradation to its officers, they themselves blocked another scheme called the Dynamic Assured Career Progression Scheme (DACP) for its uniformed doctors while all government departments and even the CAPFs implemented it. The DACP was sternly opposed by the military top brass even after a favourable judicial verdict on the strange and silly pretext that higher pay to doctors would upset its command and control and by the time the military relented and realised its folly, the Ministry of Defence took a cue and stalled it on the ground that the military was against it. So it seems that while the military was comfortable with junior civil doctors drawing higher pay but not its own doctors. I also chanced upon an angry mail directed towards the government by a released Short Service Commissioned Officer who lamented the lack of pension or even a contributory pension scheme for such officers released with spells of service going upto 14 years whereas civil employees if released by the government with 10 years of service were entitled to pension. However, what the officer probably was not aware of was that despite being aware of this immense inconsistency, the military itself never projected such a case to the pay commission and perhaps even the need for contributory pension to such officers has not found favour with some chosen few within the military itself based on some vague reasons and hence there remains no question of venting anger towards the government or even the pay commission. In the Military Engineering Service, senior Army officers are being posted to (and are hankering after) appointments which are held by civilian counterparts four rungs junior. Headquarters are overstaffed with senior ranks performing duties which could be performed by ranks other than officers and then we hear talk of the loss of status of the military when the military itself projects a wrong civil-military equivalence to the environment. Without pointing fingers at others, the military hierarchy must instil some positivity and democratic processes within their own systems since charity, as they say, definitely begins at home. Senior officers of the Army must, under assumed identities, try engaging with various regimental record offices which deal with veterans and military widows and I am sure the results would not be so encouraging since far from the rosy picture being projected to the senior staff, it is difficult even to get a reply from such offices unless it is through a VIP reference or the RTI or through a legal notice or Court case. Multiple decades into independence and we have not been able to put into place a simple system which makes it mandatory for every such office to at least reply to every single letter, mail or query received. Ask any person of lower ranks who is retiring from the Army and what he is made to go through in what is known the ‘discharge drill’ at various regimental centres. Ask them about uniformed ‘babus’. Though the current crop of officers in key appointments dealing with pay and allowances is well aware, hardworking and attuned to the reality, the military must overcome its own inter-service obstacles and display positivity and magnanimity when it comes to its own. It has a long way to go, unlike, for example, the CAPFs which despite being headed by non-cadre officers, are able to put up a joint front displaying no crab mentality and no peer jealously. And it gets them their dues, which is what matters in the end.

Fully aware of the short attention span of readers, while I was not wanting to shun the virtue of brevity, there was no way but to place my thoughts on this subject in a detailed manner appended with some facts in order to transparently convey that the matter is not rudimentary but fairly complex since it arises out of an interplay of various agencies and events including this pay commission, past pay commissions, past mistakes, the government and the military itself. That said, all services of the government exist for the public and it would be the greatest disservice to our nation if these limbs do not work in tandem or if they remain deployed in inter-service hostility. It is time the political executive searches for and finds a solution in order to ensure that no service is burdened with the feeling of being the child of a lesser god.

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, August 5, 2016

Notification for pension issued with effect from 01 January 2016 based on recommendations of the 7th Central pay Commission

The Central Government has notified pensionary modalities for pre-2016 as well as post-2016 pensioners.

For pre-2016 pensioners, as a thumb rule, the existing 6th Central Pay Commission basic pension is to be multiplied by a factor of 2.57. This is however an interim arrangement till the modalities of the higher notional fixation of pension are worked out by the committee constituted for the said purpose. The rule however does not apply to Armed Forces pensioners for whom a separate notification shall be issued by the Ministry of Defence.

The minimum amount of pension stands raised to Rs 9000. It was Rs 375, Rs 1275 and Rs 3500 during the 4th, 5th and 6th CPCs respectively.

The orders for Post-2016 retirees can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

The orders for Pre-2016   retirees can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

The two strong weak ones

Following is my oped published at ABP Live:

The two strong weak ones

Do not slander the Army and the Judiciary

Navdeep Singh

There are two strong, courageous and fearless institutions in India which, paradoxically, do not have the ability to strike back when attacked by our own.

I am talking about our military and the judiciary.

When I say ‘attacked’, I am not referring to constructive criticism or questions put forth by the public- which is a right of we the people, but of baseless tosh and slander which leaves them vulnerable and unjustly discredited in the naive public eye.

Both are increasingly becoming the punching bags of extremely politically polarized entities who indulge in rumour-mongering for justifying their own existence. And if we study it deeply, contrary to popular perception it is not political personalities themselves who are responsible for this, but the hangers-on and those existing on the fringes and firing from their keyboards, sometimes anonymously, and at other times pseudonymously, without caring a minute about the permanent damage such urban legends could cause to our national psyche.

I would touch some topical issues.

The recent commissioning of BJP Member of Parliament Anurag Thakur as a Lieutenant into the Territorial Army (TA), a part-time citizens’ voluntary force of reservists wherein citizens serve for a few days in uniform each year so that they can be called out for military service during war and emergencies, resulted in all kinds of baseless allegations flying around, including that he had been granted the rank because of being an MP of the ruling party and that he had not even taken part in the selection process. Similar theories and stories were dug out for Sachin Pilot, also a TA volunteer, who was commissioned when Congress was in power. It was also floated on social media that respective Army Chiefs helped these two individuals gain an entry into TA and it was a bad precedent and also that both were ‘overage’ to join the military.

Needless to state, the truth is that both Thakur and Pilot competed with other applicants to join TA and underwent the entire process including the written examination, the preliminary interview board, the Services Selection Board interview (which is the same as applicable to the Regular Army) and medical examination. Politicians joining the TA is also not a new phenomenon. Maj Manvendra Singh of the BJP was a TA volunteer and so was Brig KP Singh Deo, a Minister in the Congress Government. Many other Ministers, MPs, MLAs, Civil Servants, Industrialists and eminent personalities have been a part of TA which is not an occupation or source of employment but voluntary national service restricted only to those who are already in a mainstay civil vocation and which one can join till the age of 42. To therefore cast aspersions on such individuals, irrespective of political alignments, or on the Army, is rather distasteful. Similar was the case when the Army bore the brunt for using the so-called ‘pellet guns’ for mob control while the truth was that Army is not even involved in mob control. While facing flak on valid grounds is perfectly in order, the military today faces the wrath of very many people on unsubstantiated pretexts, depending upon political allegiance. Why? because it cannot rebut or retort, except to the enemy, in a battlefield. 

Then comes the judiciary.

The position of judiciary is unique. In every case before any Court, there would be one winner and one loser. Hence, naturally fifty percent of litigants are bound to nurse a grudge which results in the exaggeration of the actual ills afflicting the judiciary. Any decision with a perceived political fallout or any judgment which sets aside an executive decision is made the basis to air grievances on social media and to make irresponsible statements by all and sundry. The acquittal of presumably innocent personalities is blamed on the judiciary but not the faulty investigation or defective evidence collection which is not the judiciary’s function. The tareekh culture is also ascribed to judges who are just one (overburdened) cog of the entire machinery which has multiple stakeholders and participants, including lawyers, the State and the litigants. So ultimately the judiciary, which has no power to increase its own strength or create infrastructure for itself and which at times has to intervene when other wings abdicate their legal responsibilities or has to strike down decisions which are arbitrary or unconstitutional, bears the brunt of every assertion from ‘activism’ to ‘backlog’ because it is convenient to do so by rationalizing and justifying institutional follies and putting the entire blame on it. Why? because it too cannot rebut or retort, except through the pen, and limited to the cases before it.

Whatever be the political alignment, it must not be forgotten that some of our institutions, though not above probity, are above politics, even if they carry with them individual aberrations. Neither those inclined towards the entity in power at any given point of time, nor those opposed to the same must play around with these institutions with the support of lies, slander and drivel. While questioning transgression is wholly and always warranted, trying to vilify or shake public faith in their strong foundations with half-truths is something India and Indian polity could totally do without.


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, August 3, 2016

Excellent Step: Justice Reddy Committee on ‘One Rank One Pension’ to hold public hearings and meetings

In a progressive move, Justice Reddy’s Judicial Committee on One Rank One Pension (OROP) has decided to hold public meetings and hearings on issues related to OROP anomalies that it is examining.

It may be recalled that one of the sore points with veterans was the absence of any formal system by way of which they could directly approach the Committee and submit their views on a one-to-one basis.

With the holding of public hearings, the Committee would also be adhering to the concept of the principles of natural justice.

While of course the Committee is free to take up additional matters, the following are the main issues which stand referred to it:

(i) Whether the benefit of OROP is to be extended to Reservists.
(ii) Whether the decision to grant benefit of MACP under OROP only to Pensioners who have actually earned requires any modification.
(iii) Whether pension tables for more than 33 years of qualifying service are to be prepared.
(iv) Whether the methodology followed for fixation of pension under ORRP in the absence of actual retirees in the same rank and same qualifying service for the below mentioned categories requires any modification: 

(a) Regular Lieutenant & Captains Getting same pension as Honorary Lieutenant & Captain.
(b) Doctors of AMC/ADC/RVC for the rank of Lieutenant, Captain & Major under OROP getting same as Honorary Lieutenant & Honorary Captain.
(c) Doctors of AMC/ADC/RVC for the rank getting lower than the regular commissioned officers of the rank of Major.
(d) Territorial Army (TA) personnel for the rank of Captain/Major and Lt Col getting the same pension.
(e) Lieutenant/Captain and Major in MNS category where data is blank. 
(f) Rank of Major in Regular Commissioned Officers getting less than Major in EC and SSC category. 

(v) Whether the methodology followed for fixation of pension under OROP for invalidated out war injury pensioners and liberalized family pensioners requires any modification in pension fixation formula. 
(vi ) Whether in the case of JCO/OR, the pension is to be paid on the basis of the last rank held instead of last rank pensioned under OROP. 

The public hearings of the Committee would be held at a total of 19 places with the timings to be notified later.

The first meeting would be held at Chandigarh on 17 August 2016.

Thanks to all those who helped in making this possible. A special thanks to Mr Rajeev Chandrasekhar for constantly emphasizing on this very important requirement of interaction between the stakeholders.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The language goes far!

The language of the resolution issued by the Ministry of Finance implementing the recommendations of the 7th Central Pay Commission contained an odd line.

Though I would not blame the Ministry for it since more than them the line reflects the quality of application of mind by the Seventh Pay Commission to the pay, allowances and expectations of the defence community, certain amount of circumspection is required by authorities while dealing with such subjects. Of course, I am talking of the not so happily worded statement that says that additional levels were being added to the defence pay matrix to maintain parity with the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), meaning thereby that the defence services were being upgraded to CAPFs level proving that the Pay Commission had placed the former at a disadvantage compared to the latter.

Till some years ago, other organisations used to repeatedly request successive Pay Commissions and the Government to bridge the gap between their pay & allowances and those of the defence services, but for the first time, the defence services had it so bad that the Government of India had to step in and say that the pay would now have to be enhanced so as to address the anomalous situation recommended by the Pay Commission wherein the defence services were now at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the CAPFs. Unlike some others, I sincerely believe that all professions and services in India are equally important and nobody can claim to be better than the other, however a reading of the Pay Commission Report reflects that a strange projection had been put forth as if the defence services were being paid more than what they deserved.

Historically as far as commissioned officers are concerned, the pay was broadly linked with officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS). When a pay progression anomaly was noticed after implementation of the 5th Central Pay Commission, a High Level Committee duly recommended that Majors of the Army in their 14th year of service should retain a near-parity with IPS officers with 14 years of service, and the enhanced pay was then implemented by issuing a Government order.  

Fast forward 2016, the Pay Commission gave IPS officers with 14 years of service (including training) an edge in pay even over Brigadiers with about 28 years of service!

While the Government may have rectified certain anomalies and may also not have accepted certain regressive recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, it would be in the fitness of things for the political executive to at least ensure that decisions concerning the defence services are taken after due representation of all stakeholders and not based on one-sided inputs at the back of those who are directly affected. It would also be appreciated in case subtle aspects such as the language of notifications and letters are duly given adequate thought so as to avoid unnecessary controversy. Though the usage of language and choice of words may not matter to an officer drafting a resolution, it can really damage the self-respect of those who look towards the Government for taking care of their interests while they serve the society to the best of their ability in trying and exacting circumstances.

A little sensitivity, hence, wouldn’t hurt.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Home must avoid the Defence route....

Having appeared in litigation involving both the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as well as the Ministry of Defence (MoD), I can safely say that the former embraces fairness much more than the latter. One does not see hyper-technical pleas being taken in Courts by the MHA or the officers of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) representing the MHA like we see in the case of the Defence Ministry or the representatives of the three defence services. The MHA also does not unnecessarily harp on contesting legally settled issues with the shrillness displayed by the MoD and its instrumentalities in Courts, and MHA's representatives have the moral courage to admit their wrongs before judicial fora most fairly without having to face pressure to ‘win cases’ from the higher headquarters as is the case with the defence services. The litigation against disability benefits of personnel of CAPFs is also quite low as compared to the defence services.

It therefore came as a surprise that the MHA and the usually sensitised Border Security Force (BSF) challenged the verdict of the Punjab & Haryana High Court in Amarjit Singh’s case. Amarjit was boarded out of the BSF in 1975 with blindness and was not granted disability pension on the pretext that his disability had no connection with service conditions. Again, he was also not granted any other kind of pension since he was released before completion of regular service limits. For close to four decades he kept running from pillar to post and ultimately the Punjab & Haryana High Court, calling it a glaring case of arbitrariness for meting such a treatment to an ex-trooper, granted him pension with full arrears with 9% interest and also awarded Rs 50,000 as costs. There was a small error however in the order since the Court granted him ‘invalid’ pension by declaring his disability attributable/aggravated by service stating that there was no minimum service condition required for the same which was not exactly the correct position since invalid pension is granted to  those cases which are neither attributable nor aggravated by service conditions and carries a minimum requirement of 10 years of service, whereas it is disability pension which is granted to attributable/aggravated cases wherein there is no requirement of any minimum service.

The MHA and the BSF, rather than applying to the Court for correction of the minor scripting error, challenged the verdict before the Division Bench of the High Court under Letter Patents Appeal (LPA). The Division Bench in a detailed decision citing all rules and regulations upheld the judgement of the Single Bench but clarified that it was disability pension that was admissible to the disabled trooper and not invalid pension. Needless to state, disability pension is higher than invalid pension. The Court also maintained the 9% interest and the costs of Rs 50,000 imposed on the Government.

While any right thinking individual would feel that an order in favour of a 100% disabled soldier would be implemented at the earliest, this time, the MHA and the BSF went the MoD and Army route and challenged the verdict before the Supreme Court. Of course, thankfully, the Apex Court dismissed the Special Leave Petition and affirmed the decision of the High Court.

Why I am speaking in detail of the above is that the citizenry wants the MoD to learn from the best practices in litigation from the MHA and it would be a humongous monstrosity for the MHA to rather adopt the opposite route. The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have expressed concern about the rising litigation initiated by Government departments and the MHA should also take a cue from it. Just like personnel of the defence services, the troopers of CAPFs operate in trying conditions with heavy stress and strain, both in peace and field areas, and it is the barest minimum for us to expect a little more sensitivity towards disabled personnel and their families.

Reminds me again of this remark by the Delhi High Court while dealing with the ex-gratia claim of the wife of a Head Constable of the BSF who was also refused compensation on the ground that the death had no relation with service in the BSF:

“Stress, be it mental or physical, affects the body metabolism and puts a strain on the heart. A human body is not a switch. And unlike a switch which at a mere press stops the onward flow of current, the human body takes time to switch over when a circumstance changes.”

Wise words. Hope someone is listening....

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.