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Saturday, October 22, 2016

My op-ed in ‘The Hindu’ on disabled soldiers

My op-ed published in The Hindu:

Questions of Compensation

India has the distinction of exhibiting disdain towards the cause of disabled soldiers

Navdeep Singh

Quite a paradox India is. While on one hand there is excessive chest-thumping for our men and women in uniform, on the other we pride ourselves in laying a constant siege on the benefits and legal rights of those very personnel whom we superficially cheer during parades.

Bearing the brunt at the forefront are our disabled soldiers. The deleterious effect of stress and strain of military service on health is a universally recognised phenomenon. Nations go out of the way to make lives more comfortable for their troops with rising payouts for their loss of health, but India has the unique distinction of showing utter disdain towards the cause of disabled soldiers. At a very rudimentary level, it is questioned, mostly by defence accountants, as to how ailments such as heart disease, neurosis, backache, seizures et al, which are also common in civilians, could be affected or aggravated by military service. Well, it is not quite complex to discern that a highly regimented life away from family most of the year- at times under the shadow of the gun, inability to cope up with domestic commitments, lack of community living, lack of sexual fulfillment and physical proximity, curtailed freedoms and rights, all lead to aggravation of common medical conditions. The life of military or even paramilitary troopers who are on duty 24 hours a day and who require the permission of their seniors to even use the washroom or visit a market after signing multiple registers, cannot be compared with those employees who are living with their families and working fixed office hours five days a week.

The inherently balanced disability rules, in India and other democracies, aptly provide that there is a presumption of service-connection of disabilities incurred during military service, but our army of accountants and financial wizards mostly reject such disability claims leading to judicial intervention. However when disability benefits are awarded by Courts and Tribunals after a long haul, the Ministry of Defence appeals against disabled soldiers till the highest Court of the land, at times for amounts of a few hundred rupees. In the year 2012-2013, ninety percent of all appeals filed in the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Defence were against disabled soldiers, a shamefully dubious distinction. The efforts of the current Defence Minister to control the litigation malaise are being met with strong resistance from the official-legal ecosystem which thrives on the miseries of disabled soldiers.

A recent example of this attitude was the sadistic recommendation of the 7th Central Pay Commission for slashing disability pension rates which created quite a commotion. Out of the blue, without there being any demand for it, the commission made an observation that there was an increase in the percentage of disabled officers in the defence services vis-a-vis lower ranks and hence the benefits needed to be slashed from the ‘percentage of pay system’ to a ‘slab system’ which would be more equitable for ranks other than officers. It was recommended that from the current formula of ‘30% of pay for 100% disability’, disability element should be granted at the fixed rate of Rs 27000, 17000 and 12000 for Commissioned Officers, Junior Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks respectively for 100% disability, proportionately reduced for lesser disability. Surprisingly, no such corresponding ‘equitable’ change was recommended for civilian disability pensioners, including those from the Central Armed Police Forces, who continue to receive benefits on ‘percentage of pay’ basis.

Needless to state, statistically, there is higher probability of incurring disability by officers than jawans since while the latter start retiring in their 30s with about fifteen years plus of service, officers retire in their 50s with a service spanning thirty years or more. What reflects a heartless mindset however is that instead of being concerned about the increasing stress and strain in the military and a deteriorating health profile and also the recorded information that military personnel are dying earlier than their civilian counterparts, the commission went ahead and cast aspersions on the maimed and the infirm. Which sane nation would condone this?

Shockingly, the above recommendation was made suo moto based on some data provided by the Defence Accounts Department to the commission without being authenticated by the Defence Services and without even granting a chance of discussion or rebuttal to the stakeholders. The jugglery is even more jarring since the slab system would result in a better payout only to those rare cases in the lower ranks who are medically boarded out in the beginning of their careers, while it results in a loss to all those jawans who are released on completion of regular service terms. In the higher ranks, the difference is even more outrageous. Whereas a 100% disabled Lieutenant General who was in receipt of disability element of Rs 52,560 as on 31-12-2015 would now be relegated to Rs 27000 on 01-01-2016, his civilian counterpart, who was at par, would now receive Rs 67,500. While the pay commission handsomely increased all pensions, including civil disability pensions, it slashed military disability pensions drastically- at places by more than half. The fact that certain vested interests chose to inject twisted figures on this sensitive issue on to social media platforms citing ‘government sources’ sets an even more dangerous tone.

One cannot just help thinking about the futility of all that pomp and show and regalia at military displays or revelling in our military achievements if we cannot sensitively take care of our disabled soldiers. Can we live with the hope that one day the establishment might perhaps find some other punching bag to expend its negative energy, leaving this minuscule and frail portion of our veterans in peace?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Disabled Generals and the Truth!

The media reported a letter written by a former Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services on the subject of disability benefits to officers of the rank of Major General and above. Though the media reported the issue objectively without taking sides, the mere existence of such a letter causes concern and also paints an untrue picture of the entire military establishment besides causing fissures between various ranks. I have penned a detailed opinion piece on the subject which appears in Swarajya Magazine :


Navdeep Singh

It was bewildering to see the circulation of a letter purportedly written in 2014 by the then Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) to the Defence Secretary insinuating that Generals of the Army were wrongly claiming disability benefits for personal gain. Of course it got wide coverage, and amongst others, the following points were raised in the said communication:

  • Generals present themselves with disabilities at the fag end of their careers and doctors working in hospitals under their command find themselves constrained to oblige “these officers”.
  • The provision of post-discharge claims is being misused for claiming benefits for disabilities such as corns, eczema and hearing loss.
  • That Generals should be examined at a central place and not in establishments under their command.
  • That disability pension claims should be decided two years prior to retirement and tax benefits should be abrogated.
  • Concept of a disability arising in a peace area or field should be done away with and any disability occurring in any area should be taken as connected with service and entitling a person to disability benefits. 

 One by one, let me attempt to clear this muddle:

Generals presenting themselves with disabilities at the fag end of their careers and doctors obliging them

The DGAFMS should have known that medical science is not mathematics wherein disabilities can be controlled or planned. Generals retire at the age of 58 onwards and the likelihood of incurring certain disabilities is higher at such an age profile and merely because a person attains a higher rank cannot be considered a disqualification from flow of benefits entitled under the rules. The rules do not discriminate between a Sepoy or a General and even this author is personally aware of many instances wherein senior officers developed diseases towards retirement, including Coronary Heart Disease, Ischemic Heart Disease necessitating angioplasty and even open heart surgery, and also back problems. So is the DGAFMS implying that a senior rank shields a person from disease? It should be absolutely clear that unless it is shown that a person has feigned a disability (used to happen in the times of yore when diagnostic tools were not advanced- with hearing loss and backache being the most commonly faked disabilities which could not be objectively discerned), there is no question of discriminating a person based on rank. Interestingly much water has flown from the date this letter was written by the DGAFMS and which factum has not been reported by any of the media houses and this very issue had been duly deliberated upon by a Committee of Experts constituted on the directions of the Raksha Mantri, of which this author too was Member and which recorded its conclusion on this subject in the following words:
“…The Committee notes that the rank of a claimant is immaterial for claiming disability pension if admissible under the rules, however cases of feigning disabilities where none exist should be dealt with strongly and medical boards should also be extra careful in examining cases where individuals have reported with a medical condition just before retirement.”

Hence, instead of scandalizing the issue out of proportion, the DGAFMS could have simply written to all medical authorities to exercise due care. Moreover, if medical boards, in the opinion of the DGAFMS, were being pressurized by senior officers, then the fault lies with those medical boards which are under the overall command of the DGAFMS for being so fickle. Also, if the DGAFMS felt that officers were declaring themselves fit during the most part of their careers and disclosing their disabilities just before retirement, then it is again the fault of the annual and periodic medical boards for not being able to identify disabilities and lowering the medical categorization of officers at the correct time. It was an issue that could have been resolved in-house and the Defence Secretary had nothing to do with this malaise, if any. Also, it is none of the concerns of the DGAFMS about the relationship between career advancement of officers and their disabilities and the medical board cannot go beyond certifying the disability and its connection with service.

Post-discharge claims for corns, eczema and hearing loss

This is a surprising averment. Firstly, the rules provide for the system of post-discharge claims for both civilians as well as defence retirees. Secondly, merely submitting such a claim does not result in grant of benefits and a proper medical board is still held to confirm whether the disability was such that could have had a basis in service but fully manifested itself after retirement and whether it had a service-connection or not, and the said exercise is to be conducted by the office of the DGAFMS itself through a proper medical board. Floating a claim by a General does not mean the automatic grant of such a benefit. Moreover, medical documents of the disability under consideration initiated during the course of service are always required to be produced for any such claim to be accepted. Regarding eczema and corns, it seems that the two medical conditions have been mentioned in the letter just for effect, and I would be surprised if any person after retirement has been granted disability benefits for these two disabilities at all, and in case true, then the number would be negligible and if this hunch of mine is correct then the argument of the then DGAFMS self-destructs. However, to add, if such instances are true, I agree that disability benefits for such minor ailments giving rise to no functional problems should not be considered after retirement. On the point of hearing loss, I think that the then DGAFMS should have been in a better position to understand that noise above 85-90 decibels is harmful to the ear and even a single gunshot over 140 decibels can damage the ear. The 5.56 shot of the standard issue infantry weapon produces a sound of over 150 decibels and there is no system of using hearing protection devices in the Indian Army. All troops of all ranks undertake regular firing practices all throughout their careers and hence cases of hearing loss should not have been broad-brushed in such a manner by the highest medical authority of the Armed Forces casually unless there was diagnostic evidence to prove that a particular General had faked his disability. The office of the DGAFMS should restrict itself to commenting whether a disability exists or not and if a person is faking a disability, it should raise the red flag, nothing more, nothing less.

That Generals should be examined at a central place and not under hospitals under them

Wonderful idea that should be acceptable to all stakeholders since it would reflect objectivity in the entire process and offset any conflict of interest. The letter of the DGAFMS should have limited itself to this aspect instead of casting aspersions on senior ranks of the defence services. Going a step further, medical boards could be held at hospitals of other services. For example, if a Major General of the Army is being examined, the board could be held at an Air Force establishment, and vice versa.

That disability pension claims should be decided two years prior to retirement and tax benefits should be abrogated

A ridiculous suggestion, to say the least, which unfortunately also shows the lack of knowledge of basic disability law by the highest medical authority. As per law, disability benefits are determined on the basis of Release and Invalidation Medical Boards at the time of release from service and the medical condition persisting at the time of severance from service, and not earlier. Also, why should a General be held responsible only because a disability emerges at the later stages of his career? While calling for abrogation of tax benefits, the then DGAFMS has transgressed all limits of his jurisdiction. What is he? The Chairperson of the Central Board of Direct Taxes? The Finance Secretary?

Concept of disability arising in a peace area or field should be done away with and any disability occurring in any area should be taken as connected with service entitling a person to disability benefits

Very pertinent suggestion and to support the DGAFMS I would forcefully state that this is already provided under the rules which prescribe that incurring of a disability in a peace or field area has no implication on disability benefits. However, there is a twist to this. Despite this rule and various High Courts and the Supreme Court adversely commenting upon the peace/field distinction perpetrated by military medical boards, it is the same office of the DGAFMS which has illegally, and in contravention of rules, issued personal and Demi Official letters to medical establishments asking them not to consider cases of certain disabilities arising in peace areas. The same office of the DGAFMS has also illegally omitted to reproduce the beneficial disability rules to the said effect while compiling its “Guide to Medical Officers, Military Pensions”. It is therefore ironic that after issuing illegal communications to its lower formations and also issuing guidelines contrary to rules, the senior most authority of the said office makes a somersault and talks of something that his own office is responsible for. In fact, this suggestion, though very much relevant and correct, is contrary to the first part of the DGAFMS’s communication to the Defence Secretary. The DGAFMS therefore is suggesting that though all disabilities incurred in service should (rightly) qualify for disability benefits, if the disabled officer happens to shoulder a heavier brass, he or she should be disentitled. It would have been in the fitness of things if all of us had rather been deeply concerned about the fact that defence personnel of all ranks are dying earlier than their civilian counterparts due to a deteriorating health profile and increase in stress and strain of service. In any case, the issue has been decided in detail by the High Courts and the Supreme Court, and any aberration suggested would not just be unethical but also contemptuous. The entire length and breadth of the matter has also been deliberated upon in much detail in Paragraph 2.2.1 of the ibid Committee of Experts which thrashed out the subject from all corners.  

To conclude, I would only say that the issue of disability benefits to our soldiers of all ranks is much too sensitive to be discussed without due background or with little knowledge and such matters which involve precious rights of our troops concerning their health, irrespective of their rank, cannot be held hostage to a short three page note which turns the entire law and practical realities upside down. Also, assuming that there had been a few undeserving cases or rotten apples, which could anyway be counted on our fingertips where disabilities were supposedly faked, though not quite an agreeable proposition, the responsibility of letting such disabilities pass rests squarely on the multiple medical boards which allowed the same to happen and then the medical authorities who approved them- all of whom function under the office of the DGAFMS.

The letter therefore clearly appears to have been written with a background, and dare I say it, with a foreground. It is yet another matter of concern that the subject that should have been addressed to the three Chiefs of the Defence Services was endorsed to the then Defence Secretary who had no role in the subject thereby providing a leverage to many elements within the system to inject further chaos in the matter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

More on implementation of the new dispensation of disability pensions : Swarajya Magazine

As discussed at a number of places in the past few days, the new disability pension formula recommended by the 7th Central Pay Commission and accepted by the Government is not equitable for the defence services. The 7th CPC recommendations for disabled personnel were faulty and unethical, to say the least.

Some quarters have pointed out that the new slab system would be beneficial for all ranks other than commissioned officers. However this is incorrect since the slab system would only be beneficial for those with very little service. It would not be beneficial for any person of any rank who would be retiring on completion of terms. Also, a minimum protection slab could have been introduced in case it was felt that lower ranks would benefit more through the slab system.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Delinking of service requirement of 33 years for full pension: Orders issued by Ministry of Defence

The orders delinking service of 33 years for earning full pension, as directed by the High Court and affirmed by the Supreme Court, have been issued for pre-2006 defence pensioners by the Ministry of Defence and can be downloaded/accessed by clicking here.

Please do not send me individual mails/texts/messages/queries regarding this subject or on the latest pensionary notification issued with respect to the 7th Central Pay Commission. Whatever needs to be commented upon by me would be stated here on this blog. Please however feel to discuss the issue under the comments section.

Thank You

Friday, September 30, 2016

7th Central Pay Commission notification for defence pensioners issued: Some Good News, Some Bad News- good on OROP fitment, very bad for rates of disability pension

The Ministry of Defence has today issued the notification for grant of pensionary awards based on the recommendations of the 7th Central Pay Commission. The same can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

While there is good news for regular pensioners in the sense that the Government has decided to grant a fitment of 2.57 on the pension drawn by pensioners as on 31 Dec 2015, which includes 'One Rank One Pension' (OROP) pension drawn on the said date, the notification very regressively has reduced the amount of disability benefits admissible to disability pensioners. They have relegated the rates to the ‘slab system’ as was prevalent prior to the 6th Central Pay Commission thereby placing defence disability pensioners at a sharp disadvantage as compared to civil disability pensioners.

My analysis on each entry in the notification:

1.    Revision of Pension of pre-7th CPC retirees: A good move. Both options accepted. The first option of notional pension based on fitment as per service in the pay level in which the person had retired has been accepted subject to feasibility study. The second option of multiplication fitment of 2.57 of the pension as on 31 Dec 2015 has been implemented with immediate effect. This translates into OROP X 2.57. One must congratulate the Defence Services Headquarters, especially the Adjutant General of the Army, for ensuring the judicious implementation of this aspect. This also puts an end to the needless rumour-mongering that OROP shall not be configured with the new pay commission modalities. 

2.    No comments required.

3.    No comments required.

4.  Pre-2006 Honorary Naib Subedars: The stated position of the 7th CPC that this ‘closed matter’ may not be reopened has been accepted by the Government. This is clearly not in order. It may be recalled that while post-2006 retiree Honorary Naib Subedars were paid the pension of a Regular Naib Subedar, the same was refused to pre-2006 retirees. This statement of the 7th CPC and its acceptance is legally not in order since there already is in force judicial dicta, upheld till the Supreme Court, providing that pensions of pre-2006 Honorary Naib Subedars are also to be calculated based upon the pay of a regular Naib Subedar. The non-acceptance of this issue means that litigation on the subject shall continue since the anomaly has not been addressed.

5.    No comments required.

6.    Pension of Territorial Army personnel: This issue has also been addressed by way of judicial verdicts and should have been resolved by the 7th CPC.

7.    No comments required.

8.   Disability pension rates: This is the single most condemnable recommendation by the 7th CPC which has strangely been accepted by the Government. Frankly, I never thought that this regressive recommendation would ever be accepted. While recommending this aspect, the 7th CPC had made unfounded and uncharitable remarks against disabled soldiers by casting aspersions on those who have incurred disabilities while in service. I had discussed the issue in detail earlier on this blog post dated 21 Nov 2015. While the heading of this entry is “Enhancement in rate of disability pension”, it has actually resulted in a massive decrease resulting in a payout even lower than 6th CPC rates. The 6th CPC had removed an anomaly wherein disability pension was being earlier calculated based on percentage of pay for civilians but on slabs for defence personnel. This (the slab system) was leading to an enormous discrimination between civilians and defence personnel except at lower ranks where defence personnel were getting a slightly better deal. The 6th CPC hence equated civilians and defence personnel after which in both cases the disability pension was directed to be calculated on percentage basis (30% of emoluments for 100% disability). A protection clause was further introduced so that the lower ranks did not face any disadvantage due to the percentage system. All anomalies were therefore addressed for all ranks and all sections of employees. The 7th CPC, based on totally vague and unsubstantiated grounds, which should have been actually expunged from the report itself, recommended the reversion to the slab system. This is totally uncalled for and should be strongly contested by the Defence Services HQ by requesting the Raksha Mantri to immediately review these orders. The arbitrariness of this decision becomes evident from the following chart:

(100% Disability)
Rates under the 6th CPC as on 31 Dec 2015
Rates applicable after the 7th CPC as on 01 Jan 2016
Lt Gen
Rs 52,560
Rs 27,000
Head of Central Armed Police Force
Rs 52,560
Rs 67,500

9.  Broad-banding of disability pension: The Government has accepted broad-banding of disability pension for cases other than invalidation, that is, all cases irrespective of manner of exit. But the catch is that this has only been made applicable from 01 Jan 2016 whereas the anomaly arose from 01 Jan 1996 which the Supreme Court adjudicated. Hence, regrettably there would be no change or reduction in litigation for claims of broad-banding from 01 Jan 1996 till 31 Dec 2015 as mandated by Supreme Court orders. Practically this helps only those who retire on or after 01 Jan 2016 while for the rest the legal position for claiming benefits remains the same.

10. Enhancement of old age pension for disability and war injury pensioners: The strangest part of this entry is the fact that the Defence Services had indeed asked for this, and the commission actually rejected it and the Ministry of Defence has accepted that rejection. I say it is strange because the Government had already clarified way back in 2010 that additional old age pension very much applies to disability and war injury pensioners. Hence the Defence Services HQ had demanded and the 7th CPC and the Ministry of Defence rejected something that stood granted and clarified way back in 2010 by the Government which becomes clear from this letter issued in 2010 which can be accessed by clicking here. This single instance should be an indicator enough of the expertise and institutional memory available at various echelons of our systems. Unfortunate, to say the least!

11. Disability Pension to “Neither Attributable to, Nor Aggravated by Military Service” Cases: The recommendation of the 7th CPC is redundant in this aspect since the Supreme Court and various High Courts have already ruled that in case a person is fit at the time of enrollment, then any disability arising during service is deemed to have a connection with service thereby entitling a him/her to disability pension.

12. No comments required.

13. No comments required.

14. No comments required. 

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.