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 Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained.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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pensions of Major Generals enhanced with effect from 01 January 2006


The Ministry of Defence, on being prodded by the Supreme Court, has issued orders complying with the decision of the Armed Forces Tribunal related to the pensions of Major Generals with effect from 01 Jan 2006.

The Supreme Court, in the famous case Union of India Vs SPS Vains had laid down the principles for fixation of pension with effect from 01 Jan 1996, that is, the date of applicability of the 5th Central Pay Commission (CPC).

However, a somewhat similar anomaly arose after the 6th CPC too, when affected pre-2006 retiree officers, again led by General Vains approached the Armed Forces Tribunal which further directed the Government to give effect to the principles of the decision of the Supreme Court for the new 6th CPC regime also.

The decision was however challenged by the Government in the year 2011 in the Supreme Court and it is pending in the Supreme Court since then. During the said pendency, the Ministry of Defence had implemented the decision for the litigants in the said case but not for other similarly placed pensioners and family pensioners. The Supreme Court, in December 2017, had pointed out that the decision should have been implemented for all similarly placed officers and not only litigants after which the Government had sought time to do the needful.

The Ministry has now issued orders for all other officers and the appeal of the Ministry of Defence is now more or less infructuous since the relief has been extended by the Government itself to affected officers.

The orders can be accessed by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Op-ed in DNA : Rising disabilities in the military- a misdirected approach

Below reproduced is an op-ed published today by the "DNA" on rising disabilities in the military. 

Rising disabilities in the military- a misdirected approach

Navdeep Singh

Earlier this year, in a tragic coincidence, four officers of the Indian Army passed away on account of cardiac arrests, in different parts of India, on the same day. Between that day and today, many more non-operational disease-related deaths have been reported, and the same have been spiralling upwards since the past many years.

The military is always perceived to be fitter, stronger and healthier than the civil populace. But this, sadly, is a myth. When compared to civilian government employees, members of the military and other uniformed forces face a considerably higher stress and strain of service which affects health in a detrimental manner, a fact which is universally recognized by all major militaries. Incurring a disability while in service entitles soldiers to disability benefits on retirement and higher death benefits to the family in case of death, and the applicable rules provide a presumption of ‘service-connection’ of disabilities which are acquired during service. However, in order to avoid such payouts, the system has been wrongly branding such disabilities as “neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service” which is not only against ground realities, but also against rules and decisions of Constitutional Courts.

Though the Courts, the highest of political executive, Government’s legal advisors, Committees set up by the Defence Ministry and also the military medical authorities have time and again ordained sensitivity towards such disabilities, liberal grant of disability pensions and also withdrawal of appeals filed by the Ministry against disability benefits of its own disabled soldiers in the Supreme Court, it is highly unfortunate that the hands of senior political leadership and higher bureaucracy have been restrained by misleading and mischievous file notings initiated by lower bureaucracy to deny such benefits to soldiers and projecting them as somewhat greedy. To take an example, to elicit a negative response from the top, the financial entities of the Defence Ministry have instilled a feeling that such disabilities can occur in civilians too and hence uniformed personnel do not require any special dispensation- a thoroughly erroneous supposition.

Firstly, file initiators have hidden from the hierarchy that this thought-process militates against the basic entitlement rules which list even conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and neurosis as diseases affected by stress and strain of service.

Moreover, what is glossed over is the fact that there are many unique stressors in the military and hence any parallel sought to be drawn with civil employees on this subject is inherently flawed. For example, soldiers and officers of uniformed services spend most of service away from family and lead regimented lives under strict military law, often in barracks and predominantly away from society. There is also an acute inability of fulfilling domestic and familial commitments. Freedoms are curtailed which may seem innocuous to the untrained eye but it takes a toll on a person’s health. Illustratively, even when posted in a ‘peace’ area, to undertake regular activities such as visiting the market a soldier needs to seek permission, sign multiple forms and be back in time for the roll call. A soldier is not available to provide or receive emotional support when required, even sexual needs remain unfulfilled. Again some seemingly benign examples- what does a person do when one’s child gets hurt? Kiss and hug the child, hold the child close, a luxury not obtainable by members of the uniformed forces. What does one do when there is a property dispute or any other administrative requirement? Follow it up with the local authorities and courts, something impracticable for men and women of the forces since they mostly remain away from home. The list is endless. All such factors give rise to a feeling of helplessness leading to stress and strain thereby aggravating the mental and physical conditions of soldiers and this also is the reason which prompted the Supreme Court to once remark that a soldier remains torn between the call of duty and family commitments.

It is however lamentable that financial entities of the Defence Ministry are able to tide over rules, binding judicial dicta and also political will and are able to elicit incorrect reactions from decision-makers. Apart from soldiers, a tirade was unleashed against senior officers of the military stating that high ranking officers have also been granted disability benefits. But why not? If a General is suffering from a disability known to be aggravated by stress and strain of service, why should she or he be denied because of rank? Some senior officers are at an even higher risk because of an elevated age bracket and greater responsibility. There have been multiple examples of Generals in the recent times suffering cardiac arrests and undergoing heart and other procedures due to extreme stress, can such live examples be brushed aside? People also speak of cases of senior officers hiding their disabilities in order to remain eligible for promotions. If true, then it is purely an administrative infraction for which remedy lies elsewhere and this has no connection with disability benefits which are purely linked with a person’s physical condition at the time of joining service vis-a-vis retirement. Moreover, it also means that the system needs to plug the holes in the annual medical examinations and at the same time harmonize and rationalize its promotional policies, make them practical and bring them in line with modern times so that people do not hide their medical status.  

With a sensitive and sensitized Defence Minister, one hopes that the law as ordained by Courts, recommendations of experts and the word of the political executive prevail ultimately, and not sadistic file notings of penny-counting accountants who bring a bad name to the establishment and avoidable distress to the military community. The focus also should shift to improving the health profile of the military in wake of heavily stressful conditions, and not saving money through a ham-handed approach. 

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Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing lawyer at the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He is also the author of ‘Maimed by the System’. He writes on public policy, law and the military.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Yale releases the "Yale Draft"- Principles for Governing Administration of Justice through Military Tribunals


The Yale University has released the draft principles for ‘governing administration of justice through military tribunals’, an updated and amended version of the “Decaux Principles” on the same subject circulated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2006. The principles, titled the “The Yale Draft” have attempted to resolve a few contentious issues and have taken into account intervening developments and have been drafted in a manner to clear the path for formal approval by the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.


In recent years, the system of military justice has remained in the news, from issues related to command influence and independence to the recent trial of civilians by secret military courts in nations such as Pakistan without affording full rights to the accused. Kulbhushan Jadhav of India was also tried by one such secret military tribunal in Pakistan, and sentenced to death, which became an international flashpoint.

The Yale Draft opens with the principle that military tribunals (courts) must be established keeping in view the principle of separation of powers and should be a part of the regular judicial system and should not function under the executive branch. The draft also states that the guarantees of fair trial offered by Article 14 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) must be adhered by military courts further stating that military courts must be ‘independent, impartial and competent’ with necessary legal training and qualification. It has also been asserted that Military courts have no jurisdiction to try civilians except where there are very exceptional circumstances justifying such a trial. The principles also reiterate respect of humanitarian law, public hearings and transparency in military trials and recourse to civil courts as guaranteed to civilians. The principles also call for periodic review of codes of military justice by an independent body.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Cap on education concession to children of military personnel killed, disabled or missing in action, removed


The controversial cap of Rs 10,000 per month recommended by the 7th Central Pay Commission and thereafter blindly accepted by the Ministry of Finance, which had caused much heartburn amongst the military community, now stands removed.

There is however a rumour doing the rounds that some extra conditions have been imposed and that the concession shall only be admissible for Government run institutions. The same is not correct. The concession is admissible for all Government recognized institutions.

In fact, the conditions mentioned in the fresh letter issued on 21st March 2018 are exactly the same as were in force prior to the capping. The same conditions were mentioned in the last letter issued in the year 2010 after the acceptance of the recommendations of the 6th Central Pay Commission.

Thanks to all those who assisted in getting this controversial action reversed.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Maimed by the System: visit www.navdeep.info for discounted links

Visit www.navdeep.info for discounted links

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Not so good news from the Supreme Court for pre-1996 retiree Majors with 21 years of service

There is unfortunate news from the Supreme Court with respect to the case of pre-1996 retired Majors with 21 years of service who had claimed the pension of Lt Col and whose cases were allowed by various benches of the Armed Forces Tribunal.

The Supreme Court, while hearing certain appeals filed by the Government and others filed by some affected officers, has held that the said benefit is not available to those who retired prior to 1996. It may be recalled that the controversy had emerged from the situation wherein Majors who retired with 21 years or more commissioned service after 01-01-1996 had been granted the pension as admissible to the rank of Lt Col, while those who retired prior to 01-01-1996 with similar length of service, were being paid the pension of a Major. 

The Supreme Court has agreed with the arguments of the Union of India that the stipulation of grant of the scale of Lt Col to Majors with 21 years or more service was only available to those who were in service as on 01-01-1996 as per the Govt orders issued in 1997 and it dealt with pay and not pension and that also the Govt had itself equalized pensions of pre-1996 and post-1996 retirees in the year 1999. The Court has also relied upon an earlier decision in Col BJ Akkara Vs Union of India of the year 2006 in reaching the said conclusion.

I however personally feel that the following aspects were not placed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court during the course of the examination of the issue:

A.    The anomaly did not actually flow from the Govt letter on pay of the year 1997 but emanated from later letters issued in the years 2012, 2013 and 2015 (with financial effect from 2006) wherein it was provided that Majors with 21 years of service who retired between 1996 and 2006 would be granted the pension of a Lt Col while those who retired prior to 1996 would continue receiving the pension of a Major. Hence, the controversy did extend to pension and was not restricted to pay.

B.    The equalization of pension as professed by the Govt of India before the Supreme Court came to an end with effect from 2006, that is, from the 6th Central Pay Commission regime. As on date, the basic pension of Majors with 21 years of service retiring after 1996 is Rs 81,502 while those retiring prior to 1996 is Rs 58,673. Hence the pension equation letter of 1999 cited by the Govt before the Court became redundant with effect from 2006 based upon the above mentioned pension letters issued in the years 2012, 2013 and 2015 which were not brought to the knowledge of the Court. Till the 6th Central Pay Commission, there was no disparity or negligible disparity due to overlapping scales. There has been no discussion or argument on the fact of issuance of letters issued by the Govt at later stages disturbing the equalisation of pension. The net result is the difference of pension, not pay, as reflected by the above figures. The net result also is that officers of the same rank retiring with the same length of service but during different periods have been saddled with a vast difference in pensions.


C.   In Col BJ Akkara’s case, relied upon by the Govt, the Govt had not placed full facts before the Court and the said case was later distinguished by the Supreme Court itself in Civil Appeal 10640/2013 KC Bajaj Vs Union of India decided on 27-11-2013 when the Court came down heavily upon the Govt for its incorrect stand and also for not projecting the correct facts. After this decision, the effect of Col BJ Akkara’s case was then nullified by the Govt itself by issuing letters granting the benefit to affected pre and post 1996 retirees based upon the later ruling of the Supreme Court in KC Bajaj’s case. The benefits were also extended to those officers of the defence services who were earlier refused the same after the decision in Col BJ Akkara’s case. This issue was explained earlier in this blog here. The later decision in KC Bajaj’s case has not been brought to the notice of the Court.

D.   The Court has not been apprised of the similar decision in Civil Appeal 1123/2015 State of Rajasthan Vs Mahendra Nath Sharma decided on 01-07-2015 which dealt with a similar controversy of pensioners of the State of Rajasthan wherein the issue was decided in favour of pensioners where also the State was claiming that the benefits were only applicable to pensioners who were in service on a particular date in the State.

The important points as above were argued and considered in various decisions by the Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal, including in the case titled Maj Tarlok Singh Vs Union of India (not challenged by the Govt till now), but were perhaps not before the Hon’ble Supreme Court since the judgements that the Apex Court was examining did not have these arguments or issues on record. As things stand now, the Supreme Court decision is binding on all authorities till the time perhaps the matter again reaches the Supreme Court in other decisions decided in favour of pensioners, as and when those are challenged by the Govt, and when all points can be brought before the Hon’ble Court in the right perspective by those representing the parties.

Also, to clarify, this decision however currently affects only pre-1996 retiree Majors with 21 years of service and not those Majors who retired between 01-01-1996 and 14-01-2000 with 20 years of service and were not granted the benefits of the rank of Lt Col due to late issuance of the Govt letter on 14-01-2000 and who were granted relief on judicial intervention. The said category of officers is not affected by this judgement.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Different Uniforms, Same Flag!

My reaction piece in the DNA on the recent stormy exchange between Major Gaurav Arya and Mr Abhinav Kumar, IPS :

Different Uniforms, Same Flag

Navdeep Singh

That the Police and the Army share commonalities, including the somewhat similar structure of rank badges, is something that cannot be ignored. But to expect the Police to be completely militarised or to follow the same ethos or training, or be officered by the military, as professed by some military veterans, in all humility, is an unreasonable idea.

This topic I tend to avoid but there was extensive debate on the subject recently, generated by a strong opinion piece authored by a former Army officer, matched by an equally solid retort by a serving officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS).

The reason for friction
One issue that continually disturbs officers of the military is faster promotions in the IPS and thereby the heavier and at times exaggerated brass on comparatively younger police shoulders. While true to a large extent, historical parities having been unduly disturbed and the military having slid down the pecking order, we still need to give it deeper thought, though no doubt much has been written on it, including by this author. The problem is not faster promotions in the IPS but the much slower career growth in the military due to a variety of reasons, and the solution to which shall remain vexed because of the requirement of maintaining a steep pyramid. Agreed that there is bound to be dejection when an IPS officer of the 2000 batch wears a Major General’s rank badges in 2018 while his military batch-mates are Lieutenant Colonels or at best Colonels, or when it is analysed that while the senior-most police officer in a State was equal to a Colonel or Brigadier at one time but today wears the ranks of a Lieutenant General, but then one cannot blame the IPS for having an optimum promotional and cadre management at par with other comparable government services, neither can one expect police officers to refuse promotions in order to please the military! Rather than such prestige battles, the government and the political executive must be convinced to render serious thought to the massive stagnation in the military and slower than satisfactory career advancement. Of course, certain lopsided recommendations of successive pay commissions haven’t helped. 

Different strokes for different folks
Much has been stated about the desirability of induction of former military officers and personnel in the state police to ‘improve’ it or training IPS officers in military academies or providing the command of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) to army officers. While this appears attractive at the first blush, one has to realise the fluffiness of such broad statements. Firstly, the job of the army and the police is dissimilar. While the former has to destroy the enemy, the latter has to protect the community. The similarities hence end at the ceremonial drill. While soldiers need to operate in groups with competent leaders, state police personnel are expected to work even as stand-alone entities and to apply mind to investigation and crime prevention with certain powers under law being similar for all “Police Officers”- from Constable to the Director General of Police. Moreover, the police involves public-dealing while the military operates on insulated terms. While the police is required to be trained in crowd control and often fires warning shots in the air, the military is trained to fire on target. Hence a military academy is not the apt place for learning skills of lathi charge or nuances of investigation or CrPC and IPC. Ditto for the CAPFs. Though there is certain overlapping of roles in the case of border guarding forces, there is no similarity between forces such as CRPF and the army, these are best officered with their own cadre or from the IPS since they are meant to operate in close coordination with the civil administration.

Turf battles
In the dynamic security scenario of date, there might be shared areas of operation, but that does not take away the core functionality of different forces. It shall be in the interest of all services and forces, who incidentally serve the same flag, to develop mutual trust and serve shoulder to shoulder when required. To be honest, the voices against the police are shriller from the side of some military veterans, who at times, do not realise that for political interference and systemic problems plaguing the police, individual personnel cannot be blamed and those individuals come from the same neighbourhoods as the military and neither are they carrying out less onerous duties. If a newly commissioned Lieutenant has to command his men in arduous conditions, a young Assistant Superintendent of Police has to look after the law & order of a complete Sub Division with multiple police stations, a job not less exacting. To compare with foreign police services is also not in order since in many nations the induction into the police is primarily at only one level, and personnel get promoted all the way up to apex police appointments, while in India recruitment is at four grades. With diffidence I submit that our military community must realise that ‘military training’ is not the magic wand for curing all ills and other professions play an equal role in nation-building. There are many in-house aspects that require honest introspection, than expending energy looking into shortcomings of others.

National interest ordains that all services must work together, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, to protect the concept of India. The political executive must however ensure that legitimate career expectations and social standing of the men & women in the military are not ignored and decisions on human management policies are taken in a well-rounded manner after due stakeholder consultation.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Coverage of “Maimed by the System (2018)”

Reproduced below is the coverage by various outlets of the revised edition of my book, Maimed by the System:





Worldwide purchase links, including discounted links, consolidated and listed at www.navdeep.info

Please read the book and ask others too :)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Maimed by the System (2018) released today: Please read it!!!

The Second/Revised edition of my book was released today at Chandigarh by General VP Malik (Retired), former Chief of Army Staff.

The book is available at a discounted price for a limited period here (Use Discount Coupon COMPASSION).

All other worldwide purchase links, including kindle version, available at www.navdeep.info


Please share, and Yes, I WANT YOU ALL TO READ IT!!!

:)

Thanks 

Navdeep 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

My op-ed in Indian Express: The military women and the fight to be equal

The following op-ed authored by me appeared in The Indian Express:

The military women and the fight to be equal

Navdeep Singh

Paradoxically, more than the military establishment and policy makers, the concept of nari shakti in the defence services has been powered by Constitutional Courts. The Delhi High Court ruling that women cannot be denied entry into the Territorial Army, a unique organisation of volunteers who are otherwise engaged in civil occupations and who wear the uniform for a few days in year so that they can be called out during national emergencies, is the latest in the same vein.

Though I tend to concur that induction of women in the military has to come about in a phased manner with due thought and not merely as a sentiment of political correctness, I also feel that a little more flexibility by the establishment should be at display while opening its doors. The recent decision of the Government and the Army Chief regarding induction of women in ranks other than Commissioned officers, seems to be an apt step.

Initially inducted in the defence services only as Short Service Commissioned Officers with 5 years initial terms, extendable to a maximum of 14 years, it was the Delhi High Court in 2010 which directed the Government to consider them for permanent commission. The Government of the time chose to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court where it still remains pending, but since a stay was not granted by the Apex Court, women officers continue to serve on the strength of the High Court decision. The stand of the official establishment wherein women were thought fit to serve for 14 years but not 20 years or more which would have entitled them to pension, and without any post-retirement occupational guarantee thereby leaving them at crossroads in the middle of life when requirement of subsistence is at peak, was, to put it softly, not a well-rounded stand. Things have changed since then with the military embracing more progressive policies, but rough edges still remain and the case remains pending in the Supreme Court.

The above apart, women have had to litigate at multiple stages for their rights. There was yet another case wherein the Delhi High Court in 2015 had ordered the Navy to consider its Short Service Women officers for Permanent Commission but again the verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court. The Punjab & Haryana High Court, in a landmark verdict on pregnancy rights in the military, had held that it was not proper for the Army Medical Corps to reject the candidature of a woman (where married women can join till the age of 45 and there is no training in a military academy) after her selection and asking her to undertake the entire procedure again, only because she happened to disclose that she was pregnant when she reported for duty. The Court opined that forcing a person to choose between a child and her employment had “no place in modern India.” Thankfully, the judgment was implemented without appeal.

What this shows is that there’s no easy road for women. While some grounds articulated by the establishment, such as induction for frontline combat, may well be quite valid and open to argument and then actions should not always be based upon political correctness or popular flavour, the situation needs redemption when resisting change becomes a default reaction and unfounded fears are injected in the minds of senior military brass or political executive to stall progress. For example, the oft repeated phrase ‘what would happen if a woman soldier is captured?’. Well, a soldier is a soldier and the fear of a war crime equally applies to male soldiers. Then the issue of women garnering postings in ‘peace’ areas while leaving tough or ‘field’ postings for men is raised. If true, then the answer to it is not resisting the induction of women but ensuring balanced personnel management policies, making it clear that equality is a two-way street and then strictly ensuring the same without fear or favour.

These issues are not simplistic, and the key, therefore, cannot be black & white, however a workable solution could be to decide these in a participative manner by study groups involving the defence establishment and also former and current women members of the military with the political executive then finally deciding upon policy. There are a few pointers that could be kept in picture. Firstly, whenever there is judicial intervention in matters of such policy, the default reaction should not be an appeal out of administrative egotism but introspection and ways to rationalize and harmonize the policy itself to the best extent possible. Secondly, decisions on women personnel must always be taken after due discussion with stakeholders by involving the military establishment and women members. Thirdly, regressive policies such as the Coast Guard seeking a certificate from women appointees that they shall not conceive more than twice during service, should be immediately reviewed. Fourthly, a cue should be taken from the experience of the Police and the Central Armed Police Forces where women have acquitted themselves well and have served in exacting circumstances in all ranks without any major hiccup.

These are times of exhaustive churning. Every military of every democracy has encountered vexed questions in this regard, but then like all other similar matters, the system self-adjusts. What seemed odd in the days of yore is pretty much a part of regular life today.

With the Chiefs of the Defence Services showing maturity in being open about accepting more women in the forces, the Prime Minister also calling for it, and the apex defence political appointment being held by a woman, there could not be a better time to initiate change and to review matters currently sub judice by identifying a meeting point.