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 Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained.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

Friday, June 15, 2018

Op-ed: Making Short Service Commission attractive in the military


My op-ed for DNA on the need to make Short Service Commission more attractive, introducing contributory pension, thereby lowering the pension bill and leading to better cadre & promotional management, and why the current initiatives may require bolder, tougher & more innovative decisions-

Making Short Service Commission 
attractive in the military

India Needs Short Service

Major Navdeep Singh

Military circles were abuzz with the news that the government was finally in the last stages of fine-tuning a ‘golden handshake’ for Short Service Commissioned Officers (SSCOs) of the Defence Services in order to make the scheme more attractive and also to reduce Permanent Commissioned Officers thereby making the military a lean fighting machine and also bringing down the pension bill.

Nice aim, wrong route.

Always expected to be notified ‘very soon’, the proposal for a better payout for SSCOs has been doing the rounds since last many years in a dusty file sent into an orbit in the unwieldy space between the ministries of finance and defence. Notwithstanding the same, the proposal as also projected in the media, is quite imbalanced and shall be of no help in attracting talent or reducing shortages. The interesting aspect of the issue is that this topic has been discussed and deliberated by a Committee of Experts constituted in 2015 (Chapter 7.5) by the then Raksha Mantri, Mr Mahohar Parrikar, in great detail, of which this author too was a Member, but knowing the ways of the Defence Ministry, the top hierarchy and the political executive would have been kept in the dark about the recommendations pertaining specifically to SSCOs.

Firstly, Short Service Scheme, for the longest period in the past, was operated on a 5 + 5 + 4 years basis, that is, initial terms of engagement of 5 years and thereafter extendable till 14 years. In the year 2006, it was changed to 10 + 4 years, meaning thereby that SSCOs were mandatorily stuck in the military for 10 years without any assurance of post-release civil employment, without pension and without protection of seniority in case of joining civil service. The current scheme therefore is imbalanced, if not exploitative, since it leaves young men and women in the middle of nowhere at crossroads of life in the fairly senior rank of Major or Lieutenant Colonel, and many times unemployed at an age when familial commitments are at peak. The immediate action that is required is hence to revert to the time-tested 5 + 5 + 4 system or the 7 years terms of engagement recommended by the Seventh Central Pay Commission.

Secondly, instead of providing a higher amount of lumpsum payout as a ‘golden handshake’, the government should explore the possibility of introducing a handsome gratuity for SSCOs serving for over 5 years and Contributory Pension Scheme for those serving above 10 years or making them amenable to the New Pension Scheme (NPS) at par with civilian employees. This singular step would make the scheme most attractive amongst all other options, perhaps even more than Permanent Commission, and being contributory in nature, will keep the government’s pension bill in check. In fact, a contractual scheme with contributory pension could even be introduced for jawans willing to serve for fixed terms of engagement of 10 years if they do not want to enrol for longer prevalent terms under the existing defined pension and ‘One Rank One Pension’ scheme, which can continue for the ones opting for a permanent career in the military. While keeping the future pension bill controllable, such personnel would be free to pursue other vocations on their release from the military with a back-up for survival. This could be complemented with pre-retirement management, technical or skilling courses, on which the military is already working quite progressively, and which would equip personnel on contractual terms for life beyond the uniform.

Thirdly, the government must immediately take steps to restore the limited medical facilities wrongly snatched from SSCOs in the mid 2000s on the call of the military medical establishment. Accepting the recommendation of the Committee of Experts for rightfully restoring medical facilities, the then Raksha Mantri had directed action on the  same in August 2016, but till date the establishment is resisting the issuance of implementation instructions based on the directions of the Defence Minister. In fact, taking the clock further back, Mr AK Antony, in November 2009, had even announced in the Parliament the extension of the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) to SSCOs, but nine years later, nothing has materialized.

Encouraging the Short Service Scheme or contractual terms in the military with a balanced contributory pension scheme is the call of the day. Besides making the military an attractive option for those who would only like to spend a few years in uniform and then carry on with the civvy street, it would also make the defence services leaner and meaner while reducing the overall pension bill of the future. It would also result in optimum cadre management and better promotional avenues and prospects for those who opt for a permanent career in the forces.

But the pertinent question, like always, is whether reformatory and innovative schemes will ever see the light of the day and whether the political executive and decision-makers would consult the right people- the stake-holders, the experts, former and current SSCOs facing the practical predicament of the existing scheme, or would the decision-making mechanism only rely upon the notings of some bored junior bureaucrats of the finance and defence ministries sitting in a prosaic section of those grand old buildings designed with the assistance of Herbert Baker in the 1910s.

Only time would tell.

The author is an Advocate in the Punjab & Haryana High Court and writes on law, public policy and military related issues.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Much awaited policy for Housing Allowance of Ranks other than Commissioned Officers issued


Vide much awaited orders, the Government has finally notified new housing allowance rates for Ranks other than Commissioned Officers thereby replacing the existing ‘Compensation in lieu of Quarters’ (CILQ), as well as Family Accommodation Allowance (FAA) and Single in lieu of Quarters (SNLQ).

The rates would now be determined as follows:

If the concerned employee has dependents:

In field postings, he/she will be paid full House Rent Allowance (HRA) as paid to other employees at the Selected Place of Residence of his dependents. However if Government accommodation is available at the said place, then the HRA would not be paid.

In case of non-field postings, if the soldier is staying in the barracks due to functional requirements, the HRA would be paid at a rate reduced by 5% at the Selected Place of Residence of the dependents. In case the soldier is not staying in barracks, then full HRA shall be paid if Government accommodation is not available.

If the concerned employee has no dependents:

In case of field postings, full HRA as admissible to Class Z cities shall be admissible.

In case of non-field postings, if the soldier is staying in barracks, HRA would be paid at a rate reduced by 5% as applicable to the station of posting. In case the soldier is not staying in barracks, then full HRA would be admissible if Government accommodation is not available.

A soldier with dependents during his field posting or who is being made to stay in barracks during non-field postings due to functional requirements, shall remain eligible for accommodation for his dependents anywhere in India.  

The above instructions are as per recommendations of the Seventh Central Pay Commission rendered in Paragraph 8.7.26.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Heavy limited period discount on my book, Maimed by the System (2018)


My book, Maimed by the System (2018), would be available at a discount of 33% all this month (From 18th May till 31st May, 2018) from this link: https://notionpress.com/read/maimed-by-the-system

Please use Discount Coupon- HUMANITY

I would want all of you to read it :)


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Govt issues policy for grant of substantive ranks of Capt, Major, Lt Col to Short Service Officers issued under the old scheme (5+5+4 years)


Most would be aware of the fact that the Ministry of Defence and the Army Headquarters had withdrawn the appeal filed by them in the Supreme Court against grant of substantive ranks to Short Service Commissioned Officers (both men and women) commissioned under the old terms (5+5+4 years) as implemented after acceptance of the AV Singh Committee Report. The benefits had been refused due to a self-created negative stipulation though no such prohibition had been imposed by the Cabinet which had extended the benefits to all Permanent and Short Service Officers without distinction. When the Armed Forces Tribunal had directed the Government to extend the benefits to affected officers, the decision of the AFT was challenged in the Supreme Court.

The appeal was however withdrawn earlier this year on the intervention of the current Raksha Mantri. The details of the decision can be accessed through this news-report that appeared in The Week.

Now, the Government has issued a policy dated 10 May 2018 extending the said benefit to all similarly placed officers, including those who had not approached Courts. Though there are additional conditions imposed in the policy which were never imposed by the Courts, the step is in the right direction since it results in avoidance of unnecessary litigation on the subject.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Maimed by the System (2018) reviewed by The Delhi Defence Review


The Delhi Defence Review has reviewed my book, Maimed by the System (2018).

If you haven't read it, please do so, these stories need to be shared, told and assimilated. All purchase links available at www.navdeep.info

The review by Saryu Bansal can be accessed by clicking here.

The following is its reproduction:

Being Maimed by the System: A note

Saryu Bansal

‘The moment that justice must be paid for by the victim of injustice it becomes itself injustice’, said Benjamin R Tucker.

No contemporary published work elucidates this quote more than the book, Maimed by the System, a book that needed, no demanded, to be written. This book encompasses the struggle and strife of military personnel, veterans, disabled soldiers and their families who fought the system to get was legally due to them anyway.

As such, the book in question, which is a revised edition,  has been authored by Major Navdeep Singh, a practicing advocate at the Punjab and Haryana High Court and a (former) Territorial Army officer.

The book is in two parts – the first comprises 22 accounts of the travails and tribulations of soldiers and their families who have had to fight protracted battles with a seemingly unsympathetic system, to claim their rights, post-disability. The second part compiles selected works of the author published on various platforms. This part also recounts the problems faced by the men in uniform at the hands of apathetic institutions, governments and policy makers.

The idea behind the book is to foreground the difficulties faced by soldiers and their kin, and to make contemporary society aware of the prevalent situation, in the hope that it will serve as a catalyst for galvanizing support to change the narrative. It must be said, that this book could not have come from a more befitting person, someone who has been a witness and stakeholder on both sides, having served as a soldier and now is a part of the legal system.

Though the preface mentions that these are also stories of hope and triumph, they sometimes leave the reader with a sense of despair.  Consider the case of disabled soldier, Bachan Singh, who fought in Cairo in World War II. Released by the Army on grounds of disability, he had to fight for six decades to get his pension, and received it at the age of 98, only to pass away right after. In those decades of penury, he lived in a Gurudwara for sustenance. It seems that the system not only takes away the financial support that is due to our soldiers, but also strips them and their families of their right to a dignified existence. The adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, rings hard and true, one would think.

Now the book itself is a relatively easy read and is devoid of unnecessary military and legal jargon.  The stories are succinct, to the point, including only relevant details. However, the stories could do with direct quotes from the soldiers and their families, to make the reader feel their pain even more acutely. Despite this, the book achieves what the author had set out to do. It is a well-researched book, clearly bringing forth the lackadaisical attitude of the system towards giving those who have served and lost, what they deserve. The book reveals how policies are misinterpreted and end up being held above the Constitution and the law. The author believes that ‘judgments repeatedly rendered by Courts are not applied to other affected parties based upon principles settled therein and equally and similarly placed individuals are forced to litigate on same issues again and again and again.’

However, as the author says, the aim of this book is to inspire us to do good, and not complacently sit on our hands. Efforts on his part, and that of others, are perhaps beginning to bear fruit. The amount of litigation has definitely come down, but much is yet to be achieved. And that is why this book had to be written and demands to be read, because all of us have to fight for the rights of those who fought for us, day in and day out.

* * *

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. 

---

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