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Monday, August 11, 2008

Our officialdom : Defenders of the absurd

Oft I’ve received mails lamenting that the bureaucracy is to blame for all our woes. While there is strength in the argument, but do we have our own house in order ? and I’m not being sardonic or sarcastic here.

Being in the legal profession, it deeply pains me to see how govt establishments defend logic that on the face of it seems absurd. The same holds true even for officers in the MoD and the Military who hold positions of confidence in legal channels and are expected to help Courts render justice. It is rarely that we see the Ministry of Defence conceding in a Court of Law that a particular action was arbitrary or illegal or that corrective measures are being taken, and this happens even in cases involving settled law. The problem is more with babus than with uniformed officers but we in the forces have placed too much in their hands, so much so that we don’t even realize our being cleverly short-changed. The military establishment too blindly jumps on the bandwagon to defend cases instituted in various Courts and Fora without an iota of application of mind, it’s merely an egotistical one upmanship in the sense that a case instituted has to be defended with full might without going into the merits, and without realizing that it may be for general betterment and welfare of the uniformed community. We sometimes end up being our own greatest enemies.

A very recent example that comes to my mind is of ‘Disability Pension on Voluntary Retirement’. The Ministry of Defence and successive Pay Commissions till the Fifth had been rebutting the Army’s demand for the removal of bar on the grant of disability pension on voluntary retirement. This bar did not exist in any other govt service and was unique to the Army. The Delhi High Court in a landmark decision in 2004, rightly by beneficially interpreting rules, held that voluntary discharge could not be a ground for refusal of disability pension, thereby indirectly endorsing and granting a long pending demand of the Army. But no this is not the end of the story, what happened after that holds the key!. Instead of gracefully accepting the decision and implementing it for all personnel, the Union of India filed an SLP in the Hon’ble Supreme Court challenging the orders of the Delhi High Court. Now here is the shocking part – you know on whose recommendations the said SLP was filed ? You guessed it right – the Army HQ, the same Army HQ which was fighting tooth and nail with the Govt to get the bar removed. Thankfully, the decision of the Delhi High Court was upheld by the Supreme Court this year. Now till date, instead of implementing it across the board, the govt wants each and every affected person to file a Writ Petition – and our legal cells are still defending such petitions in Court. Many would not know that Regulation 50 of the Pension Regulations for the Army (1961) contains a stipulation that disability pension would not be granted to voluntary retirees. This Regulation was however declared discriminatory, arbitrary and bad in law by the Delhi High Court in 1997. But in utter disregard to the spirit of the decision of the Court, the Govt is still not releasing disability pension to officers seeking Pre-Mature Retirement.

Another example that comes to mind is that of overruling of Medical Board opinion by CDA Authorities. When Medical Boards of the forces used to opine that a particular disability was ‘attributable to, or aggravated by military service’, the office of the PCDA (Pensions) was known to unilaterally override the opinion of the medical board and dismiss claims for disability pension in Allahabad. Hence the PCDA(P), an accounts branch in consultation with a Lt Col of the AMC known as Medical Advisor (Pensions) had the power to overrule the decisions of Medical Boards held under the Presidency of officers sometimes even of the rank of Brigadier. Various High Courts and even the Supreme Court time and again heavily came down on this system and held that PCDA(P) could not sit over the opinion of Medical Boards but it took more than 20 years for the Ministry of Defence to abolish the role of PCDA(P) in determining attributability and aggravation. Needless to say, such past cases where medical opinion had been overridden by CDA are still being defended in Courts by the MoD, without informing them (the Courts) that they themselves have now withdrawn the said powers from PCDA(P) !. There are countless other examples where the MoD does not inform the correct position and latest policies / orders on issues before Courts.

My aim in writing this post is not to be cynical but I personally feel that it is not always the bureaucracy or the political leadership which is to blame, we the defence community, especially the serving, have to be steadfastly alert and aware of our rights and privileges and not merely become post-offices or puppets with zero application of mind. Had we been vigilant, our status in the WoP would not have reached this nadir (Today a North-Eastern State equates a Captain with an Office Superintendent, see this post), had we been watchful, rank pay would not have been deducted from basic pay while calculating post 4th CPC scales during issuance of the relevant Army Instructions, we have to see through the game. Whether it is RTI or Writ Petitions or the Media, the general tendency of officialdom is to ostracize the person who tries to bell the cat, the normal response is that of rejection without going deeply into the issue as if a person fighting for his/her rights is an enemy of the system. I remember when I first took up the case for implementation of toll exemption for private vehicles of serving personnel with the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, there was no support from the MoD which opined that my argument was hogwash, but later not only was toll exemption granted on all private and public roads & bridges in the country, but it was also upheld by the Supreme Court. The only person who supported me was Lt Gen SS Mehta, the then Western Army Commander. When we took up the issue of this WWII veteran with the MoD with the help of Lt Gen Pattabhiraman, every single Army officer dealing with the issue thought it was a losing battle but Gen Pattabhiraman ensured that we got the old Arty Vet his dues 60 years after his release. The same would have been the attitude of naysayers when Maj Dhanapalan must have filed his Writ Petition for arrears of the 4th CPC. This is not the correct approach and we should realize that we, including the ones still in uniform, may be standing in those shoes one day. Wherever we are, whatever we are, we must stand for what’s right and logical, even if it rubs the establishment the wrong way or ruffles a few feathers.


Pragmatic said...


Very well said. Introspection is the first step. If we can set our own house in order, we have full rights to point fingers at others. Else it sounds hollow and more a case of sour grapes.

Anonymous said...

Army Officers - 75 Yrs of Age..
Posted by: "Wg Cdr (Retd) VG Kumar" vgk@vgk.in vgk1945
Mon Aug 11, 2008 5:11 am (PDT)

Army Officers Benevolent Fund
Mohan Gurbaxani
Mon, 11 Aug 2008 04:24:16 -0700 (PDT)

Mohan Gurbaxani

Retired army officers who have completed 75 years of age, are entitled to a
grant of Rs 50,000.00 from the Army Officers Benevolent Fund.
Kindly share this information among the retired Army Officers in your city.
(In case of demise of an officer, during service or later before completing
75 years, this amount is payable to the next of kin immediately after the
demise of the officer. It is also applicable to officers settled abroad.)

No formal application is required for claiming the platinum grant. However
the retired officers are required to intimate their postal addresses and
Bank Account Numbers as and when they enter their 75th year at following
address for updating the records :-

Director Accounts
Ceremonial & Welfare Directorate
Adjutant General's Branch
Army Headquarters
South Block, Room No 279
DHQ PO New Delhi - 110011
Tele No - 337 5138

May God Almighty Bless You With Health,Happiness and Prosperity Always.

/ Lt
General(retd) M A Gurbaxani/

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,

Excellent spadework, however the issue is not dead, some important issues have not been notified by the defence ministry with respect to the SCPC.

1. Disability pension for people retiring on voluntary retirement. If you look at the wordings of SCPC carefully, there was a VRS package built in, however the government has negated this proposal. Further the government has also approved the proposal for retirement reduction from 33 years to 20 years. This brings us to a peculiar situation . This implies that all people can retire after 20 years effectively if they can be relieved by their appointing authority , again the wordings of SCPC. So this implies that all people with disability will get their benefits on voluntary retirement .

2. However, there was a case of disability pension or lump sum payment on sustaining disability as an option to be exercised by the individual. if somebody decides to put up his papers before 20 years and is with a disability, he will still have to go without disability pension as the necessary notification is pending. Any comments.

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,
An eye-opener for many an enthusiast of organisational interest (so called!). Similar case to my mind was when a technical graduate had to go to court for getting technical pay for his B.Tech, which benefited all other such officers subsequently. i heard a number of officers arguing against it without ever going in to the details of the logic behind the same. Even I read some comments against anti-date seniority to technical graduates! either we should try and get to the root of the issue and then analyse the policy or we should keep quiet, rather than polarising our own organisation.
my compliments to you on such a wonderful article

Rajesh said...

Its indeed an eyeopener that the disability pension is not applicable to PMR cases !! Absolutely absurd logic..!!Still worse to note that,the Army Hq is the stumbling block for the same.
When will be ever broaden our outlook ?

Anonymous said...

It is visible from these so many past self-destructive actions and indifference of bureaucracy in Army ; that they are equally guilty of present state of Armed Forces. Yes,I totally agree with you. these are :-
*Zero application of mind

* In fact many in those key appointments in ARMY are getting educated from your blog.
*There were none like you before to awaken with all those authentic comparitive tables.
*Now with inter net and greater interaction things are taking shape
* Public opinion is shaping-up and surfacing
*The army cannot overlook these contradictions of publicly stated and agreed policies of G O I .
*Bureaucracy in Army has to change their attitude and mend their ways . They cannot survive without due changes.
*They enjoy everything under the provisions of the CONSTITUTION and they have been denying the legitimately eligible dues to their comrades.
*Disregard and contempt of court will come up sooner or later.