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.