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 Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained.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

Monday, May 31, 2010

No postage can be charged by Public Authorities for providing information under the RTI Act : Govt of India

There was a tendency on the part of some public authorities, including PIOs of the military establishment, to charge postal charges from RTI Applicants while providing information under the RTI Act. These charges were levied by such PIOs over and above the ones already provided under the Statutory RTI (Regulation of fee and cost) Rules, 2005, promulgated by the Govt of India.

While many RTI Applicants thought the said charges to be arbitrary and knew these to be illegal, not many protested, ostensibly to avoid further delay in dissemination of information. Even way back, in the case of Dr Mohd Naved Khan Vs Aligarh Muslim University decided on 03 August 2007, the CIC had held demand of postal charges to be unreasonable. Further, in some cases, the CIC had again ruled that it was not permissible to charge any fee over and above already provided by the rules. The CIC had further advised the govt to include in the rules any other charges such as postal charges if the govt so desired, but in the present form and structure of the rules, any demand of the same was not legal, the CIC had held.

Keeping in view the above observations and advice of the CIC, the govt has finally decided to apprise its public authorities that no charges apart from the ones provided in the ibid rules can be made applicable to RTI Applicants by public authorities. The govt has further decided not to make any rule by which postal charges can be sought from applicants. Public Information Officers have also been directed not to seek any amount towards postal charges.

The Govt decision can be accessed by clicking here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Classification of Posts after the 6th CPC

Consistently there are queries on this blog pertaining to the classification of civil posts after the 6th CPC.

Posts carrying a Grade Pay of Rs 5400 have added to the confusion since certain such appointments are in Group-A while others are in Group-B.

Though I’ve covered the topic before, I would like to clarify again that posts in Pay Band-2 with a Grade Pay of Rs 5400 are classified as Group-B posts while those in Pay Band-3 with the same Grade Pay are listed as Group-A.

All posts in Pay Band-3 and above irrespective of Grade pay are in Group-A.

It may also be added that it is the actual functional scale that is to be seen for classification and status and not the scale granted under any kind of non-functional upgradation under various schemes such as NFFU, ACP or MACP. Non-functional increase in scale or grade has no bearing on status or authority.

The Gazette notification regarding the current classification of posts can be accessed by clicking here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Payment of RTI fee

In line with the strongest and finest public traditions of our country, some central public authorities continue to return RTI applications on the pretext that the name of the payee has been mentioned incorrectly on the Postal Order / Draft / Banker’s Cheque. Some have also been returning postal orders on the ground that the payee’s name has been left blank by the RTI Applicant. The applicable rules of the central govt provide that payment can be made universally in the name of the ‘Accounts Officer’ of the particular public authority, but some offices have been returning such payment instruments stating that the payment should be made through a different nomenclature such as ‘Section Officer’ etc. This approach is grossly incorrect and the Govt of India had, in fact, in December 2008 apprised all concerned that payment had to be accepted when made in the name of the ‘Accounts Officer’ for that was inherently provided by the statutory rules. Anyone facing such a problem may quote this letter issued by the DoPT specifically in this regard. Moreover, blank IPOs cannot also be refused since the public authority has the liberty to fill them up in whichever manner that it may deem fit without burdening RTI Applicants with a search operation for the name in which the IPO is to be filled. Some establishments have not even updated their websites with such information and then they expect the public to know exactly the particulars RTI Applicants need to fill up before processing their application. It is high time that the PIOs are sensitised that one can delay with these tactics but not deny.

Friday, May 21, 2010

US Subaltern to be decorated 147 years after battle

Here is an interesting story on a brave American Officer who was a part of the Civil War.

1st Lieut Cushing would be decorated with the Medal of Honour this year for bravery displayed 147 years back. The officer died in 1863 at the age of 22.

Cushing, with his 110 men and 6 cannons, stopped the advance of about 13000 confederate infantrymen who were ultimately forced to retreat.

More details on the story can be accessed by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Whither landmark ? Victory or Defeat ?

More loyal than the king would be an apt expression to describe some actions of our official establishment. There are instances when instead of expressing sorrow or moving into a mode of introspection, we end up in a manner of jubilation, not realising that we are celebrating the kingdom of the dead, our graves, our loss, our defeat, and something which directly negatively affects us.

I am talking of a recent communication from Delhi to all Record and legal offices, which I am told, in a manner of jubilation, celebrates the verdict of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in a case wherein it was held that an old deceased schizophrenic soldier was not entitled to disability pension that had been granted to him by a division bench of the Hon’ble Kerala High Court. Damodaran AV was the name of this solider. The communication from Delhi has termed the judgement which has declined benefits to a deceased veteran as ‘landmark’. Before coming to the judgement, I would like to know if anyone has ever seen any official communication terming a beneficial judgment as ‘landmark’ or educating the environment about any favourable judgement which may affect a large section of the service community positively, chances are close to nil. But negativity is the sign of the times I must say.

Now I’ll come to the judgement. The Hon’ble Apex Court, in Union of India Vs Damodaran AV (Dead) has held that the deceased soldier was not entitled to disability pension since the medical board had termed the disability as neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service, and that the deceased had not challenged or assailed the opinion of the medical board per se. Attributability or aggravation of a disability is the primary condition for grant of disability pension. The Apex Court also held that the medical board had provided detailed opinion about the disease and how it was not attributable or aggravated by service. In other words, the Hon’ble Court has held that the deceased had not contested the correctness of the opinion of the board and hence was not entitled to relief against the said findings since those were never challenged. The verdict, though termed landmark by the official establishment, is a mere re-iteration of earlier judgements of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in cases such as Balachandaran Nair, Keshar Singh, Baljit Singh, Chinna etc holding that the opinion of the medical board shall have primacy and cannot be brushed aside lightly. True and totally correct. But what happens when the medical board does not adhere to the applicable rules and the statement of non-attributability is prima-facie perverse or in contravention of provisions of law ? This is where the Hon’ble Courts have to intervene, and they have been doing so in the greater interest of justice. In Damodaran’s case, the Supreme Court has not laid down any new law and has simply opined that since the medical board had provided complete reasons for declaring the disability as ‘neither attributable, nor aggravated’ and that the deceased had not challenged the decision or findings of the medical board, it was not proper to hold the disability attributable or aggravated by military service. Damodaran’s case hence has no application where a person challenges the fact that the medical board had not adhered to the applicable rules. The law discussed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the primacy of the medical board has been discussed and distinguished earlier. The following from Naveen Chandra Vs Union of India is pertinent to the cause :-

“The primacy of medical opinion expressed by the Medical Board constituted in light of the above principles can hardly be disputed. The respondents have heavily relied upon the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of Controller of Defence Accounts (Pension) and Ors v. S Balachandaran Nair to contend that the opinion of the Medical Board is final and cannot be questioned before the Court. The principle of law enunciated by the Supreme Court in this case is not a matter of controversy and in any case is binding on the Courts. Their Lordships have clearly indicated that the view expressed by the Medical Board has primacy and would be respected by the Courts. There can be no doubt to the proposition that for the opinion of the Medical Board to attain its primacy as afore-referred, it must be in conformity with the statutory provisions framed by the competent authorities. If a report is ex-facie not in conformity with the various regulations and is not supported by any investigative or diagnostic evidence and is arbitrary or ex-facie perverse then it cannot be permitted to have the same value as indicated in the various judgments of the High Courts as well as the Supreme Court”

Moreover, even in Union of India Vs Neki Ram (AIR 2004 SC 1235), the Hon’ble Supreme Court had agreed with the presumption that a disease had been aggravated by service even when the medical board had replied in the negative, the Court also held that there was no material to rebut the presumption of attributability. In Union of India Vs Ranjit Singh, a Division Bench of the Hon’ble Punjab & Haryana High Court had held that the medical board must be self contained and well reasoned and in that very case, the Hon’ble Court held the petitioner entitled for disability pension for schizophrenia. The said judgement was challenged by the Union of India before the Hon’ble Supreme Court which was pleased to dismiss the SLP on 11-02-2010, albeit on technical grounds but much after the Damodaran AV case (20-08-2009). The Hon'ble Armed Forces Tribunal has also already distinguished Damodaran's judgement and its applicability.

It is anyway time for the official establishment to trash this theory about the opinion of the medical board being supreme. It is not the medical board which has to determine attributability or aggravation but the Entitlement Rules. The said rules have been discussed in detail on this blog earlier. If medical boards are to be given a free run then there is no requirement of regulatory clauses in the rule book. We in India still have a long way to go, our system of attributability and aggravation determination is still stuck in the primitive times, or else what could justify the basis of determining say heart diseases on the basis of a paper called the ‘14 days charter of duties’ ? The attributability / aggravation of complicated heart problems in the Indian military is determined by what activities a person had indulged in the last 14 days prior to the onset / discovery of the disease ? Is this medical science or some tantric mumbo-jumbo ? Does the medical establishment feel that the cause of heart diseases could be made out from two weeks in a person’s life ? It is common knowledge that heart diseases manifest over a long period of time, isn’t it time to shun these outdated practices and deal with such situations with a more scientific and humane approach ? Medical boards have been rejecting attributability and aggravation with words such as ‘constitutional’ or ‘idiopathic’ and this is what the Principal Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal had to say about this practice in a recent case :-

“There is mandate to the medical board to provide cogent reason for it and not cryptic, slipshod or vague reasons by a covering expression ‘not applicable’ or ‘constitutional’ ”

Then there is the tendency to thrust one’s thought process on others in the system and on to the affected parties without deep analysis of issues. An officer wakes up one day, drafts a letter which he or she thinks is the epitome of intelligence, floats a minute sheet, gets it approved on file and viola we have a ‘policy decision’ which is imposed on others who sadly have no say in the arrangement. Or else what could explain letters from the office of DGAFMS asking medical boards not to grant attributability or aggravation to disabilities such as hypertension if the onset is not in a field / high altitude area, when on the contrary, the rule governing the issue states the below mentioned :-

“For the purpose of determining whether the cause of a disability or death is or is not attributable to service, it is immaterial whether the cause giving rise to the disability or death occurred in an area declared to be a field service/active service area or under normal peace conditions”

So what should prevail over medical boards, the bright-morning idea of the gentleman who signed the policy letter or the rule extracted above ? It is sad but such illegal letters are prevailing over our system rather than the actual legally promulgated rules.

Which brings me back to the subject on celebrating the judgement in Damodaran’s case. The official communication circulated all over the country calls upon record offices and others to file appeals and reviews in cases where the medical board has held a disability as ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service’ and still Hon’ble Courts have granted disability pension. The approach is wrong, misconceived, misplaced and misdirected. The Apex Court has not given any blanket chit for acceptance of medical boards in the said judgement, it has simply stated that in the unique and particular circumstances of that case, medical opinion had to be accepted since no infirmity or non-adherence to rules was pointed out by the Petitioner. The judgement has no universal application and is not even intended to be ‘landmark’ for it lays down no new law.

When there are truly landmark judgements rendered, we see no affirmative action. When in the year 1993, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in Sapper Mohinder Singh’s case, had held that administrative bodies such as the Medical Advisor(Pensions) or PCDA(Pensions) Allahabad shall have no power to sit over the opinion of a medical board or reverse attributability / aggravation granted by a medical board or to reduce the percentage granted by a medical board, the official establishment took 12 years to change the system and the powers of PCDA(P) were finally abrogated in 2005, it is another matter that the same very powers were then instead granted to the govt – from Caesar to Caesar’s wife. We never heard the term ‘landmark’ for this progressive judgement then and for 12 years nobody acted on the same when time and again Courts deprecated this practice of govt, and here we are, a judgement is pronounced when benefits granted to a disabled veteran are set aside and our own people jump with joy in their seats and term it ‘landmark’ ? More loyal than the king I said in the opening paragraph, am I wrong ?.

I for one feel that it is this remark by the Hon’ble Supreme Court rendered on 31-03-2010 in Union of India Vs Capt C S Sidhu, which truly reflects the state of affairs today :

“Before parting with this case, we regret to say that the army officers and army men in our country are being treated in a shabby manner by the government. In this case, the respondent, who was posted at a high altitude field area and met with an accident during discharge of his duties, was granted a meagre pension as stated in Annexure-P3 to this appeal. This is a pittance (about Rs. 1000/- per month plus D.A). If this is the manner in which the army personnel are treated, it can only be said that it is extremely unfortunate. The army personnel are bravely defending the country even at the cost of their lives and we feel that they should be treated in a better and more humane manner by the governmental authorities, particularly, in respect of their emoluments, pension and other benefits.”

No one from the officialdom circulated the above remarks, even for the sake of introspection. We should all realise that we, particularly the ones serving the govt, uniformed and civilian, shall retire one day and would be a part of these very retirees whose small little defeats we are celebrating. In fact, to put it the other way round, it is not a celebration of victory of the mighty Union over a dead solider of the lowest rate, it is the celebration of our own defeat. The current state of affairs is landmark in that sense for sure.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One Star officers to join the re-employed gang !

Doors have been opened for Brigadiers to opt for re-employment after superannuation.

The officers would serve till the age of 58 and would not be posted to any formation below Corps level, and to selected training institutions.

Re-employed Brigadiers would be granted only one tenure and would have the option of attending office in civil clothes like other re-employed officers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Guest Post : How Majors became Minors and more....

BeeCee is a senior retired naval officer who in the past has remained closely associated with pay and status issues. He has earlier contributed through his guest posts on this blog which can be viewed by clicking here and here. Here is another one in the aftermath of the ruling of the Hon’ble SC in the rank pay case. These are his personal views. Enjoy !

As a ‘not really affected anymore’ party I had thought it prudent to stay out of the debate on pay, pensions, promotions etc. But the general reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on Maj Dhanapalan's plea, and lack of it from Service HQrs, PE's poser to RM on ‘Too many at the Top’, Ajai Shukla's piece on the army's internal health and the continuing narrative of hurt and victimhood by ESM has brought back to focus the tragic ‘comedy of errors’ that the Armed Forces enact periodically on personnel issues. But what has surprised me is the failure of those who follow these matters, to connect the dots. I am willing to be corrected if someone can explain otherwise, but essentially, the underlying cause for all the narratives seems to be the same.

A visit to the post ‘Not so Pragmatic’ will show how the Service HQrs had triggered the general downward spiral for officers at the IV CPC. Dhanapalan's case highlighted a part of its fall-out. But the general reaction seems to have missed the crux of the issue. I must confess that I have only read the Supreme Court verdict as posted by Navdeep on his blog, not the original Kerala High Court order. But it is enough to make the point.

The contention was that pay fixation by the GOI was contrary to the IV CPC award. The courts upheld his view and ordered a correction. He had not challenged the award, only the mode of implementation. Evidently, it will restore some of the loss of pay suffered by officers at the time. But, wasn’t this precisely the job of the Service HQrs, and in particular of the ‘Pay Cells’ formed to deal with the IV CPC? As a matter of normal practice, pay fixation after every CPC is done through mutual consultations between Service HQrs, MOD and CDA. What Maj Dhanapalan has done therefore, is what was left undone by the Service HQrs. Also since it was ‘Major’ Dhanapalan who decided to take a close look at what was done to those of his rank, he may have corrected the damage to Majors who were in service at the time.

But had a Lt Col, Col and Brigadier bothered to take a similar look, they would have been aghast to find that their pay scales had disappeared altogether. But they may have had less luck at the courts because unlike Dhanapalan’s contention, this was not an implementation issue but was awarded as such by the CPC. It would also have been rather embarrassing to highlight it because the CPC merely gave in to what the Service HQrs asked for (who deemed it an achievement at the time).

As in the past, in the excitement over the possibility of getting some arrears, nobody seems to be looking at the pay scales even now. It would be seen that the Major’s pay (with rank pay post IV CPC) or Major (Selection Grade) pay (pre IV CPC without rank pay), was comparable with the NFSG pay scale (now of Director) in the civil services at the time. Fast forward 20 years. The pay that Maj Dhanapalan argued for (or to be precise, its replacement scale) is the same pay that was sought for the Colonel by Service HQrs when Mr. Antony rounded up the VI CPC at MOD to give another hearing to the Services. Of course our interlocutors at the VI CPC alone can’t be blamed for the double demotion of the Colonel. 'AVS-I' had already demoted the Lt Col to Major’s level a few years earlier. And an earlier request (at the V CPC) for reduced pay all round had misfired. They merely took the next step in the path set by their illustrious predecessors. As a positive, one can’t fault officers dealing with the issue for lack of perseverance.

‘Too many at the top’ as PE says is actually a misnomer. If our own people (not CPC or bureaucracy or the RM for that matter) feel that Colonels need to be paid only what was earlier paid to Majors, then the only way to have a reasonable pay progression is to have as many Colonels as you had Majors before the pay reduction. From a pay point of view, a more honest description than ‘too many at the top’ would be to say that ‘Majors would now be called Colonels’, with related fallout for those above and below.

Coming to OROP, the argument may have some merit, but I think it wouldn’t be such a burning issue if the long retired Major gets the pension he had earned the hard way rather than what is prescribed for him now after they made the Major into a ‘minor’. Senior ESM may be missing the point when they try to compare pensions with recently retired ESM. I don’t have the data on this, but I suspect a comparison between the pensions drawn then by a Major (SG) and a civilian NFSG officer/ Comdt (SG) of CPOs who all retired around 1984-85 (just prior to IV CPC), and the pensions they draw now, could hold some clue. It may require another Major to go to court and plead that while the authorities are welcome to reduce the pay/ pensions of their officers, it cannot do so with retrospective effect.

A penchant also seems to be developing in the blogosphere to give unsolicited advice to the Chiefs. Let me also give in to the temptation. Instead of having officers/ ESM go on with their victimhood narrative and blaming all and sundry for their predicament, can somebody do an honest internal review of how Service HQrs have handled pay / pension / personnel matters since the Q&M paper of the 80s. If nothing else, it could put a break on the downward slide and perennial pay discussions.

Ajai Shukla is right that this endless discussion on pay/ promotions is an indicator of low morale. But it may be a chicken and egg situation. The low morale itself may be caused by perceptions of being treated badly in pay matters, irrespective of who is at fault. But unlike promotions and transfers, changes in pay structure can be examined objectively. On the bright side, I think his blog actually highlights an issue that gives credit to Service HQrs. The pay of jawans / JCOs have always been handled with better care than that of officers.

Bernard Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ was taught at the NDA to caricature the officer who says, 'I never withdraw'. But many in Service seem to be emulating it as a desirable trait. Instead of admitting and correcting the errors at CPCs, we have devised means to cover it up and further compound the errors. It may not be accidental that the first major cadre review (1986) proposal followed the disastrous IV CPC ‘achievements’.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

US Navy starts its official blog

The US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, inaugurated the US Navy’s official blog recently : http://navylive.dodlive.mil/

The effort seems refreshing in the military blogosphere more so in the light of the free and frank discussion between various participants including the Secretary. An example can be seen by clicking here.

The blog seems in line with the thought process of militaries of (mostly) democracies in shedding the cloak (or more appropriately the burden) of secrecy, especially on societal and administrative issues. Such a medium is at times considered essential keeping in view the fact that sometimes the pulse of service-members does not reach the right levels of the hierarchy due to layers and layers of officialdom and red-tape.

The US Navy is available officially also on twitter, flickr, youtube and facebook.

Way to go.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

So is it goodbye to Group-D posts ?

It seems that the govt has finally decided to do away with the Group-D category of employees in consonance with the recommendations of the 6th CPC.

The DoPT has initiated model rules for recruitment to Group-C posts which can be viewed by clicking here.

Group-D posts (formerly known as Class-IV) would no longer exist in the hierarchy of the central govt and the first stage of employment shall now be in Group-C with the Grade Pay of Rs 1800.

The minimum qualification for recruitment to Group-C posts shall be matriculation or ITI for posts requiring technical expertise.

Monday, May 3, 2010

United States Naval Academy Forrestal lecture – Robert M Gates

Robert M Gates, as we all know, is the current Secretary of Defence of the United States. He is a former Air Force Officer and has also in the past held the appointment of Director of Central Intelligence. He has also been an academician for he was the President of the Texas A & M University.

This speech was rendered by Robert Gates at the United States Naval Academy last month. While one may expect a dekko to be taxing considering the longish nature of the text, all I can say is that you may not regret going through it since the spirit behind the talk has universal application.

Though his call for rejection of careerism may not find many takers in today’s world, the examples quoted by him may inspire some of us to give out of the box thinkers a chance.