Though regular readers are in picture of the issues touched therein, the full text of the OPED in ‘The Tribune’ which appeared on 06 July 2010 is as follows :
Administrative egotism and mischief must cease
Administrative egotism and mischief must cease
The National Litigation Policy recently unveiled by the Law Minister would have special significance for the defence services in general and disabled veterans in particular. The policy ordains that frivolous appeals would not be filed by government departments and that appeals from orders of Tribunals shall be an exception rather than the rule. The policy also directs that false and misleading pleas or technical points shall not be espoused before judicial fora.
Since the last few years, veterans have been at the receiving end of paper violence perpetrated by legal pundits of the government, who, guided by a strange spirit of sadism, exhaust every single game in the book to ensure that disability benefits do not reach the beneficiaries even when directed by higher judiciary. To begin with, medical authorities indulge in ‘literal’ interpretation of rules rather than ‘liberal’ thereby denying disability benefits to disabled soldiers. They forget the ‘spirit’ while clinging to the ‘letter’. When there is a judicial pronouncement granting disability pension, appeals and reviews are filed as a matter of routine even in cases fully covered by earlier decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and High Courts. It is not the higher echelons of governance or the services headquarters which are to blame but the swarm of section officers, under secretaries and deputy secretaries who rule the roost. Yes, the lower level bureaucracy with its caustic file-notings unfortunately runs the government. The idea is simple, even if there is a verdict in favour of a disabled veteran, file an appeal, take a chance, and maybe the verdict would be overruled because it is well known that our jawans cannot afford proper legal aid up till the Hon’ble Apex Court.
That the new policy has specially mentioned ‘false’ and ‘misleading’ pleas goes to show that the Minister is aware of the malaise that has set in. Appeals are filed not out of legal necessity but because of administrative egotism – ‘How could a petty employee win a case against the mighty officialdom ?’. Then comes the ‘hook’ or ‘crook’ stage wherein dubious pleas are presented before Hon’ble Courts with departments even misguiding their own counsel into presenting incorrect pleadings, which if not rebutted by a well acquainted legal brain, end in pronouncements which can hardly be termed well-rounded. The presence of these two words - ‘false’ and ‘misleading’ in the policy reminds me of some specific cases with special reference to disabled soldiers. In Secretary MoD Vs Ajit Singh case (2009), the statement of the defence ministry is on record wherein it has been stated that disability pension was not released to the veteran since he did not have the minimum required service of 10 years to his credit. Needless to say, in reality, there is no minimum service requirement for disability pension and even a recruit is entitled to the same. In the recent case of Karan Singh Vs UOI (2010) before the Jaipur AFT, it was espoused by the central government that it is the Army alone that provides disability pension to its employees. However truth is that civilian employees are also entitled to exactly the same benefits since 1939. In PK Kapur Vs UoI (2007) the government went hammer and tongs proclaiming how it had the right to fix a cut-off date for grant of certain enhanced disability benefits which had been refused to pre-1996 defence retirees. The case went in favour of the government since the Court was never informed that the said benefits through the same master notification had already been extended to similarly placed pre-1996 civilian retirees as back as in 2001. The Petitioner could not rebut the falsehood since he could not afford a lawyer.
It is not that mischievous elements are playing around only with the pious institution of judiciary, the higher strata of governance is also not left untouched. In an official speech last month obviously prepared by a similarly inclined officer, the Defence Minster was made to ‘announce’ with pride that the government had introduced an additional amount of Rs 3000 as constant attendance allowance for disabled soldiers keeping in view the ‘valour and sacrifices of army personnel’. So far so good, but the humble Minister was not in the knowledge that firstly, constant attendance allowance is applicable to civilian employees too and hence has nothing to do with ‘valour and sacrifices’, secondly it is a concept in force since times immemorial and is nothing new and even its enhancement is old news which was announced in March 2008 by the sixth pay commission, thirdly it is not applicable to all disabled personnel but only to 100% disabled retirees. In the past two years there have been other instances where the political executive and the top brass have been misled into announcing beneficial ‘policy decisions’ by hiding from them the fact that the same had actually been necessitated due to Supreme Court verdicts.
When the top block itself is victim of tomfoolery emanating from the bottom, what can the poor soldier expect ?