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Friday, December 31, 2010

OPed in 'The Tribune' : 31 December 2010


Major Navdeep Singh

“All’s fair in love and war” was the answer I got from a responsible officer of the Ministry of Defence when I pointed out that his Ministry had recently cited an outdated Naval Pension Regulation before the Supreme Court to get a case decided in its favour. Is it a war that we are waging against our veterans? I cringe at the very thought.

The problem runs deep. While officers from the uniformed services and the IAS come and go, no offence meant but those others permanently ensconced in the Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces Headquarters, on whom we tend to over-rely, rule the roost. There is a feeling amongst key intermediary appointments that defence personnel with their subsidised liquor and free ration are already a pampered lot and that they do not deserve more, and hence every single welfare related attempt by the defence services is firewalled with notings on file which become difficult to counter. In all welfare related spheres, the rules and regulations are diametrically opposed to annals of logic. Pensionary provisions are the worst with so many cut-off dates, irrational stipulations and categories within categories that a count becomes difficult to keep. An Honorary Naib Subedar who retired after 1st January 2006 would get the pension of a regular Naib Subedar but a similarly placed person who retired prior to the said date would get the pension of a Havildar. A 100% disabled General who retired in 2006 would get Rs 27,000 as disability pension while an officer of the same rank with the same disability who retired in 2005 would get less than Rs 6000. In a socially retrograde move, a widow who re-married prior to 2006 would lose her right to ordinary family pension but not the one who re-married after 2006. It seems the government is regressively opposed to re-marriage of widows who unfortunately lost their husbands prior to 2006.

The list is never-ending. The bare fact that the defence services have the highest rate of pension related litigation in the country should have led to some revolutionary changes, but nothing positive seems to be happening on ground and the Pension department of the Defence Ministry continues to be operationalised by a single officer who runs the show and thrusts his decisions on millions of pensioners in stark contrast to the democratic and well oiled Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare on the civil side. An overhaul is also required of how our medical boards are functioning and the rules related to grant of disability benefits. The system of determining whether disabilities are ‘attributable to, or aggravated by military service’ also requires a re-look since our guidelines in this regard are more mathematical and less medical. For example, for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to be declared as service-related, we are still governed by the otiose requirement that a person needs to be posted in a field area for a particular length of time, or for instance the requirement that the symptoms should manifest themselves within 3 months of being denied leave in case of the death of a parent when the individual happens to be the only son whereas modern medical science has now proved that the manifestation of such symptoms has no relation with length of operational service and can even happen instantly due to one solitary incident which may happen in a single day and can at times occur as a case of delayed onset even five years after a stressful event. And cannot a person be affected if he is not the ‘only’ son and would not the problem be service-connected if the symptoms arise say after three & a half months rather than the mathematical guideline of 3 months? While psychiatric disorders need to be examined on a case by case basis, we are still stuck in the primitive times with numerical yardsticks. Leave aside medical science, it is understood even by a layman that psychiatric disorders are commonly aggravated by issues such as education of children, property disputes, family problems back home etc when the person is deployed on military duty, peace or field. For cardiovascular disorders, the charter of duties of last 14 days prior to the problem is considered and service-connection is only granted if any stress and strain is observed in the said period. However it is common knowledge that such diseases manifest on account of stress and strain experienced over a long period of time and a 14 days window has no medical relevance whatsoever. Too much mathematical emphasis is laid on field service forgetting that there can be high pressure appointments in peace stations too which can result in far greater stress than field stations.

The malaise can only be addressed if the defence services start posting upcoming and brilliant officers in the service directorates dealing with manpower and personnel services who constructively provide their inputs to the process of decision-making and act as a counter-balance on elements who harbour an erroneous feeling that faujis are already getting more than they deserve. The element of sadism also needs to be curbed. If the feeling at the decision making level remains ‘why should he / she get what I am not getting’, then it would be an exercise in futility to expect anything productive, and in that event, the war against veterans, especially against disabled soldiers, war-wounded, widows and pensioners, shall continue unabated.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Double Family Pension

Queries are constantly received on this blog as to whether families of re-employed defence pensioners are entitled to the benefit of double family pension separately for military service and re-employed service. For example, if a military pensioner joins a pensionable non-military service after his release from the defence services and then dies in harness while in the subsequent service or dies after earning the second pension, then is his family entitled to the benefit of double family pension separately in respect of both the services ?.

The answer is NO.

However there are exceptions to the rule. In case the second pension is ‘contributory’ in nature, then both family pensions are admissible. The Courts have held that both family pensions would also be admissible if the second pension is granted from a non-government fund or from a fund / trust specifically created for the purposes of a pension scheme as is the case with most nationalised banks.

While the above is the current legal position, it would actually be much desirable if families of those personnel, civil or military, who have earned two pensions, are also granted the benefit of two family pensions since if the government employee himself / herself had earned two pensions, then depriving the family of the extension of the same does not stand to logic.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Watch This !

Does not relate to us, but this short film relating to Vietnam War Veterans from the State of Michigan is worth a watch, and introspection.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Supreme Court upholds grant of pension of regular Nb Sub to Honorary Nb Subedars who retired prior to 2006

As was informed on this blog earlier, on basis of the 6th CPC recommendations, the govt had issued a notification granting pension based on the pay-scale of regular Naib Subedar to Havildars granted the Honorary Rank of Naib Subedar. Though the said notification contained only a stipulation that it would be applicable with (financial) effect from 01-01-2006, it nowhere stated that it shall only apply to those who retired after 01-01-2006 and not those who retired prior to this cut-off date. It was still however being negatively interpreted by the concerned authorities that it was to apply only to post-2006 retirees. The Chandigarh Bench of the AFT in Feb 2010 had however struck down this restrictive interpretation of the imaginary cut-off date and had ruled that the benefit shall be available to all Hony Nb Subs irrespective of date of retirement.

The Ministry of Defence had challenged the said orders in the Hon’ble Supreme Court by way of an SLP. The SLP was dismissed last week thereby upholding the orders of the AFT.

Interestingly, the Army HQrs, even before the issuance of the said notification, had pointed out to the MoD, a fact which is on record, that there should be explicit orders for both pre and post-2006 retirees. But the very fair request of the PS Directorate it seems fell on deaf ears thereby leading to unnecessary litigation on the subject.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Service element : civilian employees now at par with defence personnel

Disability pension in the defence services as well as the civil services consists of two elements – service element and disability element. While service element is related to the length of service (proportionately reduced for service below pensionable span) subject to a minimum of Rs 3500 at 6th CPC rates, disability element is linked to the percentage of disability.

With effect from 1973, there was no minimum service requirement for earning a service element in the defence services and a person with even one single day of service was made entitled to service element.

There is no requirement for a minimum qualifying service for earning a service element for civil employees too under the CCS (EOP) Rules, however this was true only for operational disabilities. For non-operational disabilities for diseases such as hypertension etc, there was a minimum requirement of 10 years of service on the civil side to earn a service element though practically this did not matter much since normally civil employees are not prematurely discharged on medical grounds as routinely as is in the case of defence services.

However now the govt has abrogated the minimum requirement of 10 years’ service for earning a service element on the civil side even for non-operational disabilities and placed them at par with defence retirees.

A welcome step indeed for disabled personnel from the civil services.

The letter, which has financial effect from 01-01-2006, can be accessed by clicking here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

RTI Applicants should get ready for lessons in the Queen’s Language

If the Department of Personnel and Training has its way, then RTI Applicants should prepare themselves for a course in concise writing in English. Or they should get a crash course on abbreviations from their military colleagues and friends. Or they should skip the rules of grammar and try to put their thoughts on paper with minimal words. Or they should record their applications and send across a tape to the concerned Public Information Officer.

I say this because of these draft RTI Rules officially floated by the DoPT on which objections have been sought.

The government proposes to limit RTI applications to 250 words and to one subject. While restricting each application to one subject is understood, it is not comprehensible as to what would be achieved by restricting applications to a word limit. It sometimes becomes extremely important to provide a background of the information sought so as to enable the Public Information Officer to efficiently cull out the same, in other cases the description of the documents / files / records sought itself is so longish that it takes a few extra words. A rule like this would further make the entire process subjective and contingent on the whimsical interpretation of various authorities.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Naval Law

The Hon'ble Courts have time and again ruled that natural principles of justice form the golden thread of jurisprudence in any developed society. Courts have also held that natural principles of justice cannot be bye-passed even if there is no explicit provision reflecting the same in the rule book. The Chandigarh Bench of the AFT took a call on the subject in an administrative matter earlier this year in Atul Batra Vs UOI when a sailor ordered to be discharged from service on the basis of 'Services No Longer Required' (SNLR) was ordered to be re-instated since no show-cause notice was issued to him. The plea that the rules did not provide for the issuance of a show-cause notice was rejected by the Tribunal.

The Chennai Bench has now settled another issue in a landmark decision which should go a long way in bringing about a change in the manner in which we view such cases. The decision based on the interpretation of Regulation 30 of the Regulations for the Navy (Part II, Statutory) can be accessed by clicking here.

Interestingly, while the Rules and Regulations in the Army and the Air Force have their inherent checks and balances, the same is lacking at places on the Naval side. But with proactive decisions of various Benches of the AFT, I am sure things would change for the better and perhaps even rules would be promulgated to bring the existing provisions in line with the Constitution of India and well settled principles of law.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Military pay charts from 1949 till 2008 : US Army

I have often received requests for a comparative analysis of Indian Pay Charts vis-à-vis American and British ones.

I found this interesting information on a site wherein one can see all US military pay charts from 1949 to 2008.

The Congressional proposed pay for military members in 2011 can also be accessed by clicking here. It is at variance to the one proposed by the White House.

A direct comparison using the purchase-power index could be interesting !

Saturday, December 4, 2010

To clear your confusion !

Comments on this earlier blog-post reflect that it has not been adequately clarified that the said letter does not deal with the pension difference between senior and junior ranks retiring on different sides of the cut-off date of 01-01-2006. It is hence made clear that the letter referred to in the blog-post of 27 Nov 2010 only deals with pre-2006 retirees.

The pension anomaly characterised by reverse discrimination which was reported on this blog earlier on 19 Oct 2010 already stands removed and it has been now provided that the pension of a post-2006 retiree shall not be lower than a similarly placed pre-2006 retiree getting enhanced pension as a result of the CoS report implementation.

The ibid letter dated 18 August 2010 referred to in the ‘reverse discrimination’ blog-post can be accessed by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Off Course !

The year was 1945 when this was written and not for the British but for the Canadian Army.

For us in India, most of it, especially the Officers’ Mess bit, is valid even today.

Makes interesting reading though Regimental life has undergone a major change in the Americas.

And while you are at it, please also have a look at this ‘Advice to the Officers of the British Army’ 1946 ed, first published in 1782, yes you read that right !