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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Is litigation a matter of worry ?

The following appeared on Page 40 of the ‘Salute’ magazine, January 2011.

(Copyright : Salute to the Indian Soldier)

Litigation and Armed Forces : A matter of worry ?

Navdeep Singh

Increase in litigation in the forces, is it worrisome? Is it that the system is being unfair to its personnel?

No, not at all. That a greater number of serving and retired personnel are resorting to legal recourse resulting in judicial intervention is a sign of a healthy democracy where the right to Constitutional remedies is guaranteed to every citizen.

Quantitatively the litigation was bound to increase with the inception of country-wide Benches of the Armed Forces Tribunal. A surge in the number of cases was expected because of several reasons, first being that the feeling itself of the availability of an exclusive body to deal with grievances of present and former service-members was encouragement enough for those to take legal recourse who felt that they had been treated unfairly. Secondly, there was an inherent reluctance, and rightly so, of taking some of the seemingly trivial matters such as minor disputes in pay, allowances and grants, to High Courts, a thing of the past now since the Tribunal now not only has the expertise but also the power to go into the minutiae of such aspects. And thirdly, there was an innate phobia, though unfounded, with respect to the complexity and formality of procedure followed in High Courts which no longer remains true since the procedures followed in Tribunals are much more ‘user-friendly’ if I could use the phrase.

But there is a flip side. And that brings me to the qualitative aspect. The coming into force of the Armed Forces Tribunal Act should not mean that the internal grievances redressal mechanism is further weakened or that everything is put on the AFT by harbouring an attitude that if a person does not get justice, he shall get it from the Tribunal. In fact the in-house system should be so strong that only a minority of grievances reach litigation stage. In certain arenas some of the cases are such which should never have reached litigation stage. Disability pension is one such area where proper application of procedures and regulations by medical boards, record offices and CDA would help in minimising disputes on the subject since the Tribunals in this matter are in fact doing what should have been the duty of the ibid authorities. Also pensionary litigation in the defence services is the highest in the country compared to all other central government organisations and most of it is avoidable. Primary reason being that the Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare under the Personnel Ministry on the civil side is one of the most proactive and welfare oriented departments of the Government while just the contrary can be said about the Pension wing of the Ministry of Defence. While the former takes democratic decisions by taking into account a well established consultative process with bodies of pensioners, the latter is a one-man show with a single officer imposing his whims on millions of defence pensioners and their families in a highly undemocratic fashion. While the former places every single letter issued by it on the official website the same day, the latter does not believe in even letting pensioners know of their entitlements with affected people perpetually groping in the dark. Senior officers of the Ministry of Defence and the Services Headquarters unfortunately do not have the expertise of gauging what is right and what is wrong, what is beneficial and what is detrimental. What to talk of poor pensioners, in matters of pension, the defence ministry is now notoriously (in)famous for even misleading Courts by quoting outdated and non-existent rules and regulations, a tendency that has now been deprecated on record by Courts umpteen number of times.

Tersely put, it is not the quantity of cases reaching judicial fora that is worrisome, but the quality. What needs to be curbed is the plethora of forced litigation thrust upon poor veterans simply because that accountant in Allahabad failed to touch the calculator for months together or the clerk in the Records Office refused to open the rule book and comprehend simple rudimentary English.


Anonymous said...

Well said.
Maybe if some member of AFT who is reading this article decides to take sou moto cognigense and takes it up for hearing and some decision.

sreekumar said...

sir,vetran prabhjot sing has written to defence minister and prime minister about ministries non implementation of enhanced medical allowance orders of may 2010 till date to defence pensiners,is not this callousness on the part of defence ministry officials ?

Anonymous said...

Once again an article giving absolutely true picture. We all (atleast majority ) seem to know what is wrong ,why and where.Do our BABUS who are dealing with Armed Forces cases know ? It appears they are intentionally ignoring and using delaying tactics to harrass the ESM who have given best of their time to the nation. Now when they need assisstance it is almost being denied.Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Hope sustains life !!!

Anonymous said...

A very nicely laid down concept and definitely informative at least to those who do have the opportunity of surfing through the internet.The question,however remains as to why this should not be a matter of worry !Highly irresponsible role of the concerned bureaucrats, in terms of misinterpretations etc is harming the morale of troops who are, very often,being sabotaged by way of loosing their legitimate entitlements for years sometimes!It is not understood why the welfare points of troops should not be dealt with on DUE PRIORITY.It needs no additional intelligence to understand that by the time some favorable decisions taken,a good number of veterans may not be there to enjoy the benefits and is grossly unfortunate.It is felt that there should be very strong and effective representations to the responsible head(s) of the Govt.to ensure timely issuing of the orders relating to interest of the troops, both in service and veterans, to enable them to hold the highest degree of morale for which they are meant.

S>Kanthiah said...

Dear Sir,
A very useful and informative in a nicel worded article , Thank you Sir.
Sgt.S.Kanthiah, Exweltrust, Tamil Nadu.

PRONOB ROY said...

You are absolutely bang on correct sir.The isue remains on the accountability of the officer who runs through the notings and circulars put up by the clerk.For pensioners the woes continues into the bank.Recently when I confronted the pension cell in SBI Kolkata I was faced with a ridiculous answer that PayBand 4 cannot be given to the widow pensioner because it is not recorded in the excel sheet.When you threaten with direct litigation people start responding.

Anonymous said...

May some one take up the case of disability pensionary awards on percentage basis for pre 1-1-06 retired ESM with any AFT / any concerned authorities.
The orders on the subject are getting unduly delayed.
For civilians the OM was issued
on 30-9-10.