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 Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained.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

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Incorrect pension to families of Lt Cols : Clarification issued

As discussed earlier, the Ministry of Defence, in its letter dated 15-11-2010, had incorrectly mentioned the ordinary family pension in respect of Lt Cols as Rs 8760/- per month whereas it should have actually been Rs 15420/- per month.

The PCDA(P) had also floated a circular to all Pension Disbursing Agencies (PDAs) with the same incorrect amount.

However now, the PCDA(P) vide a circular issued on 22-02-2011, has clarified the following to all PDAs :

“There shall be no change in the entitlement of the rates of minimum guaranteed family pension for the rank of Lt Col (TS) / Lt Col (S) which had already been notified as 15420/- pm under VI CPC vide MOD letter dated 21.05.2009 and circulated vide this office circular No. 412 dated 26.05.2009”

Affected families can now breathe easy !

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Revised letter on casualty / disability / war-injury pensionary awards for pre-2006 retirees based on 6th CPC scales issued

As reported here earlier, the letter on modified parity for casualty awards has finally been issued. Casualty awards from now onwards are to be calculated based on 6th CPC scales.

The letter can be accessed and downloaded by clicking here. Please do not mail me individual requests for the same, such requests shall not be replied to.

In brief, this shall be the fresh entitlement with effect from 01-01-2006 :

Special Family Pension : Would not be less than 60% of minimum of 6th CPC pay band + Grade Pay + Military Service Pay + X Group Pay (wherever applicable) corresponding to the rank held.

Liberalized Family Pension : Would not be less than the (100% of) minimum of 6th CPC pay band + Grade Pay + Military Service Pay + X Group Pay (wherever applicable).

Disability Element : Would not be less than 30% of the minimum of 6th CPC pay band + Grade Pay + Military Service Pay + X Group Pay (wherever applicable) for 100% disability, proportionately reduced for lesser disability.

War Injury Element : Would not be less than 60% of the minimum of 6th CPC pay band + Grade Pay + Military Service Pay + X Group Pay (wherever applicable) for 100% disability proportionately reduced for lesser disability in cases of retirement / discharge and 100% of the minimum of 6th CPC pay band + Grade Pay + Military Service Pay + X Group Pay (wherever applicable) for 100% disability proportionately reduced for lesser disability in cases of invalidment.

Other finer modalities can be seen from the letter.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Probably the first reference to the National Litigation Policy in a judgement : Directorate General Border Roads bears the brunt, and rightly so !

Close to the heels of the last post comes this one. Regular readers would be aware of the National Litigation Policy discussed here umpteen number of times (See it here and here).

Directorate General of Border Roads bore the brunt of the observations of the Punjab & Haryana High Court and rightly so.

After the 5th CPC, the Govt of India had promulgated a policy for grant of family pension to parents of those employees who die in harness without leaving behind a widow or a child. As per 5th CPC guidelines, such pension was only admissible if the monthly earning of parents was less than Rs 2550 per month.

A Single Bench of the Hon’ble High Court allowed the petition of a poor mother of one such deceased GREF employee with a detailed judgement by coming to the conclusion that she was covered under the policy and her family income including the income of her husband fell below the criterion of the government. The pension was made admissible for the period when 5th CPC was in vogue.

The Union of India however challenged the said verdict before the Division Bench of the High Court through a Letter Patents Appeal (LPA) alleging that the mother was earning more than the limit of Rs 2550 per month since her husband was a pensioner in receipt of a basic pension of Rs 3500 which was more than the limit of Rs 2550. The Govt also placed on record a pension certificate from a bank to prove the same.

However the Division Bench was appalled by the conduct and observed that the Union of India had placed on record a pension certificate dated 09-10-2010 and which reflected pension after the 6th CPC while the earning criterion of Rs 2550 was applicable after the 5th CPC till the 6th CPC, that is, till 01-01-2006. It is yet another story that the income criterion after the 6th CPC has already been increased and notified as Rs 3500 + applicable DA.

The attitude of the Government and our officialdom is clearly on display through such actions. Firstly, the govt, going totally against the National Litigation Policy brought into force by the Law Ministry, filed an appeal against a hapless mother. Secondly, in a blatant case of misleading the Court and probably misleading even the Govt counsel, the department chose to rely on a pension statement of the 6th CPC based on post-2006 scales to beat the income criterion of the 5th CPC for the period 1996 onwards. Moreover, the mother was covered even under the 6th CPC criterion currently in vogue since the said bar has already been raised to Rs 3500 + DA with effect from 01-01-2006.

Here is what the Hon’ble High Court had to say about the state of affairs :

We are further of the view that this appeal is an illustration of unnecessary litigation initiated at the instance of Union of India. We find that the appellants have failed to keep in view the latest National Litigation Policy as has been reported in (2010 6 SCC J-17). In paragraph VI, the issue of filing of appeals has been dealt with. However, the appeals concerning service matters have been dealt with in Clause D, which reads as under:- * * * *

A perusal of the aforesaid Clause 'D' would show that no appeal is to be filed in cases where the matter pertains to pension or retiral benefits, provided it does not involve any principle or financial implications. In the present case, there is hardly any financial implication and the arguments raised by obtaining the latest certificate of pension given to the husband of the petitioner-respondent are wholly unwarranted. If in the original instructions issued more than 12 years ago, the rate of pension has been kept on the basis of cut of date of 1.1.1996 which has been necessarily revised w.e.f. 1.1.2006 then it would not lie in the mouth of the appellant-Union of India to argue that the revised rate shall be taken into account to non suit the petitioner-respondent.

Accordingly, the appeal is a frivolous piece of litigation, which could have been easily avoided. Thus, it fails and the same is dismissed with costs of Rs.10,000/-, which shall be deposited with the Member Secretary, Mediation and Conciliation Centre, Punjab & Haryana High Court, Chandigarh.”

This is nothing but administrative ego at play. The lady was being penalised for having bravely challenged a blatantly illegal act of the concerned authorities. And the beauty of it all was that she was squarely covered under the existing policy !

Saturday, February 19, 2011

If the state of affairs of pensioners in Punjab has opened up a “Pandora’s box”, what can be said about Defence Pensioners ?

The problems being faced by pensioners in Punjab is zilch when compared to the millions of pensioners, disability pensioners and family pensioners at the receiving end of the MoD, PCDA(P) and our Record Offices. Despite serious and laudable efforts by the Services HQrs, the problem, at the moment, appears unmanageable.

But it is worth reading how the Hon’ble Supreme Court has castigated the State of Punjab on the subject as reported in the Indian Express today :

Denial of retiral benefits to a Class III employee by the Punjab government seems to have opened a Pandora’s box. The Supreme Court has not only dismissed Punjab’s Special Leave Petition (SLP) challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict allowing retiral benefits to the aggrieved retired employee Karnail Singh but also called for the complete details of the status, period and reason for delay in all those cases of government employees, who have not been given retiral benefits even a long time after their attaining superannuation.

Complying with the Apex Court’s January 28 order, the state government admitted that as many as 2,790 government employees of different ranks and 66 departments were still awaiting pension and other benefits after their retirement.

As per admission, the government was sitting on retiral benefits of its employees for as long as 22 years and also many retired employees had already died without getting pension and other benefits.

Citing various reasons like pending court litigation, criminal cases, departmental inquiries and various objections, the government admitted that employees of Gurdaspur Deputy Commissioner’s office and Revenue, Rehabilitation and Disaster Management were awaiting pension for 22 years, those of Punjab State Power Corporation Limited for 19 years; Food, Civil Supply and Consumer Affairs for over 17 years; Dairy Development for 16 years, several teachers for over 15 years and hundreds of employees from various departments who were not paid retiral benefits up to 15 years after retirement.

In a comprehensive affidavit annexed with 244 pages, Secretary to Punjab Department of Pensions and Welfare of Pensioners, HIS Grewal, submitted that the matter is being given top priority, utmost seriousness and strict directions have been issued to all the Administrative Secretaries to decide the pending cases expeditiously. The affidavit will come up before the Supreme Court on February 21, the next date of hearing in the case. On January 28, the SC division bench, comprising Justice GS Singhvi and Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly, had taken on record an affidavit filed by Secretary, Personnel, BS Sudan, which was not found satisfactory.

Earlier, the SC had also sought similar information from Punjab and Haryana High Court Registrar General, who had submitted that as many as 766 writ petitions and 106 regular second appeals were pending before the HC in relation to the claim of employees for grant of retiral benefits. Two such cases were of 1989 while a few were of 1990 and 1999.

It was on November 26 that the SC had dismissed Punjab’s SLP while observing, “Punjab is known for indulging in frivolous litigation involving low paid employees. This SLP is one such piece of litigation in which legality of the order passed by HC single judge directing payment of pension to respondent has been challenged.”

“We regretfully note that employees and officers of different cadres are forced to litigate in the court by spending their hard earned money for vindication of their legal and constitutional rights for payment of retiral dues,” the SC Judges had noted.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The 20% disability misconception

Defence personnel and Record offices are still under the misconception that a minimum 20% disability is required for earning a disability element of disability pension. This misconception stems from the fact that the said 20% figure is mentioned in Regulations 48 and 173 of the Pension Regulations dealing with grant of disability pension.

However, the said criterion of 20% minimum requirement has already been abrogated with effect from 01-01-1996 but only for invalided personnel. Hence, there is no requirement of minimum 20% disability for earning a disability element for those post-1996 retirees who were invalided from service and such invalided personnel are entitled to a disability element by rounding off the disability to 50% even in case they are medically boarded out with 01% disability. The minimum 20% disability requirement however remains intact for those disabled retirees who have been discharged on completion of terms or have superannuated.

The Govt, after the 5th CPC, had brought disabled defence personnel at par with civilian disabled personnel and had abrogated the minimum 20% requirement for earning a disability element for those personnel who were invalided. The reason for this was that normally it is not expected from the authorities to invalid out personnel with disabilities less than 20%, hence the govt had taken a considered decision that if such a situation arose then such invalided personnel shall be given the benefit of disability element with rounding off to 50% even if the disability was 01%.

This becomes clear from the heading of Para 7 and Para 7.2 of Govt of India, MoD Letter dated 31-01-2001 which provides that disabilities ‘less than 50%’, (that is, without any minimum criterion of 20%) would be reckoned as 50% for disability element purposes. Further the heading of Para 8 read with Para 8.1 and more particularly Para 8.2 clearly stipulate that in cases of individuals retained in service (and not invalided), no disability element shall be paid for disabilities below 20%. This condition of minimum 20% has only been imposed in Para 8 (retirement / discharge cases) and not in Para 7 (invalidation cases).

Though the office of the PCDA(P) and the MOD are both aware of the abrogation of the 20% criterion and are granting the benefit whenever papers are processed to them, many Record offices remain unaware of the same and are not sending the documents for continuation of disability pension in invalidation cases where the disability has fallen below 20% or when the disability was initially assessed at below 20% but still the person was invalided out.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Armed Forces Grievances Redressal Commission : Govt throws another spanner in the works

It may be recalled that the case ‘Pushpa Vanti Vs Union of India’ was fixed for 07 Feb 2011 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. This is the case wherein directions were issued to the Central Govt to constitute an Armed Forces Grievances Redressal Commission and the Union was supposed to apprise the Court of the steps taken in the said direction.

The Solicitor General however reportedly apprised the Court that the Central Govt was taking steps to bring justice to the ‘doorsteps’ of veterans and the Court adjourned the matter for 6 weeks asking the Govt to file an affidavit to the effect apprising the Court as to the details of the same.

It does not seem that the Govt is quite conducive to the idea of giving full effect to the judgement though as on date the directions very much stand till the time modified by the Bench.

The following order was passed by the Bench on 07 Feb 2011 :

“List after six weeks and by the next date, Learned Solicitor General of India undertakes to file an affidavitstating the details about the machinery which the CentralGovernment plans to improve for addressing the grievances inquestion. A copy of this order be given to the learnedSolicitor General of India today itself.”

Not much can be expected from the MoD's Department of Ex-Servicemen welfare though. The top brass of the said department does not know chalk from cheese and overly relies on the mid-level staff which is known to stone-wall any proactive or productive suggestion relating to the defence services. The pension wing of the department is in shambles, totally understaffed and mired in pessimism of the highest order, with their top man, an officer of the Central Secretariat Service who has remained posted in the MoD for an unusually long period, retiring in March with no replacement in sight (as if it matters !). The said wing also has the unique distinction of burdening the Services Headquarters and overloading the dockets of the Courts with the highest number of unwanted, uncalled for, hopeless litigation with a brazen non-committal attitude which is neither here nor there.

Let us see what magic the Solicitor General comes up with on the next date.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For officers involved in the RTI mechanism

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), through its Institute of Secretariat Training and Management, is organising a series of short courses on the RTI Act in the months of February and March.

The courses are open to all officers of the Government (including the defence services) who have been designated as Public Information Officers or Appellate Authorities under the RTI Act and also to those who are heads of public authorities. The courses are not chargeable and there is no course fee. Outstation officers shall be offered hostel facility in AC/Non-AC rooms on first-come first-served basis, in case so desired.

The details of the courses and the application process are available in the circular which can be accessed by clicking here. For more details, Mr Parth Vasaniya, the Assistant Director of the Institute, may be contacted on the email address mentioned in the circular.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

AFT has powers of contempt and can take coercive action in case of non-implementation of its orders : Kerala High Court

In a proactive decision, a Division Bench of the Hon’ble Kerala High Court has cleared the fog.

The High Court has held and interpreted that a combined reading of Sections 19 and 25 of the AFT Act and Rule 25 of the statutory AFT Procedure Rules, goes to show that the Tribunal shall very much have the inherent jurisdiction to take coercive action for non-implementation of its orders by treating it as criminal contempt. The High Court has ruled that non-implementation of the final orders of the Tribunal amounts to obstruction and interference with the course of justice, and is hence criminal contempt for which the Tribunal is entitled to initiate prosecution proceedings under Section 19(1) of the AFT Act. Usually, it is the jurisdiction under civil contempt that is invoked by Courts in cases of disobedience of orders and directions.

It may be recalled that while the powers of criminal contempt are explicitly provided to the Tribunal under the Act, there is no mention of civil contempt in the entire statute. The absence of substantive provisions of civil contempt in the AFT Act however appears to be deliberate rather than a mere omission since the Administrative Tribunals Act on the civil side (by which the Central Administrative Tribunals are governed) has granted full powers of civil contempt to CATs and moreover there is a mention of civil contempt in various rules and forms appended with the statutory AFT Rules also albeit without any supporting section in the primary Act, a fact which points to some kind of mischief at the drafting stage wherein the provision which existed in the initial drafts of the AFT Act was deliberately omitted from the final version submitted to the Law Ministry and then to the Parliament. Perhaps the Ministry of Defence knew that non-compliance of the orders would remain a rule rather than an exception. It may be recalled that more than 90% of orders passed by Hon’ble High Courts and Tribunals, especially in pensionary matters, are not implemented till the time a contempt petition is filed.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pension letter for revision of pre-2006 Territorial Army pensioners and ECOs/SSCOs who retired between 1-1-1996 and 31-12-2005

The pensionary modalities of TA pensioners are different than those of the regular army since the concept of weightage is not applicable to the Territorial Army. This had created major confusion for this category of pensioners after issuance of various pensionary letters by the MoD after the 6th CPC. Even the pensionary stipulation of post-1996 but pre-2006 ECOs/SSCOs required clarification. Such officers with pre-commissioned service are entitled to pension on completion of 12 years of service as against 20 years applicable for other commissioned officers.

The Ministry of Defence has clarified on the subject and the letter can be accessed by clicking here. It is again requested that requests for minute details or calculations may not kindly be directed to me.