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 Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained.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

Friday, January 27, 2012

Social media and the Armed Forces : Need to refrain from knee-jerk reactions

The Indian Navy’s Facebook incident has again brought into light the subject of serving defence officers and the use of internet.

Though not in favour of making cyberspace free for uninhibited travel, I feel that the issue needs to be tackled in a holistic manner by maintaining an adequate amount of discretion but at the same time not losing touch with the necessities of modern life.

Press reports suggest that some kind of action is in the offing against the naval officers involved in the episode. In my opinion, two things need to be examined before the Navy proceeds in the matter. One, whether the information shared was such which was not already available in any public domain including the net or any military-related publication or journal, and two, whether there was any intention on the part of the officers to disseminate such information to persons who should not have been privy to the same.

More often than not, the call for action related to interaction of serving officers over the internet emanates from over-sensitive and touchy seniors who are not tech-savvy. Usually, such actions are merely knee-jerk reactions which are not in tune with the reality of the times.

So what is the way out? I feel there has to be a democratic inter-service debate on the issue and it should be discussed threadbare as to how broad guidelines could be incorporated which bring about a certain amount of cyber security taking into account our requirements of maintaining confidentiality in some areas, but at the same time not overly imposing an embargo on individual freedom and human interaction.

If this report is to be believed, then defence personnel are soon going to be asked not to comment on government or military policies. This attitude itself, in the past, has led to the constant derailment of military service from the pecking order as well as the absence of the military from the wish-list of job-seekers. Lack of discussion on issues affecting service-members has direct linkage with ignorance further leading to absence of exercise of rights where required and denial of benefits– the Sixth Pay Commission and its aftermath bears testimony to what I say. No, ignorance no longer remains bliss. If we continue treading this path, the future is not difficult to predict. Even otherwise, the statutory rules in this regard are surprisingly not archaic, despite the fact that these were promulgated in the 1950s. For example, the only prohibition in the Army is that, inter alia, service information is not to be communicated to the press or published in any book, letter, article or document without sanction of the Govt or an officer specified in this behalf (See Army Rule 21). Hence, there is no restriction whatsoever on discussion of any topic under the sun on any forum, the restriction is only on publication. Moreover, with the advancement of time, discussions on the internet or social networking sites are mere substitutes of drawing-room talk of the yesteryears. Times have changed and organisations must also march on.

Till the time our own decision makers (read imposers) become tech-savvy and net-educated, our military shall remain embodied in a time-warp. The US Army, which is handling much more sensitive missions domestically and abroad, and which has its fingers in many pies, has constructively used technology for betterment and openness. They have an official Army Blog and so do most of the other arms and services. The US Army also has a major presence on twitter while we are mulling banning the entire spectrum of social media.

While writing this, I am reminded of a tweet this morning by a retired officer. He felt that banning or curbing social media could become a major demotivating factor for youth aspiring to join the Army at all levels. This very important aspect is actually a point currently not even on our radar. We must find a practical and balanced solution in consonance with the times which would not only ensure personal freedom but also hands-on adherence to security requirements. If social media is taken as an enemy of security then so could be normal day to day human interaction, all types of computing devices and mobiles. Would be, or could we ban those too?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

OPed : Lokpal and the defence services - case for an inclusive approach

In continuation of the earlier debate on this blog, I am reproducing my OPed on the subject that has appeared in 'The Tribune' today :


The Services need to follow an inclusionary approach

Major Navdeep Singh

The reaction amongst the military community was euphoric when it came to light that the Parliament had agreed on keeping the Armed Forces out of the purview of the Lok Pal.

Why the elation, one may ask? The exclusion only leads to the solidification of the ‘holy cow’ image and a message is sent out that the Armed Forces do not want the cloak of secrecy to be removed since there are skeletons to hide, which in fact is not the case at all. Being one of the cleanest institutions, the Armed Forces must set an example and welcome probity of any kind rather than revelling in the bloated myth of being ‘different’.

National security and operational aspects have become the much flogged reasons for circumventing transparency not only in the defence services but elsewhere too, and the gullible public, including the lawmakers, buy it in the name of patriotism. But real patriotism would only be displayed when the uniformed forces go all out to embrace the concept of Lok Pal in line with the national effort.

Pointed out repeatedly is the theoretical plank by the defence forces of historically not sparing the guilty in corruption cases and the strong in-house mechanisms available. However this approach may be conceptually faulty. Firstly because the system within the forces is not properly geared up or attuned to handle even normal criminal offences, and secondly, when the already existing provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act have neither effectively worked nor resulted in deterrence in the ‘outside world’, it would be otiose to expect that the existing system would augur well for the forces. Yes, the judicial system of the defence services has seen speedier trials and has been quick in convictions but the question whether it conforms to the well-established democratic principles of jurisprudence has always remained debatable. The ratio of the persons tried vis-à-vis those convicted would establish the effectiveness but not necessarily the correctness of a system.

The Lok Pal, in whichever format it buds ultimately, brings to our country an expert body to handle matters related to corruption. Except areas of national defence wherein security or operational aspects are involved, all other zones must remain open to the new system as envisaged. It is common knowledge that defence deals are a major source of corruption all over the world and involve an interplay of military and civilian elements. Keeping defence officers out of it would mean that while civilian officers would face the probity of Lok Pal and the effectiveness of its expertise, the ones in uniform would continue to be governed by existing laws, though the offence would be the same and maybe arising out of the same transaction. Rather than leading to harmonising of procedures, this would lead to creating utter disarray. It is almost universally agreeable that defence procurement, supplies, contracts and construction require more rectitude than prevalent, and logically hence it should hurt none if these aspects are brought under the eye of the Lok Pal.

Being pleased about having been excluded from the law of the land which applies to others has a sinister off-shoot. The differential treatment accorded to defence services in such situations is used as a plank to deny benefits which are available to others. Already, the facilities and advantages provided to defence personnel have become pinpricks leading to sadistic behaviour amongst the policy-making machinery which in turn stonewalls all progressive proposals for betterment of pay, allowances, status and pensionary awards to defence personnel. Factors such as availability of subsidised liquor and soaps from canteens at a rupee less than the market become sore points and reasons for denial of progression for serving and retired defence personnel. Otherwise who could explain the fact that today when almost every officer of the organised Group-A services is retiring with the pay and pension equal to a Lieutenant General on a non-functional basis even when not actually promoted with the additional benefit of virtually ‘One Rank One Pension’ through the back-door, most of the military counterparts retire as Colonels. 

The Services Headquarters are focussing more on fortifying the imagery of exclusion of the military from the others and trumpeting operational facets by placing the future of millions of serving and retired personnel at stake as far as their status, pay, allowances and pensions are concerned, by blindly towing the line and opinion of non-military officers in important wings such as the ‘Personnel Services Directorate’ rather than concentrating on awareness and amalgamation of the military with the mainstream. For example, the creation of the concept of ‘Rank Pay’ during the Fourth Pay Commission, and moving away from normal pay-scales as applicable to all other services, was one such step which though established the military as ‘different’, resulted not only in financial loss but utter chaos and degradation of status of military officers, the after-effects of which are there for all to see with litigation pending on the subject even three decades later. A Selection Grade Major who used to draw the pay of a Director of the Central Govt prior to the Fourth Pay Commission is today granted two steps lower pay which is equal to an Under Secretary to Govt of India, all thanks to the introduction of the ‘Rank Pay’. The differential, and sometimes preferential, treatment also means that most progressive concepts introduced for other services are not made applicable to those in the military since the defence services are ‘different’. Already the defence services have no role to play in policy-making or in the Rules of Business contrary to the system prevalent for their counterparts, already the military’s internal bureaucracy is busy indulging in self-defeatist moves which are more harmful than external orchestration and where the end result is that the welfare, remuneration and pension related provisions are unilaterally thrust upon defence personnel all because the energies are focussed on issues which are more ceremonial or pseudo-operational and less substantial. Thanks to self-imposed exclusionary politics, these are actions that may result in great pomp & show and chest thumping within the perimeter of a cantonment, but a slide in the real society from where we all come from, that society where Lok Pal shall apply. Moving away from the ordinary populace could well lead to alienation.

Being under the Lok Pal would be beneficial and not detrimental to the defence services. There is nothing to fear if there is nothing to hide. All references in the final Act to Group-A officers must also apply to Commissioned Officers, while those to Group-B and Group-C staff should be applicable to Junior Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks respectively. Of course, security, operational and intelligence related aspects should be totally excluded and the RTI experience could provide a lead in that arena. Not only would it show that the defence services have no skeletons in the cupboard and are open to scrutiny from all quarters, but once the annual returns of prosecutions are made public after the implementation of the Act, it would also prove, reinforce and strengthen that the levels of corruption in the defence services are lower than others, and in that sense, the services are truly ‘different’.

Maj Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate of the High Court. He is also the President of the AFT Bar Association. Views expressed are personal. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Family Pension to missing personnel / pensioners : fresh proactive instructions

The modalities of grant of family pension to the families of missing personnel, and the issues concerning the same, have been discussed on this blog before.

Till now, the family pension was only granted to the wife of the missing individual and not to other members of the family, even if eligible for family pension. Actually, in my opinion, there was nothing in the rules to bar members other than the wife to receive the pension in case otherwise entitled under the rules, but the Govt had a different take on the interpretation.

The Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare (DoPPW) has now explicitly clarified that in cases of missing employees or pensioners, the pension can flow to any of the members who are eligible for the same as per rules, including children.

The clarification has been issued on 02 Jan 2012. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare unilaterally issues a fresh version of Pension Regulations for the Army

So there you have it, the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (sic) (DESW), on 06 Jan 2012, has issued Pension Regulations for the Army (2008), purportedly approved by the ‘Raksha Mantri’. These Regulations supposedly supersede the Pension Regulations of 1961. Though the Regulations have been issued on 06 Jan 2012 and only apply to those who were released after 2008, these have not incorporated the drastic pensionary changes made by the 6th CPC which according to the DESW would be included in the form of ‘insertions’ to be decided by the office of the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pensions). These Regulations of 2008 have been jointly drafted by the office of the CGDA and PCDA(P). It seems  illogical that these Regulations of ‘2008’ have been issued in 2012 and that too without incorporating changes introduced by the 6th CPC w.e.f 01-01-2006. What was the tearing hurry? Preliminarily speaking, even otherwise, rather than entrusting such an important policy-work to policy makers and experts at the govt level, the DESW has gone by the drafting submitted by defence accountants. But strictly speaking, are these Regulations even valid or legal?

I would say, No.

My observations on this move :-

(1) The mandate for dealing with general pensionary guidelines of civil, defence and railway pensioners is of the Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare (DoPPW) under the Constitutional Allocation of Business Rules of the Govt of India, and not of the DESW. In fact, the DESW does not even have staff which can understand the fine modalities of pension issues. Hence to issue such ‘Regulations’ without the sanction of DoPPW prima-facie appears to be without authority. It also seems that even the Department of Expenditure (DoE) has not been consulted.

(2) Many provisions which have been quashed, read-down, struck-down or differently interpreted by Courts and Tribunals, including the Supreme Court, find place in these Regulations of 2008. Not only unlawful, but such an action could be downright contemptuous, and the fact that the Raksha Mantri has been made to ‘approve’ such a document speaks volumes of the extent of application of mind prevalent at the DESW. Many provisions are also in direct contravention of general DoPPW policies and clarifications.

(3) Many of the provisions mentioned in the ‘new’ Regulations have been totally done away with or abrogated by the 5th and 6th CPCs. Some of the newly cast Regulations actually take away certain benefits which were available to defence pensioners till date. Through innocuous re-casting of some Regulations, certain very pertinent benefits have in fact been abolished.

(4) As explained above, pensionary provisions of general nature have always been a subject matter of the DoPPW and have earlier been issued after acceptance of Pay Commission recommendations by the Cabinet through Presidential sanctions. It seems strange that the DESW has chosen to circumvent established precedents and has gone about modifying provisions approved by the Cabinet and notified through Presidential orders through these locally issued ‘Regulations’.

(5) According to DoPPW guidelines, constitutionally empowered to promulgate pensionary policies of pensioners including defence pensioners, pensionary rules can only be changed through a democratic consultative process which also involves other stake-holders including recognised pension associations. Has the same been done in this case? The answer is in the negative. Was even the Army HQ consulted on this?

(6) How could such an important task be entrusted to CGDA or PCDA(P). These agencies are neither policy makers nor authorities competent to alter existing pensionary matters and are only accounting instrumentalities. How could ‘teams’ of such agencies be detailed to draft Pension Regulations. 

In short, these Regulations are a piece of work by defence accountants forcibly thrust upon millions of retired defence personnel, who, it seems do not have any say in matters which affect their future and also the future of their families. There has been no spade work by the authorities actually competent to modify or rationalise existing provisions and the issue has been dealt with hurriedly, without application of mind, and in fact without authority.

According to the DoPPW, the list of stake-holders involved for modification or inception of pensionary policies is as follows :-

“User GOI Ministries / Departments including CGA, CPAO & CGDA, Pensioners/Family Pensioners, Pensioners’ Associations, Banks/Treasuries/Post offices, Serving employees”

Let the DESW clarify if any of the above were consulted before unilaterally imposing these new Pension Regulations on defence pensioners and family pensioners? In fact, these are not 'Regulations' but the imposition of the will of a couple of accountants whose limited understanding, drafting and thought-process has been thrust upon pensioners forcibly. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Additional Ex-gratia lumpsum payment to invalided personnel as per Union budget announcement : Implemented for defence services finally

This is with reference to the blogpost of 09 May 2011 wherein it was informed that as announced by the Finance Minister during the Union budget, orders for a fresh scheme for grant of a lumpsum ex-gratia amount for invalided personnel had been issued on the civil side for Central Armed Police Forces (formerly known as Central Paramilitary Forces). 

The said orders have been issued for defence services now, effective from the same date as applicable to civil personnel. 

Defence personnel disabled with attributable / aggravated disabilities and consequently invalided out shall now be entitled to Rs 900,000 (Nine Lacs) for 100% disability, proportionately reduced for lesser percentage of disability. The said lumpsum shall be applicable for people with 20% or above disability and the provisions of broad-banding or rounding-off of percentage for purposes of calculation of disability element shall not be applicable for computation of the newly introduced ex-gratia lumpsum.

The scheme is a fresh welfare measure with no connection with the recommendations of the pay commission and hence shall be made applicable only to those personnel who were invalided out / boarded out with more than 20% disability after 01-04-2011.

This ex-gratia lumpsum shall be in addition to the war-injury pension / disability pension / CAA etc and other welfare related schemes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A very Happy New Year, followed by an important point of debate

Those who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves
-       William Hazlett

Once again, here’s hoping for world peace in 2012.

A very Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.

Now on with a very important issue for 2012.

As all of us know, the defence services have been kept out of the purview of the Lok Pal, as envisaged. Many serving and former service-members have expressed great happiness over it.

I would like to gather from the readers whether they feel this move (of exclusion of defence services) is in the overall long-term benefit of the forces or not.

Individual views on the subject may be projected on the comments section of this blog-post.

Thank You