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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. 


Anonymous said...

Maj Navdeep,
An excellent article.
Well, defence services should be under the Lokpal. Then please remove all other restrictions on defence personnel like restrictions on forming associations, restrictions on interacting with media etc etc and of course, the army, navy and air force acts. Let defence services be at par with civil services in all respects. Just to bring in additional scrutiny of lokpal in the present circumstances will definitely create a problem in my humble view.

Lastly, sir you brought out that the problems of 4th pay commission and subsequent degradation are because defence services wanted to be different by asking for rank pay. In my humble view, the degradation has taken place because defence services have not had guts to challenge them at the right times and in right manner and not because so called rank pay.

NFFU for civilian officers is a good move. But it is very obvious to everyone that if there was ever a requirement of NFFU it is for defence services only as the officers are not even considered for promotion after the so called three chances are over. Whereas in civil, one's seniority is retained till retirement for promotion. and promotions are held after DPC wherein everyone gets through. NFFU is not granted for defence services again because they do not have the vision, and guts to take up the case as required.

Anonymous said...

Navdeep sir
you are our only hope. The inclusion of defence forces in lokpal will create problems only for top bosses. whereas as you mentioned that once this holy cow image of defence forces goes away we may also get benefits as any group A officer gets.

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,

I fully agree with you that the 'holy cow' treatment is not necessary.
All officers whether civilian or military should be equal under law; but then they should be also under 'EQUAL LAW'. If u feel that Lokpal imposes a stricter law / procedure on the civilian today, then what about the absurdly draconian terms of the Army/ Navy Acts. We have Kangaroo courts in the Fauj where the sentences are pre-decided often against the individual because he dared to take on the system. In other cases of minor corruption I have seen very heavy handed punishments being meted out while civilians guilty of similar offences get away easily. A case in point is the rude and difficuly behaviour of MoD civilian staff and officers. A rule JCO would have been shunted off to the border while the Babu or his staff rule. The Services have the all along prided, at least publicly , that they are the Ceasar's wife in society. This has ensured that minor misdemeanours are dealt with losses of seniority , loss of rank, dismissal from service without benefits etc. This was the same Act that empowered the Govt to dismiss Adm Vishnu Bhagwat so summarily. Could a babu, however lowly placed be dismissed so summarily, in disgrace?
I am not condoning Fauji corruption or mistakes; but we should have only one law for all for civil offences. An MES Major serving under a SE is punished harshly for the same corruption while the SE gets a mild rap and prompt promotion thro NFSG.
Why is it that a Colonel cannot be shown his ACR, why does not a Colonel get NFFU, NFSG, why does the Colonel have to face enemy guns and take bullets in his bum while no civilian needs to etc etc. Because the holy cow tag was not sought but a necessity as the Fauji, defacto, had a tougher role than a pen pushing Babu or a glorified accountant that a PCDA is.
In conclusion, I feel that we should have a uniform code of Justice for all and have the same Lokpal. But all other terms of employment, promotions ,perks, priveleges etc should be unified as well. We should be clearly classified as either All India Service or the Gp A.

corona8 said...

"...subsidised liquor and soaps from canteens at a rupee less..."

In that sphere also the differential comes at the cost of being denied availability of brands of one's own preference.

Harry said...

@ Maj Navdeep

Congrats for the excellent article. The wrtie up is well reasoned and fully hits the nail on the head. I fully agree with each and every word written in the article.

WWell Done Sir !!!

ninihala said...

I agree with you that AFs should also be under Lokpal. We are different, not by virtue of privileges, but by virtue of our sacrifice and honour.
However, few points need attention. Presently, under Adjustment of Jurisdiction rules, AF authorities can claim any case from civilian courts. But that is not available in case of offences against womene.g. dowry etc. Similar would be the case for Lokpal offences. I feel that either we strike down ibid Rules or we bring all offences under said Rules.
If Lokpal offences are claimable by Army Courts, it would again create a dichotomous situation as happened in Tehelka case where service personnel were summarily punished but civs are still to be brought to book.
It also brings us to larger question of validity of many provns of AA under current circumstances. Powers under AA sec 80-85 are Jurassic. They were required in colonial India when soldiers could be punished without fair trial. Same for SCM.
I conclude by saying that forum for trial under Lokpal should be same for everybody.

JB Singh said...

It would be naive to paint the defence services a virginal white.

Lok Pal is definitely required but not in the manner as envisaged for the civil. We can instead have an institution akin to that of the Inspector General Army who superintends all functions a Lok Pal is supposed to.

Senior officers despite their platitudes are loath to concede privileges to the lower rank and file - even to officers just one rank below. (We have slogged for these, so we shall preserve them for ourselves... is the oft quoted argument). Instead artificial levels of privilege are created to maintain a sharp schism between different ranks. So, we can never ever dream of a situation where everyone retires with a NFFU grade.

ranjay said...

this is my feeling , am not very sure...but this armed forces thing may be for CPMFs too. may be they want the omission in veil of AFs....there is very little that an armed forces officer need to worry on corruption front. & well if he is worried than thats something really bad....IF RTI COULD BE IMPLEMENTED, THIS LOKPAL MUST BE....

Justin N Christian said...

I fully agree with the views expressed by Maj Navdeep, a well said and well directed article.
Let it be any strong judiciary in any form,the point is defence personnel should get their rightfull dues including " roti kapda makan aur of course orop" .

Anonymous said...

Are Armed Forces involved in public dealings or public affairs?

Are the Armed Forces involved in dispensing public justice or involved in public administration?

If not then what Lokpal??

Are not the Armed Forces already under their own draconian laws that you want to drag them to public affairs?

Then they are "Not Inclusive" of Public Service then why treat them at par with others who have better rights and opportunities of defence?

Not a good idea at all .

Yogi said...

Army, Navy and AF should demand that they be placed under Lokpal jurisdiction in administrative matters. This will improve quality of services provided by MES, Defence Estate and Procurements by MOD as also services like AOC, EME and ASC.

rajawat said...

maj navdeep has failed here to justify the reasons for LOKPAL in armed forces . instead he has chosen to highlight humiliation of armed forces . which is really not point here . it also prove one point that some times outside advice is necessary , because insiders are grown with a set mind so they can think beyond their own domain .
post started well but deviated mid course to irreverent issues here . though these issues needs attention , but maj navdeep fully ignored the views expressed by many viewers in response to another post on same subject . no body can find out reading this post why LOKPAL is necessary for Armed forces . please be specific concentrate only on relevent issues in a particular post . mixing Latin with Greek create problems .

Anonymous said...

oh balle, Uncle Rajawat is here. First a request to Major Navdeep Singh : No need to show extra fairness by allowing the posting of such comments as Rajawats. We would much rather not read drunk posts/comments.

Now for Mr. Rajawat : Uncle, which brand are you drinking right now? the post that he has reproduced on the blog was published in a newspaper and was his personal opinion i think, he was not bound to repeat the opinions of "viewers" as you have called them. a cursory look at the opinions of the "viewers" also shows that majority of "viewers" do not share your views.

stargroup said...

i do not advocate the extension of LOKPAL to Armed Forces due to following reasons

a.0 it is not for the protection of holy cow image .but the fact is that in discharge of any type of duty one can not act precisely as per written rules . if it was so and system could function with in auto pilot mode , then u and me or a large strength of govt servants is not required . in fact at every stage of working of system humen intervention or decision making is required .at most of times no clear choice of decision making is available which strictly fit in all rules . even in all systems there are some inefficient people , there are some black sheep even ,ant the system has to move forward along with all its deficiencies . making no decision at all for the fear of a mistake is worst of all situations .so if lokpal is invoked at all levels then system will be crippled .
b.0 in armed forces the quick decision making is must . so if there is another hanging sword over all decision makers then how they will work
c.) there is so much infighting in Armed forces that it will everybody will fight everybody else that Armed forces will become a complete mess .

d.) holy cow image for armed force is required because it is the last hope of country .

e.) Armed forces get their strength from the support of their country men , if dirt lenin is washed in public why country men will support Rmed forces .

f.) so let the LOKpal get first be stabilised in civil , and seeing its effectiveness we can think of extending it to armed forces for the time being status quo is the best policy

rajawat said...

a tendency has been shown here by some people to attack any thing , which is said contrary .

Madhukarkuls said...

I have been following this blog for quite some time now. I have the following observations to make:-
1. there are only a limited number of people posting their comments.
2. most of the comments are rhetoric in nature and are not substantiated by fair logic.
3. Some members unnecessarily resort to personal comments which is not in consonance with the values and ethics in the armed forces.
4. This blog, though informative , does not command a wide viewership.
If we want this blog to benefit a larger section of our personnel , we should find out means to make it reach most of our community by some means or the other

rajesh said...

Maj Navdeep, congrats for well thougt out views.If we do not have anything to hide in our organisation why fear Lok Pal.Let us be open to any scrutiny and there after command and demand the respect and priveleges due to us. However we should in mind that there is lot else to be done besides Lokpal to get our place in sun

Anonymous said...

The Jan Lokpal Bill aims to effectively deter corruption, redress grievances of citizens, and protect whistle-blowers. If made into law, the bill would create an independent ombudsman body called the Lokpal (Sanskrit: protector of the people). It would be empowered to register and investigate complaints of corruption against politicians and bureaucrats without prior government approval.

All these things exists in the Army Air Force or Naval acts. Even Lt gens have been Court Martialed under those acts. All ranks under the act have rights of complain and seek redressal upto govt of India level.

Now if you further bring Armed Forces under Lok Pal, there would be so much interference in the functioning of the Forces that instead of doing their jobs they will be attending courts only.

Higher level corruption involving procurement etc happens at govt level who would be under Lok Pal. Cases of irregularity by authorities of Armed Forces can be addressed to the govt who is answerable.

Let us not bring Armed Forces under Lok Pal just for the pleasure of it if all mechanism exist to try cases of corruption. For Civil bureaucracy such mechanism has failed but not the Armed Forces system !

Sathye said...

At the end of the day Lokpal will be another retired IAS babu like the CAG and CVC. Beyond making a huge hole in the exchequer and creating another layer of vested interests, nothing can be expected of the Lokpal babudom. As every minion started issuing Army Regulations it makes no difference if AF in or out of Lokpal.

Anonymous said...

before commenting anything for this blog kindly recollect just one thing that if Lt col got their due in the form of PB4 just because of Admiral mehta and because of this blog which was being read and written on by almost all Lt col then.

Lt Col IS Gill, Veteran, MHOW said...

Dear Maj Navdeep,

Please accept my congrats on very well written piece on 'Lokpal'. If those (who matter) read it carefully, you have sent a very well worded message on OROP as well as old case of IV pay commission on 'rank pay'.

I would request you to continue with your 'well written' pages to Press, as a lot of people are put wise on the issues involved with ESM and Services. Merely writing emails in ESM circles does not serve any purpose; rather we stat finding faults in ANGREZI of others.

Well done and keep it going.


Lt Col IS Gill, Veteran