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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

OPed in 'The Tribune' 26 June 2012 : ARMY SHOOTS ITSELF IN THE FOOT

The following appeared as an OPed in ‘The Tribune’ on 26 June 2012:-


Military turning against the military: In personnel policies, the Army is fast becoming its own greatest enemy

Major Navdeep Singh

Humans are alike. Wearing a uniform may suppress, but not fully insulate them from corruption, greed, power-play et al, vices inherent to human race. But besides grit and courage, what sets military personnel apart from the others is the sharp ability to self-destruct and to invent self-defeatist masterstrokes as far as welfare, manpower and personnel policies are concerned.

Whichever side one may be, what the Army Chief’s age row has brought fore is that there is a belief doing the rounds, factual or fictional, that meticulous surgically incisive processes are constantly at play where careers of those who may pose a future threat are played with crudely and ruthlessly and all this happens behind closed doors under a cloak of secrecy marked ‘national security’ which is not actually in consonance with the age of transparency we live in. The lucky few in key appointments have their way and others can only pull their hair in despair. The number of cases pending before Benches of the Armed Forces Tribunal and other Courts, and the kind of strictures passed on such matters bear testimony to the chaos at work. It is yet another matter that even in well-rounded verdicts, the system, out of egotism, tries its best to wear out its own personnel by litigating till the highest court.

While military officers are quick to point fingers at the bureaucrat, it is their own arbitrary and parochial attitude and policies, without any basic understanding or training for administration, that are to be blamed. In the bargain, the military becomes the military’s own greatest enemy.

The examples are many. Recently the Supreme Court reportedly reprimanded the Army for creating artificial hurdles for its own officers when an appeal was filed against a lady officer of the JAG whose case had been allowed by the AFT granting her promotions and permanent commission. Till date, the Army, based on an internal artificial interpretation by the MS Branch, is promoting Short Service Officers commissioned prior to 2006 as Captains in 9 years of service while those commissioned after 2006 are being promoted to the same rank in 2 years. The impediment was not created by with the Ministry of Defence, but by the Army. When the Military’s medical establishment was directed by Courts to grant medical facilities to its elderly retired Emergency Commissioned Officers based on an already existing Government Order, the Army itself was quick to challenge it before the Supreme Court. Imagine, the Army approaching the Supreme Court with a Prayer that the same Army may be directed to withdraw medical facilities from its own officers, some of them in their 80s.

When the Navy and Air Force vouched for implementation of Non-Functional Upgradation for the defence services, as already applicable to civil services, which guarantees the pay of a Lt Gen in a time-bound manner to superseded officers, the Army was the first to oppose putting across the banal argument that if implemented there would be ‘no charm for higher ranks’. When all Doctors of the Central Government were granted a ‘Dynamic Assured Progression Scheme’, the Army itself tooth and nail opposed its implementation for its own doctors on the pretext that doctors would then start getting higher salaries than other officers. While the civilian establishment is constantly blamed for degradation of status of military officers, the Army, in the Military Engineering Services (MES) itself places senior promotee military officers of the rank of Major and lady officers of similar rank as Assistant Garrison Engineers, an appointment tenable by Subedar-equivalent civilian officers, while directly commissioned officers of the rank of Major with much lesser length of service are posted on higher appointments such as Garrison Engineers, all again based on an artificial, faulty and forced interpretation of existing rules.

Recently, based on a decision taken by the PM, young army officers, both Permanent and Short Service Commissioned, upto 35 years of age with 5 years of service and in fit medical category, were sought for lateral induction into the Indian Police Service through a statutory gazette notification. But rather than moving with the times, the Army HQ, based on an outdated policy promulgated in 1987, issued a circular pointing out that only those Permanent Commissioned Officers would be permitted to apply for the IPS who had only two years of service left (that is, who were 50 years old), or who were in low medical category, or who had completed 18 years of service but had not passed their promotion exams. Needless to say, it’s a no-brainer that all such categories ‘allowed’ by the Army HQ were actually ineligible to be inducted into the IPS as per the gazette notification.

Whenever there is a welfare oriented proposal or proactive personnel policy under consideration of the Government which elements in the bureaucracy would not like to see implemented, they simply throw it in the court of the defence services for a consultative process for they know that first the Army, Navy and the Air Force would start struggling between themselves, and then the fight would shift inter-se between the fighting Arms, then it would be fighting arms vs support arms and finally arms vs services. The end product would be zilch resulting in sniggers from the ringside. So where does the fault lie? Is it because of the stiff competition and ACR oriented ‘smile up – kick down’ culture or is it because of plain lack of understanding of finer aspects of personnel management and lack of administrative acumen or downright foolhardiness? The answer is hard to find. It seems that in a nation with the psyche of public servants deriving power by imposing obstacles, red-tape and impediments in the ordinary life of a common citizen, officers holding key appointments in the military feel powerless when they compare themselves with their civilian counterparts. Hence the only way to feel powerful is by posing hindrances in areas of policy where the pen can be used as an authoritative instrument of damage, and that damage unfortunately is restricted to within the uniformed services. As a sequel, creation of restrictive clauses and provisos becomes a tool of ego empowerment through which the policy writer feels potent. Liberal construal is abandoned for sadism and a sub-culture emerges where cribbing is rampant and peer happiness is not tolerated. 

The Army has to wake up and smell the coffee. The obstructive, inward-looking conservative approach has to go, times are such. Camaraderie has been the hallmark of defence services but the same is not just meant for the battle field but for normal day to day life too which actually and practically affects personnel and their families. A recent positive example would be the strong efforts of the Army’s Personnel Services Directorate in reducing litigation and convincing the Defence Ministry to withdraw appeals filed against its disabled soldiers bringing succour and kudos to the organisation. The positivity must spread and must spread fast to other spheres, otherwise the self-inflicted injury to the heretofore seemingly strong foundation would make the organisation a laughing stock leading to a spectacular derailment of the only institution every Indian has been unconditionally proud of.

The writer is a practicing lawyer of the High Court and former President of the AFT Bar Association.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Implement enhanced 5th Pay Commission pay scale of Majors w.e.f 1996 not 2000 : AFT

The 5th Central Pay Commission (CPC) had recommended the starting basic pay for the rank of Major @ Rs 12,800 including rank pay (Rs 11,600 + Rs 1200 rank pay to be counted as basic pay for all intents and purposes).

Since the integrated running scale in force till the 4th CPC was now changed into a fixed scale w.e.f 01-01-1996 by the 5th CPC, it was felt that Majors of the Army were at a disadvantage vis-à-vis their closest erstwhile counterparts, that is, the Non-Functional Selection Grade/Selection Grade officers of the Civil Services.

Accordingly, a High Level Committee was constituted which rendered its recommendations in July 1999 and which opined that though Majors could not be equated with the Selection Grade scale of Rs 14,300 – 18,300 (Now after 6th CPC, PB-4, Grade Pay 8700), there definitely was a requirement for parity with the Selection Grade of the Indian Police Service vis-à-vis Majors in the 14th Year of service which was historically enjoyed by the Defence Services. Accordingly, it was recommended that Majors and equivalent should get a start of Rs 13,125 rather than 12,800 so that they could attain near parity with IPS officers with 14 years of service.

Though the above was accepted, it was only made applicable from the date of issuance of orders, that is, 29 February 2000.

The prospective cut-off date was challenged by a group of Air Force officers who contended that since the anomaly in the scales had arisen with effect from the date of implementation of the 5th CPC, that is, 01 Jan 1996, the removal of anomaly also needed to be given effect from the date of inception of the said anomaly and not from a later artificial date.

The Hon’ble Principal Bench of the AFT has accepted the contention and allowed the Petition and directed the grant of the said enhanced start of basic pay with effect from 01-01-1996 rather than 29-02-2000.

It is also interesting to note that while the committee had accepted the near parity of the defence services with the IPS, the same has been totally ignored by the 6th CPC and also the govt thereafter. Civil services officers are now much better placed since under Non-Functional Upgradation, all Group-A civil officers retire with the pay and pension of a Lt Gen (HAG Scale) irrespective of their actual rank, grade or status.

With the self-defeatist ethos of the services and the sadism at play in the MoD, it could well be possible that even this well rounded and sound judgement of the AFT would be taken till the highest Court in order to wear out the litigants.

Only a very strong COSC and PPOC can check the slide of the services on the pecking order and the financial and social scale. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Introducing ‘The Alpha Stories’, a stellar effort by a military spouse

While most of military publications tend to focus on the strategic and operational aspects of the military, what was lacking in India was a magazine on the day to day life led by the men and women in uniform and their families. 'The Alpha Stories’ bridges that gap. Following is a reproduction of a write-up received from Nishtha Gautam, a fauji wife and the Managing Editor of the magazine. I’m sure the readers of this blog would contribute material to the magazine, subscribe to it, enhance its reach and also ensure its success. The first anniversary issue of the magazine is going to be out soon. The maiden issue was released in June last year. 

The Alpha Stories is a contributory bi-monthly magazine through which defence personnel and their families present the military perspective to the world. 

Every uniform, be it of the Army, Navy or Air Force, has a story behind it, and ‘The Alpha Stories’ wishes to share these with our readers. In spite of having earned laurels in various wars and operations worldwide, and also having carved out an exclusive niche as one of the most professional Armed Forces in the world, our men and women remain under-represented. The human aspect of the armed forces is rarely a part of public discourse in our country and many stories of valour sacrifice and professional commitment remain untold. While most defence-related publications focus the technological and strategic aspect of military, The Alpha Stories attempts to bring the focus back on the man behind the machine. A lot more needs to be told to discerning readers who have been deprived of wholesome stories related to the armed forces. 

 ‘The Alpha Stories’ is making an attempt to highlight the lesser known positive aspects of life in uniform, with a view to restore the glory of the armed forces and share them with our readers. The altruistic spirit of the Indian armed forces must be brought to the forefront once again. Each organization has maladies and the best way forward is diagnosis. And that can only happen when there is a discourse. The magazine aims to bridge the gap between the armed forces and the civil society. 

Through its multiple sections, The Alpha Stories encompasses all the nuances of life in armed forces. Focusing equally on all vital aspects of life in uniform, the magazine contains news reports, opinions, profiles and history among other things. The Alpha Stories also projects lifestyles, ambitions and expectations of the different generations of defence personnel. What makes it stand out as a unique publication is the fact that all the published material is contributed by the forces fraternity. Thus, the magazine also serves as a platform for the creatively oriented defence personnel and their families. As and when a serving officer wishes to contribute an article, s/he is free to do it after obtaining a simple clearance. The Alpha Stories is meant to be a collective dream. You are welcome to be a part of the Alpha family.

If you wish to subscribe to the magazine, all you need to do is send your postal address to thealphastories@gmail.com 

Subscription fees can be paid through cash/cheque/DD or an online transfer to the publisher's account. A/C number will be communicated to you after you e-mail your details.

Cheques/DDs are to be drawn in the favour of New Era Publication. These may be sent to the registered office:

New Era, Near New Tehsil, Gautam Market, Jalesar Distt. (Etah) UP 207302

I am sanguine that you will enjoy reading this unique bouquet of expressions from the barracks,’ something which I have always cherished to bring out, especially as a proud wife of an equally proud Army officer. This a novel maiden venture, and its long term popularity and sustainability will require your magnanimous support and impetus, and I am hopeful that you will give us the encouragement that we need.

Nishtha Gautam
Managing Editor
The Alpha Stories

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Online Pension Calculation software for defence pensioners goes online

‘Suvigya’ was is a software developed after great research by the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) to provide exact calculation of pension for various categories of defence pensioners.

Since the canvas of defence pension is very vast with pension varying with each rank, year of release and trade/category, effectively compiling and effectuating the software was an enormous task for CGDA. To complicate matters, orders issued from time to time had resulted in confusing even the pension disbursing authorities in this regard.

The said system is now online and can be accessed through the following link:

Pensioners / family pensioners have to enter basic details on the website for obtaining the correct amount of pension admissible to them under various orders issued from time to time.

There is however a disclaimer on the website that the amount calculated therein cannot be quoted as authority.