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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Detailed TV Panel discussion after the announcement of pensionary benefits on implementation of recommendations of the PM appointed committee

Earlier, a TV panel discussion was posted on the blog in the aftermath of the announcement of the Prime Minister constituted Committee of Secretaries looking into pay & pension anomalies of defence personnel.

The following is a panel discussion, recorded and telecast yesterday night, dissecting the benefits finally granted on the implementation of the recommendations of the PM constituted committee, and other issues.

The Panelists were Maj Gen Surjit Singh, former Chairperson of the 4th Pay Commission Cell, Prof JK Sharma, former member of National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), and Major Navdeep Singh. 

The discussion is in two parts:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cabinet approval granted to pensionary part of the report of the Committee of Secretaries

The cabinet has today approved the pensionary part of the PM appointed Committee of Secretaries.

What has been accepted and promulgated is the same as was placed on this blog on 09 August 2012.

An official press release can also be accessed by clicking here. 

Service pension for various ranks shall now be the following:

For Other Ranks (OR): Add two years in the existing tables which can be accessed by clicking here. For example, to get to know the basic pension  now admissible at 15 years, the amount reflected at 17 years may be seen. 

For Officers: The admissible basic pension for pre-2006 retirees for full service (33 years) shall be as below:-

Lieut : Rs 13,500 

Capt : Rs 15,350

Maj : Rs 18,205

Lt Col : Rs 26,265

Col : Rs 27,795

Brig : Rs 29,145

Maj Gen : Rs 30,350

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wake up time: Drastic changes required in the military medical set-up

This subject has been discussed on the blog umpteen number of times, and please be advised that the idea behind this post is not to criticize but to aid introspection.

The declaration by a medical board of an in-service incurred disability as ‘attributable to, or aggravated by service’ or ‘connected with service’, is what determines the pensionary entitlement of our men and women in uniform including whether he or she would be entitled to any kind of pension at all or not, and it also has a direct bearing on the survival of the family through thick and thin as also the right to lead a life of adequate dignity.

However, the sensitivity to this very important aspect is totally lacking in the military medical set-up, which, in a routine manner treats this issue more like an administrative and mathematical joke rather than something which affects the survival and the right to live a dignified life of our veterans and their families. It’s just a stroke of a pen – ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, and therein lies the answer whether the veteran and his family would be entitled to any kind of livelihood and facilities or not.

Direct to the point, today, to put it succinctly, it’s a pretty easy job for military medical boards. The thumb rule in use currently by the system, for most disabilities, is – if the disability had arisen in a field area, then it’s attributable to / aggravated by service, if it emanated in a peace area, then it is neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service (NANA). Needless to state, in actual terms, Regulation 423 of the Regulations for Medical Services of the Armed Forces (RMSAF) clearly provides that service in peace or field has no bearing on attributability.

So there you have it, in the ultimate analysis as to how the system is functioning, an Army Major who may be suffering from mild hypertension but is serving in say Udhampur in J&K though in an easy undemanding appointment, would be provided the benefit of ‘aggravation’ and hence disability pension because technically he’s in a field area, but a Major who may be the Garrison Engineer in a high pressure appointment and zone like Delhi or say perhaps a cardiologist in a high profile and highly demanding faculty in Army Hospital (R&R), even if suffers a massive heart attack due to excessive pressure of his job, would not be granted the benefit of ‘aggravation’ since he was posted in a peace area.

The above is how the Guide to Medical Officers (Military Pensions) issued by the office of Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) deals with the subject. And it’s going from bad to worse, since while the earlier version of the same guidebook published in the year 1980 emphasized on dealing with disabilities on a case to case basis, and the one published in 2002 also provided for discretion and application of mind on a case to case basis, the supplement published in 2008 takes it all away and makes it mathematical and mechanical. To top that, the office of DGAFMS is known to issue strange letters to hospitals and boards, communications such as asking boards not to provide attributability / aggravation to diseases such as hypertension in peace areas, which is not only alien to principles of medical science but also in direct contravention of RMSAF and Entitlement Rules promulgated by the Govt of India.

What does peace and field have to do with a disability? The rigours of military service inherently involve a live link with disabilities, especially psychiatric ones and those related to the cardiovascular system. It is otiose to compare military personnel, even when posted in peace areas, with civilians. An extract of an earlier blogpost on the subject is relevant here:-

“While dealing with disabilities of military personnel, the much argued comparison with an ordinary person on the street by medical authorities is also incomprehensible. There are times when it is remarked that such a disease may also have arisen had the particular person not been in the Army and that the Army is one of the most stress-free organisations in the country. The question arises that here is a man who is 24 hours / 365 days on call, sometimes under the shadow of gun, mostly away from his family, in a strictly regimented routine, can he be simplistically compared with say a civilian employee who goes to office at 9 in the morning returns at 5, only five days a week, lives with his family, in his hometown, enjoys his gazetted holidays, retires at 60 ? !. It won’t take an expert to reply in the negative. Wouldn’t common ailments such as hypertension or IHD or minor psychiatric illnesses or psycho-somatic disorders get aggravated by even seemingly insignificant incidents at the home front such as non-performance of children in school, property disputes, sarkari red-tapism in other spheres, family problems etc ? The answer would be in the positive….”

When a person is away from his family and has no control over events in the environment, including the insensitivity of the civil administration towards the issues facing him and his kin, it hardly matters if he’s in field or peace, and many disabilities are bound to aggravate.

The archaic system of assessment of disabilities is proving to be burden on the organization, on the judicial system and is also bringing about much heartburn amongst the veteran community. When asked about the background or studies on the basis of which (regressive) changes were brought about in the Guide to Medical Officers (Military Pensions) from time to time, especially the 2008 supplement, the answer of the office of the DGAFMS has been elusive and less than satisfactory. There are no footnotes, no studies mentioned, there are no references as to how the conclusions in the said guide were reached about attributablitiy and aggravation of various diseases. For example, in the 2002 version, this was expressly mentioned in relation to heart diseases :

“…Hence no clear cut distinction can be drawn between service in peace areas and field areas taking into account quantum of work, mental stress and responsibility involved. In such cases, aggravation due to service should be examined in favour of the individual….”

But the above lines are completely missing in the 2008 supplement. Isn’t this retrograde? Has anyone questioned the office of DGAFMS as to how and on the basis of which studies was the line omitted? And when the militaries of all democracies make no distinction between peace and field and examine diseases on a case to case basis, what right did the office of DGAFMS have to impose its thought process on the future of millions of disabled veterans and also their families? Can we, and should we let a couple of officers holding key appointments decide the fate of disabled personnel and their families?

The guide is also inconsistent on various disabilities, for example, in the 2002 publication, it is stated that a regimented lifestyle in peace may adversely affect heart diseases, the same is not mentioned in the case of hypertension though it is commonly known that the factors affecting both may be intertwined.

The way how policies are handled by us in the official establishment was also highlighted earlier in yet another blogpost in the past in the following manner:-

“…Then there is the tendency to thrust one’s thought process on others in the system and on to the affected parties without deep analysis of issues. An officer wakes up one day, drafts a letter which he or she thinks is the epitome of intelligence, floats a minute sheet, gets it approved on file and viola we have a ‘policy decision’ which is imposed on others who sadly have no say in the arrangement. Or else what could explain letters from the office of DGAFMS asking medical boards not to grant attributability or aggravation to disabilities such as hypertension if the onset is not in a field / high altitude area, when on the contrary, the rule governing the issue states the below mentioned :-

‘For the purpose of determining whether the cause of a disability or death is or is not attributable to service, it is immaterial whether the cause giving rise to the disability or death occurred in an area declared to be a field service/active service area or under normal peace conditions’

So what should prevail over medical boards, the bright-morning idea of the gentleman who signed the policy letter or the rule extracted above ? It is sad but such illegal letters are prevailing over our system rather than the actual legally promulgated rules….”

The problem with us is self-righteousness, the inability to see reason, clinging on to fiefdom, not realizing the damage in the long run. I would have wanted to render a benefit of doubt to the system but there are some very glaring examples which come to mind, thankfully the veracity of which I can vouch since I personally handled them:-

1.  A soldier went into coma due to cerebral malaria and was later invalided out on the basis of ‘Opium Addiction’ without pension. The said person had not even touched alcohol in his life, and here he was, branded an opium addict. The medical establishment refused to see reason. After much struggle and after the inception of the RTI Act, it was discovered that probably his papers were mixed up with those of another patient while he remained in an MH in the north-east. With intervention of the Army HQ, he was finally granted disability pension.

2.  A Gunner of Clerical trade briefly posted in CI Ops faced an ambush like situation and thereafter used to experience flashbacks about the same. His disability pension claim was rejected by the medical board on the ground that he was posted in field area for less than 2 years. When a fresh medical board was ordered on judicial intervention, rather than recording the flashbacks, the psychiatrist simply wrote that the soldier had ‘disturbed sleep patterns’. Now there is a world of difference between the two, but based on this slipshod opinion his claim was again rejected but thankfully he got his pension later, again on directions of the Court. Till date, it seems that the military medical establishment has not realized that a stressor or a triggering event for a psychiatric disability can happen in  one single second of a person’s presence in a particular event, and length of service in field area has no role to play.

3.  Medical restrictions were imposed on a soldier that he may not be posted in a high altitude area since he was suffering from Psoriasis. He was still posted to an area beyond Leh from where he was invalided out and the remarks of the medical board were predictable – that the disability was neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service. Again disability pension was granted on judicial intervention.

4. An officer, a volunteer for OP Meghdoot, was diagnosed as a case of excessive dandruff while posted to the glacier. Afterwards he was diagnosed as a case of psoriasis. Claim of disability pension refused on the pretext that the disability was neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service. Now if this isn’t related to service conditions, what is?  

5.  A soldier diagnosed with cancer was continually posted to field and CI areas despite undergoing chemotherapy. When just about to complete pensionable service, and almost on his death bed, he was forcefully invalided out of service. Disease declared neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service though guidelines clearly provide that if a person with cancer has had an operational tenure within a window of 30 days to 5 years, he is to be granted attributability. He died 9 days later. Family pension refused on the ground that he died after invalidation. The family was then granted pension on the orders of the Court.

The list is endless. These are people who had the wherewithal to fight it out or to approach judicial fora, but countless others suffer in ignorance and silence. Isn’t it the duty of all of us, especially the serving community and senior military staff to order a complete overhaul of the system and make it more logic and medicine oriented? Other democracies are way ahead. In most countries, attributability / aggravation is the rule if it occurs in active service, while rejection is an exception, whereas in our military, it is the other way round.

Already, military personnel are not provided the benefit of protection of service and pension in case of a disability as is provided to all civilian government employees.

The issue is not clearly in open public domain like say corruption in the military, but the way disabled personnel are being treated by us is the greatest disservice to the very foundation of our armed forces in particular and society in general.

Do not keep your eyes closed. Wake up. Please.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Air Travel Entitlement for military officers : consolidated orders

One issue that has remained confusing for serving personnel of the defence services is the entitlement of travel by air and all related modalities.

The Defence Accounts Department has uploaded a consolidated list of orders on air entitlement related to travel on temporary duty, permanent move and LTC.

Please do not mail me individual queries on the issue. Questions, if any, may be placed on the comments section of this blogpost so as to have a meaningful discussion.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Final order of the Supreme Court on the Rank Pay issue dated 04 September 2012

The order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 04 September 2012 wherein the Application filed by the Union of India praying for recall of the order of the Court dated 08 March 2010 on the rank pay issue was disposed, can be downloaded by clicking here.

As informed earlier, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has refused to modify or vary the earlier order except that the interest part has been modulated to be granted from 01 Jan 2006 rather than 01 Jan 1986. Hence, while the arrears of pay would be released from 01 Jan 1986, the interest on the arrears shall now be payable with effect from 01 Jan 2006.

The statement of the Solicitor General has also been recorded that the amount shall be paid within 12 weeks from 04 September 2012.

The original order of the Supreme Court dated 08 March 2010 can be accessed by clicking here. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rank Pay forms a part of basic pay, release arrears to affected officers : Supreme Court, today, 04 September 2012

Perhaps historically the most important litigation involving the military has culminated today.

A three judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court today decided not to interfere with its earlier decision granting the cumulative benefits and arrears of Rank Pay with effect from 01-01-1986 to all affected officers. However, the interest component has been modified and interest @ 6% per annum would now be admissible on the arrears from 01-01-2006 rather than 01-01-1986.

All payments have been directed to be made within a period of 12 weeks from today and the benefits shall be released to all officers irrespective of whether they had approached a judicial forum or not.

As many would be aware, after the 4th Central Pay Commission (CPC), an integrated pay scale of Rs 2300-5100 was implemented for officers from the rank of 2/Lt to Brig. In addition, rank pay was authorised to officers from the rank of Capt to Brig ranging from Rs 200 to 1200 which was to be added into the basic pay for all intents and purposes.

However, while fixing the pay in the new scales, an amount equal to the rank pay was deducted from the emoluments resulting in financial loss to all affected officers. Hence all officers holding the rank of Capt to Brig as on 01-01-1986 suffered cumulative losses.

The Hon’ble Kerala High Court in a case filed by Maj AK Dhanapalan had termed illegal this deduction of rank pay. The SLP filed by the Union of India was also dismissed, albeit not on merits but on technical grounds of limitation.

Soon thereafter, many similar petitions were filed in various Hon’ble High Courts all over the country which were clubbed together and transferred to the Hon’ble Supreme Court to be heard alongwith an SLP of similar nature which had arisen out of a case that was allowed on the basis of the judgement in Dhanapalan’s case.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court on 08 March 2010 upheld the said verdict and granted relief to all similarly placed officers alongwith an interest of 6%.

Things were however not to end there since the Govt constituted a committee to look into the amount involved and went back to the Hon’ble Supreme Court by filing an application for recall of the order dated 08 March 2010 on the grounds of burdening of the exchequer and also stating therein that many more issues on the subject were not taken into consideration by the Court and hence the order needed to be recalled.

The case thereafter remained pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court and was finally argued today when the Hon’ble Court, after hearing marathon arguments of the Solicitor General appearing for the govt, decided that there was no infirmity in the order passed on 08 March 2010. As informed above, only the modification in the grant of the interest component was effectuated.

The case was not without surprising developments which can now be shared since the issue no longer remains sub judice.

First was the total incorrect and skewed presentation of the status and pay of military officers vis-à-vis officers of the civil services projected in the affidavit appended with the recall application filed by the Union of India. The speciousness thereof has already been discussed by me on the blog in November 2011 and all those falsities were exposed in the affidavit filed on behalf of the affected officers before the Hon’ble Court.

Secondly, which can be disclosed now, is that when it was being projected by the Govt that the Services HQ were also in favour of getting the verdict recalled / reversed, the three services on the basis of a decision taken at the apex level, clearly, officially and categorically informed the Solicitor General in writing that the Armed Forces were not in favour of the matter being contested against the affected officers and in fact were in favour of getting the verdict of the SC dated 08 March 2010 implemented. Thereafter, the Ministry of Defence wrote to the Services HQ asking them to withdraw the communication to the Solicitor General, however to the credit of the Services, the said communication was ultimately not withdrawn. Besides showing utter disregard for the opinion of the services in this matter, this incident also shows as to how the MoD tries to browbeat the services into accepting its views. Needless to state, in litigation, one party to a particular litigation can never direct another to take a particular stand. However this has been continuing unabated in the MoD wherein they force the Services to reflect the stand of the MoD before Courts and not project their (services’) independent views as is permissible under law. And unfortunately, it’s also seen that elements of the JAG Branch usually toe the line of the MoD rather than the Services.

The biggest ‘Thank You’ for this win goes to Retired Defence Officers’ Association (RDOA) who had been unflinchingly following up the matter with great zeal in a very objective and balanced manner.

Jai Hind. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Incorrect letter regarding pay fixation of veterans in Banks and other financial institutions withdrawn by Ministry of Finance

Based on the newly introduced concepts of 6th CPC, fresh instructions were issued by the Govt of India, Department of Personnel and Training vide Letter No 3/19/2009-Estt (Pay II) dated 05  April 2010 in which all modalities of pay fixation of re-employed ex-servicemen pensioners were explained. The said letter however was vague and ambiguous as far as the treatment of Military Service Pay (MSP) was concerned. As a result, civil organisations including banks, started deducting MSP from the pay fixed in the re-employed organisations, meaning thereby, that MSP was not being included in the protected pay in such organisations.

Accordingly on the issue being raised by ex-servicemen, a clarification was sought from the Ministry of Finance and a fresh letter was thereafter issued by the DoPT of even number dated 08 November 2010 in which the following was explicitly clarified by the Govt of India :-

“Hence in respect of all those defence officers/personnel, whose pension contains an element of MSP, that need not be deducted from the pay fixed on re-employment”

The above clarification, wherein it was provided that MSP would not be deducted from the pay fixed on re-employment, was endorsed by the Govt of India, Ministry of Finance, Department of Financial Services, to all Banks etc for compliance vide Letter No 4/1/2010-SCT(B) dated 22 Nov 2010.

However later, on receiving letters for clarification of the subject from The Indian Banks’ Association, the Department of Financial Services issued another letter No F No 4/1/2010-SCT(B) dated 23 March 2012 based on the earlier DoPT letter dated 08 Nov 2010 but in which it was surprisingly incorrectly stated in the last lines that MSP shall not be included in pay fixation, meaning thereby that MSP shall be deducted from the pay fixed on re-employment. This however was actually in contravention of the actual DoPT letter dated 08 Nov 2010 which in fact clearly states that MSP need not be deducted from pay fixed on re-employment. The following lines of the letter dated 23 March 2012 created chaos:-

Therefore Ex-servicemen re-employed in the banks who retired on/or after 01.01.2006 are eligible to pay fixation in banks based on the pay drawn by them at the time of discharge from the Defence Services which would include band pay Plus grade pay but does not include MSP

The said clarification dated 23 March 2012 signed by Mr LK Meena, Director of Financial Services, rather than clarifying the issue unnecessarily created confusion and banks thereafter started deducting MSP from the pay fixed on re-employment while the DoPT had stated just the opposite.

When I pointed out the anomaly to the Department of Financial Services, no action was taken by them and even RTI Applications were stonewalled.

However, it goes to the credit of Mr LK Meena, Director, Department of Financial Services, Ministry of Finance, Govt of India, that on my pointing out the fact that his staff had not briefed him correctly before getting the letter issued, he has promptly withdrawn the incorrect direction dated 23 March 2012 and has now directed all Banks and Insurance Companies to follow DoPT directions dated 08 Nov 2010 in letter and spirit. The letter withdrawing the earlier letter and containing the aforesaid directions has been issued on 28 Aug 2012. Mr Meena has also stated that his Public Information Officer had not replied to the RTI Application in a proper manner.

With this, the problem of not taking into account the Grade Pay and MSP of defence personnel on re-employment in Banking and Insurance institutions stands resolved.