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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Government bent upon prolonging the agony of military & civil pensioners: Files curative petition in the Supreme Court challenging grant of pensionary benefits from 01-01-2006

The officialdom has reached nadir. 

Such is the state of affairs that judicial verdicts are overridden by administrative egotism. So sad is the situation that executive pride overtakes what is logical, prudent or just. And the political executive remains a rudderless rubberstamp. 

As many would know, there were anomalies in the fixation of pension of pre-2006 central govt retirees with effect from 01 Jan 2006 and the question was whether pension was to be calculated based on the minimum of each grade/rank within the newly introduced pay-bands or on the minimum of the pay-band itself. The said anomaly was resolved by way of judgements of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) as well as Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) which inter alia ruled that pension would be calculated on the basis of minima of each rank/grade within the pay-band. The judgement of the CAT was challenged by the Govt before the Delhi High Court. In the meantime however, the Govt itself removed the anomaly but granted the benefits from 24 Sept 2012 rather than 01 Jan 2006 which was the date of the inception of the anomaly. The verdict of the AFT was challenged by the Govt before the Supreme Court.

Hence the exact controversy now stood narrowed down to whether the benefits of the correct pension were to flow from 01 Jan 2006 which was the date from which the 6th Central Pay Commission recommendations were implemented or from 24 Sept 2012 which was when the Govt had decided to remove the anomalies in the pension structure after the said Pay Commission.

The controversy was resolved by the Delhi High Court which directed that after removal of the anomaly, the pension arrears were to flow from 01 Jan 2006 and not from the future artificial date of 24 Sep 2012. Never to respect well-rounded judicial verdicts, the Govt challenged the decision of the High Court before the Supreme Court, however the Supreme Court was pleased to dismiss the SLP filed by the Govt in July 2013.

Ego-fuelled highhandedness is what the system is known for though. They were not to rest. How could the Courts hold the hands of old pensioners? The Govt is always right. Govt policies are sacrosanct and sacred, or so the system believes. And hence they went in for a Review Petition before the Supreme Court urging the Apex Court to review its order dismissing the Union of India’s SLP. Meanwhile, without properly disclosing the dismissal of the SLP, the Govt filed many more similar petitions before the Supreme Court and got them tagged with the military pensioners’ matters which dealt with the same subject. 

Things were not again smooth for the mighty Union of India and the Supreme Court was pleased to dismiss the Review Petition filed by the Govt against the pensioners.

In any democracy, this would have meant closure to the agony of litigating pensioners. But no, that is not how things work in our country, now the great Union of India, our very own Central Govt, has filed a Curative Petition against the same verdict. Hence, three rounds of litigation before the Supreme Court itself. 

The Curative Petition has already been docketed in the Supreme Court and is numbered as Curative Petition (Civil) No 126 of 2014. It has not yet been listed for hearing.

The Curative Petition is not an ordinary remedy and is usually meant to cure ‘gross miscarriage of justice’, but then for the capable and worthy officers of our Central Govt, the grant of correct and legal pension to its military and civil pensioners is ‘miscarriage of justice’.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Peer Jealousy- Democratic decisions : Need of the hour

What is the problem with us?

The problem is jealousy, and the lack of a democratic decision-making process.

While democracy can hardly be expected in operational or military matters per se, but it is the call of the times in personnel policies and policies affecting our pay, allowances and pensionary benefits.

Recent history stands witness, that whether it is the Ministry of Defence or the Defence Services internally, most of the problems emanate from the fact that the stake-holders have no say in the decision-making process, and power, or rather the voice, is concentrated in the chosen few who tend to impose their own opinions and views on millions of others who then suffer in silence.

Examples of self-defeating moves are many. An example which again raised its head was that of grant of Dynamic Assured Career Progression Scheme (DACP) for doctors. Documents reveal that the Chief of Staffs’ Committee (COSC) again opposed better pay and allowances under DACP for military doctors on the pretext that they would start getting higher pay and perks than other arms and services. What they did not realize was the fact that, firstly, doctors have historically enjoyed an edge in pay over other arms and services, and secondly, when other departments of the Govt, including the Central Armed Police Forces, have not had any problem with a similar dispensation, what makes the defence services deny dues to their own? Glaringly, the COSC/PPOC had then decided to tacitly state that DACP should only be granted to doctors if Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) is implemented for the others. While the correct approach was to smoothly implement DACP and then raise the issue of NFU putting across that now that an anomaly in one cadre stood resolved, let us move for resolution of the other. In this bargain and with this bright idea of denial of an approved scheme of the cabinet for all central govt doctors w.e.f 2008, they lost out on both- DACP as well as NFU. While civilian doctors have been enjoying the benefits of DACP since 2008, military doctors remain without it till date, thanks to our own. Thankfully though, it was the Supreme Court which upheld the grant of DACP for military doctors, something denied by our own brethren. A similar problem was faced in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) where DACP was given prospective effect, and not retrospective effect from 2008, but that has also now been resolved after a judgement of the Karnataka High Court which has been smoothly implemented by the Ministry of Home Affairs for all combatised doctors in CAPFs.

Another spanner in the works currently seems to emanate from the Navy during the implementation of One Rank One Pension scheme since it seems that the Navy wants to deny some benefits to a certain section of officers who have risen from the ranks. Rather than going with the flow and letting all officers and men reap the benefits of the classical definition of OROP propounded even by the Raksha Mantri, the Navy, it seems, wants to tinker with the definition, thus giving ammunition to those who are already waiting in the sidelines to deny benefits to military pensioners.

What senior officers at the Services HQ should understand is that the voice of the stake-holders must be heard before taking decisions with multiple implications. They should also appreciate that their knowledge in most of these matters is zilch and they need the inputs from experts and the affected parties to reach well-rounded conclusions. Benefits cannot be denied or held mortgage to a coterie’s thought-process. This must change.

Also at the Ministry of Defence level, especially with a change looming large, a decision needs to be taken to make the Defence Services a part of the decision-making machinery. The Rules of Business contain no reference to the Defence Services currently and the Defence Secretary happens to be responsible for the defence of the nation, and not the military. The easiest way out would be to conceptualize a Defence Board on the lines of the Railway Board which could be a mix of generalists, experts and military officers and which could take decisions in a much more holistic manner than the current system.

Besides the systemic change above, I’ll say it again- please do not be jealous of your peers. Do not deny others their respective dues only since in your perception you may have been disallowed yours. This is damaging. And with this attitude, you yourself shall not remain damage-proof. It all comes back. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Judges’ pension case : Much needed respite and setting of a great precedence

Many murmurs have been heard regarding the landmark decision of the Supreme Court granting pension to Judges of the High Court elevated from the bar at par with those who are elevated from judicial service. Some have remarked that the judges have granted themselves the benefit of “one rank one pension”.

This is pure negative appreciation of the subject and also not in the correct perspective.

Many would not know the genesis of the issue. Judges of our High Courts who are elevated from the bar face acute discrimination vis-a-vis those appointed from the quota of judicial service/district judges. So much so, that Judges elevated after long standing practice at the bar and with long service on the Bench were getting much lower pensions than those Judges who were from the quota of judicial service and who may have spent a minuscule period on the Bench as compared to the former. This discrimination was unique to High Court judges and this is what was the source of the controversy before the Supreme Court and has consequently been struck down.

Also, as is well known, for post-2006 pensioners the system of linkage of length of service with amount of pension has been abrogated for all central government employees and they are now entitled to 50% of basic pay drawn at the time of retirement as their pension as soon as they complete the requisite qualification of earning a pension under the rules, irrespective of the length of service. Prior to 2006 of course there was a requirement of 33 years’ service for earning full pension. However, what is not known to the public at large is the fact that the said stipulation of abrogation of linkage of length of service with amount of pension was not graciously extended to High Court judges and the pension of High Court judges, including those retiring after 01-01-2006, was linked with the years on the bench, which of course was discriminatory on the face of it.

Yes, the Supreme Court has remarked that there should be one-rank one-pension for pensioners retiring from constitutional posts also. And why not? Officers of the rank of Secretary to Govt of India and above on the civil side and Officers of the rank of Lt Gen (Army Commander grade) and above on the military side who retire from a fixed scale are in receipt of one-rank one-pension by default, so why not High Court judges who are in the same pay-grade and actually placed on a higher article in the Warrant of Precedence?

A very fine judgement that should pave way for resolution of anomalies for other categories of pensioners.