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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cheated, eh?

It is indeed ironic.

The pension wing of the Ministry of Defence, now under the so called Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) has cheated military veterans and their families since long. It is however sad that these downright deceitful actions did not elicit any protest from the Services HQ, who, especially during times of yore, either did not have the capability of keeping a sharp eye on issues concerning defence veterans, or were not clued up or were simply too timid to react.

Whatever be the reason, I am pointing out four out of many such instances of how Cabinet decisions have been openly given the kick by a few junior level functionaries of the Ministry of Defence leading to denial of crores of rupees to poor unsuspecting veterans and their families:

1. Pensioners other than commissioned officers who retired prior to 10-10-1997 : When the 5th CPC was implemented with effect from 01-01-1996, a gazette notification was duly issued which stated that though the scales were being mentioned for ranks other than officers, the Ministry was carrying out trade rationalisation and removing anomalies from the said scales and the scales would finally be implemented once the said rationalisation was complete and that the said anomaly-free scales would replace the anomalous scales with effect from 01-01-1996. However, when the anomalies were removed and the new scales were finally implemented, these were implemented w.e.f 10-10-1997 through Special Army Instruction (SAI) 2/S/98 and were not implemented w.e.f 01-01-1996 as already approved by the Cabinet. The retrospective implementation w.e.f 01-01-1996 notified vide a Gazette notification was conveniently forgotten. Later when pensions were improved from time to time, the said improvement was based on the anomalous scales of 1996 rather than the anomaly-free rationalised scales introduced in 1997 which were in fact to take effect from 1996 thereby replacing the old anomalous scales. Many decisions in favour of pensioners were rendered by High Courts on the said issue and affirmed by the Supreme Court but still the Ministry did not take any action on the subject. The situation was finally rectified by the Defence Ministry w.e.f 01-07-2009 thereby denying our pensioners the correct pension from 01-01-1996 till 30-06-2009. The Ministry not only managed to flout and contravene a gazette notification issued after approval of the Cabinet, but also managed to disregard directions of our Constitutional Courts.

2.  Removal of requirement of 10 months’ service in a particular rank to earn the pension of that rank: The 6th CPC abrogated the requirement of the 10 months’ formula and provided that pension shall be calculated on the basis of 50% of the emoluments last drawn unlike the position earlier where service of 10 months in a particular rank was required to earn the pension of that rank. The same was made applicable to both pre and post-2006 retirees by the Government. Prior to the 6th CPC, the pensions of Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR) were calculated on the basis of the maximum of the pay-scales which was different than the system followed for all civilian employees and commissioned officers of the defence services for whom the pension was calculated on the basis of the minimum of pay scale. Accordingly, again to provide an edge to PBOR as was the case till 6th CPC, the Government constituted a committee under the Cabinet Secretary who opined that the pension of pre-2006 retirees should be calculated based on the notional maximum within the new 6th CPC scales corresponding to the maximum of pre-6th CPC (5th CPC) scales as per the 6th CPC switch-over fitment tables thereby extending the edge granted to PBOR which was applicable to them earlier. This new stipulation was made applicable with financial effect from 01-07-2009. The said report was accepted by the Cabinet. However, when the DESW of the Ministry of Defence issued the implementation letter, they on their own again added a line re-introducing the 10 months stipulation back into the pensionary provisions for pre-2006 retirees which in reality now stood abrogated for pre-2006 as well as post-2006 retirees after the 6th CPC. Meaning thereby, that if a Naib Subedar had served only for 6 months in that rank prior to retirement, he would be granted the pension of a Havildar, and not a Naib Subedar. The interesting part however remains that even the notings sent to the Cabinet for approval of the Committee’s recommendations contained no such stipulation and the same was mischievously added by lower and mid-level officials of the Ministry of Defence without any reference to the Committee of Secretaries or to the Cabinet, which itself is a serious mischief in an elected democracy.

3. Grant of pension limited to maximum terms of engagement rather than 33 years as applicable to all government pensioners : It is commonly known that earlier, pensionary tables for defence personnel used to be prepared only till the maximum possible service in each rank since individuals were compulsorily retired on attaining the maximum terms of engagement. However, the 4th Central Pay Commission recommended that full pension should be fixed on the basis of 33 years of service including weightage and proportionately reduced for lesser length of service. The system of 33 years is followed as on date for all pre-2006 pensioners. However still, the Defence Accounts Department continued paying pension in accordance with the maximum terms of engagement for each rank and not based on 33 years of service as applicable after the 4th CPC. For example, if a Naik had served for 28 years, or if a DSC Naik had say 30 years of combined service of two spells, they were only being paid a pension for 22 years of service on the specious pretext that the maximum terms of engagement possible for a Naik were 22 years. This was later questioned and quashed by Courts being against the notifications issued after various CPCs which contained no such prohibition. Now last year, the cabinet improved the pensionary benefits of Sepoys, Naiks and Havildars by increasing their weightages. The Govt was then asked to issue a letter. The letter was issued, but again mischievously, in Para 8 of the Letter dated 17 Jan 2013, a line was added by the DESW that the pension shall be revised subject to the maximum terms of engagement for each rank. Giving a benefit to some by one hand and taking it away with the other. This prohibition was never a part of the Union Cabinet’s decision or the recommendations of the Committee of Secretaries on the basis of which this Govt of India letter had been issued but was made a part of the draft letter prepared by the Defence Accounts Department. From where did this line creep in mysteriously and illegally? As on date, all govt employees are being paid pensions in accordance with the length of service rendered by them, however Other Ranks of the defence services are being paid only in accordance with the terms of engagement applicable to their ranks from time to time rather than their actual service. This is not only unfair, but also patently illegal.

4.  Enhancement and fresh Categories of Casualty Pensionary Awards including Disability, War Injury and Liberalized Pensionary Awards, introduced after the 5th CPC : The 5th CPC had introduced certain new categories and enhanced the existing casualty pensionary awards w.e.f 01-01-1996. These were extended only to post-96 retirees vide a Govt of India letter for civil pensioners issued on 03-02-2000. The same stipulations were later extended to post-96 defence pensioners by the MoD vide a letter dated 31-01-2001. Later, the benefits were extended by the Govt of India to pre-96 pensioners vide another letter issued on 11-09-2001 and a copy of that letter was sent to MoD for implementation. The MoD however sat on the letter and never issued similar instructions for defence pensioners. Till date, w.e.f 01-01-1996, pre-1996 retiree defence pensioners have been denied the benefits of the Govt of India letter dated 11-09-2001 despite the fact that the Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare (DoPPW) has reminded the MoD time and again to do the needful. One stipulation of the letter of broad-banding of disability percentages was implemented by the MoD for pre-1996 retirees but only with effect from 01-07-2009 thereby denying such disabled personnel the arrears from 01-01-1996 till 30-06-2009, which of course had been released and paid to similarly placed civilians.

Yes, all of you were cheated. And the most striking feature of this sadism is that the particular officer in DESW who was responsible for many of the above actions and is also a signatory of a majority of these letters, is now dealing with the process of implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP). He is still functioning in the DESW on re-employment, after retiring from regular service.

Unless veterans are on the same page and cease and desist from their internal battles, and the Services HQ acquire expertise and knowledge, overcome timidity and involve stake-holders, no progress can be expected.

The state seems much better in the Pay Commission Cells of the Defence Services at this point, but only time would tell if the hammering can be reversed or if further hammering can be arrested.

Best of luck!

Saturday, June 14, 2014



Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman (Retd)

A recent news item appearing in a national daily referring to the Principal Secretary to the new Prime Minister expressing concern of the new government at the military-bureaucratic disconnect in the Ministry of Defence and calling for measures to streamline decision making at the MOD is indeed a wake-up call for the latter and the nation expectantly looks forward to the new PM to revamp the MOD within the ‘100 days agenda’.

India’s armed forces are universally acknowledged as a highly reliable professional military force. However they suffer from being unable to fully optimise this very professionalism towards contributing to a more robust and efficient system of higher defence management due to the de facto translation of constitutionally mandated rules of democratic governance which restrict uniformed services from holding Secretary level posts or other appointments under the Central Staffing Scheme or otherwise being representatives of the government of India.

Periodic attempts at revamping the Higher Defence Organization, notably the Kargil review committee and one of its derivatives designated as task force on defence management led by Shri Arun Singh and the Shri Naresh Chandra led committee (whose recommendations are not yet in public domain), have not addressed the fundamental dichotomy that exists between the de facto responsibility that the  three Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force have in ensuring the territorial integrity of the country and the de jure placement of  Secretary Defence as the single authority responsible to the Defence Minister with regard to the department of defence, that is, all matters dealing with the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Government of India’s Allocation of Business Rules, 1961, derived from Article 77(3) of the constitution stipulate that only Secretaries to the government as designated by the Minister concerned are responsible to carry out the duties entrusted to the departments placed under the Secretary so specified. In this case the territorial defence of any part of India, is the responsibility of Secretary Defence as the head of Department of Defence. The other Secretaries in the Ministry of Defence entrusted with their respective charters are Secretary Defence Production, Secretary Defence Research and Development and lastly Secretary Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare(DESW).

The reforms in Higher Defence Management, so far implemented since independence, relating to creation of the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) under a Secretary level three star ranked officer designated as Chief of Integrated Staff to Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC) and raising of C-in-C (Commander-in-Chief) A&N Command and C-in-C Strategic Forces Command (SFC) have created more joint organizations of the Services but have not made any difference to garnering the professionalism of the uniformed mind in decision making. Suggested reforms on meaningful integration of the Services Headquarters with the MOD have also fallen by the wayside because of  lack of clarity in bridging the gap between how the Government of India has chosen to manage the departments under the Ministry of Defence and how best can the nation’s interests be served in making full use of the vast pool of experienced senior defence officers.

The Armed forces have, kept the nation’s trust admirably, so far. However growing asymmetry with China on account of as yet inadequate border infrastructure, persistent hollowness in warlike inventory of the armed forces, niggardly modernization and continuing dissatisfaction of retired personnel on personnel and pension matters (leading to needlessly and forcibly imposed litigation and loss of faith in the system), should all be a serious cause for concern. The resignation of Admiral DK Joshi cannot but highlight more this frustration on the part of the knowledgeable and nationalistic strategic community of senior officers past and present at this paralysis of inaction. It is time we carry out a reappraisal of the Rules of Business so as to optimise the output of the Secretaries to the Government of India given the non-utilisation of professional competence and vast experience of a plethora of  senior Secretary level  officers  in the three services.

The first and inarguably the most important of the Secretaries in MOD is the Defence Secretary who has direct responsibility over the three Services. The three Service Chiefs and the likely fourth Joint Chief of Staff (reportedly as per the recommendation of Naresh Chandra committee) outrank the Defence Secretary and have direct access to the Raksha Mantri but are not responsible per se for defence. Logically the three Vice Chiefs should then be included as Secretaries responsible for departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force. This would require due amendment to the Rules of Business. In addition it is also time for a single file system to be adopted in the MOD with service officers of the three star rank and holding Director General’s post and above to be included in the Rules of Business.

The second of the departments under the Ministry of Defence is the Defence Production. Repeated failures and under-performance of this department having all the Defence PSUs under the Secretary Defence Production calls for drastic changes towards active involvement of, and accountability to the three services. The charge- sheeting and incarceration of a former Chairman of the Ordnance Factories Board should have been a wake-up call. It is time the Secretary Defence Production is chosen from a panel of approved Lieutenant Generals/equivalents and given a minimum tenure of two years as Secretary Defence Production.

The third Secretary level Departmental head is the Secretary Defence Research and Development, who is also the Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri. It is time that while as SA the DRDO Chief can carry on unfettered in purely design and development of original systems, the decisions affecting the services in the realm of applied technology  are taken by a specially constituted Board with the three Vice Chiefs and CISC as its members as also the Secretary (Finance) in MOD.

Coming to the last of the four departments under the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare, it is worth recalling the accepted maxim that ex-servicemen’s interests are best looked after by the serving military. If it is so, then why shouldn't the Secretary DESW not be a serving uniformed officer specially selected from a suitable panel and given minimum two year tenure or a recently retired officer selected by the government. In most democracies, affairs of the veterans are looked after by officers with armed forces background.

Changes recommended in the foregoing for making out a case for injecting greater professionalism in the functioning of the Defence Ministry would only require a few amendments to the rules of business of the Government. At a time when Indian defence establishment is faced with a growing militarist China and there are fresh fears over increased instability on our western borders, we would be well served to  carry out these amendments in order to optimise the available specialist professional expertise of senior service officers in the MOD, by re-allocating two of the departments, that is, the Departments of Defence Production and Ex-Servicemen Welfare to selected serving military officers as Secretaries. Further,the potential of the department of Defence under Secretary Defence be optimised by involving the principal stake-holders, again the military, by including service officers of Director General’s posts in the government’s Rules of Business and adopting a single file system of files movement in the MOD as is being done in other sensitive Ministries/Departments of the government. Finally, with regard to the fourth department ie, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, its decisions  be ratified by  constituting  a Defence Technology Board akin to the Railway Board with the Vice Chiefs of the Services being members of the Board alongwith the Secretary Defence Research and Development and Secretary Defence (Finance).

The author is a former Vice Chief of the Army and has also been a founder member of the Armed Forces Tribunal 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Some developments related to the Armed Forces Tribunal

As many would know, we had taken up the cause of non-implementation of orders rendered by the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) by way of a Public Interest Litigation.

There have been some positive developments in the matter and readers may be interested to read the news-reports on the subject, linked below: