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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Salute to the leadership of Central Armed Police Forces under the Ministry of Home Affairs

This subject was also discussed on this blog last year.

Unlike the times of yore, there has been a welcome change in the way the facilities and benefits of the men and women of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are being administered.

Despite the fact that the appointments of Director General of all CAPFs and CPOs are not held by cadre officers but by members of the Indian Police Service, almost all officers heading these forces have firmly taken a stand for their personnel with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the said Ministry has also responded positively to their requests, needs and requirements. Troopers, Subordinate officers, Cadre gazetted officers and IPS officers posted in CAPFs are also much aware of their rights and benefits and make it a point to constructively highlight the same in one voice without any infighting or peer jealousy.

The latest issue resolved by the Home Minister of India, Sh Rajnath Singh, is the grant of ex-gratia compensation to military veterans contractually employed with the CRPF at par with regular CRPF employees. Families of such contractual ex-servicemen were not being allowed the benefit of ex-gratia @ Rs 15 lakhs in the event of unfortunate demise during operations. However, the MHA has agreed to grant such regular benefit to the families of 2 veterans who were recently killed in action. Of course, on the basis of parity, the action is expected to be extended to all similar deaths in action.

Even the Dynamic Assured Career Progression Scheme, which has remained elusive for Military Doctors despite a Supreme Court decision in their favour has already been extended to uniformed combatised doctors of the CAPFs and the same was also smoothly given retrospective effect on directions of the Karnataka High Court.

On the litigation front, minimal court decisions rendered by Courts in favour of CAPF personnel and their families are challenged by the legal departments of these forces or the MHA. Most judgements are respectfully adhered to and there are no appeals based on administrative egotism. The complete approach is positive and there is cohesion of thoughts.

With the MHA and the force leadership firmly standing behind their men and women in uniform, the day is not far when as a career option, the CAPFs would become more attractive for youth than the defence services. Already personnel recruited in CAPFs have the benefit of retiring at the age of 57 years whereas their military counterparts start retiring at the age of 34 and above depending upon the rank attained. With more and more facilities and benefits being extended to CAPFs and with a supportive Ministry, these forces are definitely experiencing achhe din.

I compliment the Heads of the CAPFs, the MHA and also the Home Minister for bringing a complete turnaround in how personnel and welfare policies of CAPFs and CPOs are being managed. Despite the poor working conditions in many areas, members of these forces are now proud of their respective organisations, a situation much different than say 20 years ago.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Department of Personnel & Training abolishes regressive stipulation for reservation of military veterans

Many military personnel, due to early retirement, look for jobs in the government/public sector after release. Many of them apply for multiple employment opportunities, but then (till now) there was a catch. If an ex-serviceman applied for various civil posts under the ex-servicemen quota and joined one such post, he/she could later not opt for any other post under the said quota. A veteran could hence avail of it only once. 

To take an example, if a person had applied for two posts, one lower and one higher, but got selected for the lower post first and joined the same, he could not then join the higher one even if he got selected for the latter since ex-servicemen quota was treated as ‘exhausted’ on his joining the first post.

This was of course regressive and also fortuitous and chance-based in the sense that a person was forced to join the post or the appointment where the result was declared first to avoid losing out on a job opportunity.

Actually, according to my construal, this blanket ban was based on misinterpretation of various instructions issued from time to time, but that’s another story and now pales into insignificance because of the latest development.

The Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) has now abolished this incongruous stipulation and has provided that if a person had applied for various vacancies before joining a civil employment, he/she can avail of the benefit of reservation for any subsequent employment.

This is a major move and should come as a big relief to military veterans looking for employment on the civil side.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Another landmark: With strong words, the Supreme Court again stands up for the dignity of our disabled soldiers released by the system without pension

Shocking it is that while a civilian employee cannot even be discharged on account of disability, some soldiers are not only discharged but also denied their disability pension by mechanically declaring their disabilities as neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service. It is yet another issue that most disabilities actually fall within the four corners of attributability/aggravation as per rules but are not considered as so by the establishment due to a literal and perfunctory interpretation of the applicable rules. Of course, when there is a positive finding returned to the effect by judicial bodies, the system is quick to challenge such findings out of egotism rather than accepting such decisions with grace, empathy and sympathy.

In line with the judgement of the Supreme Court last year in Dharamvir Singh vs Union of India, which was also followed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in its landmark and detailed judgement titled Umed Singh vs Union of India, the Supreme Court has now rendered another detailed judgement on the subject which should wake up the establishment. The strong words of the highest Court of the land again go to show that more than any other entity, it is our Constitutional Courts that are more concerned for the dignity, livelihood and morale of our soldiers.

In this case, a soldier recruited in 2000 was released on medical grounds in 2002 without disability pension since his disability was considered as neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service by a military medical board. Needless to state, the rules clearly stipulate that a member is presumed to be in sound health when he or she joins service and any deterioration in health is presumed to be due to service. Further, the rules also provide that soldiers would not be called upon to prove their entitlement and shall receive the benefit of any reasonable doubt.

Granting the soldier his due disability pension, the Supreme Court had this to opine on the issue:

....We are not a little surprised that although the Rules or Regulations (Chapter VII of the Regulations for the Medical Services of the Armed Forces, 1983) specifically postulate the formation of Invalidation Medical Boards, they do not set out the medical parameters justifying or requiring serviceman/officer to be removed from service. This feature renders decisions taken by such Boards pregnable to assaults on the grounds of capriciousness or arbitrariness, and this is especially so where the extent of the disability is below twenty per cent. Can the Authorities be permitted to portray that whilst a person has so minor a disability as to disentitle him for compensation, yet suffers from a disability that is major or serious enough to snatch away his employment?

We, just as every other citizen of India, would be extremely disturbed if the Authorities are perceived as being impervious or unsympathetic towards members of the Armed Forces who have suffered disabilities, without receiving any form of recompense or source of sustenance, since these are inextricably germane to their source of livelihood.

We are of the persuasion, therefore, that firstly, any disability not recorded at the time of recruitment must be presumed to have been caused subsequently and unless proved to the contrary to be a consequence of military service. The benefit of doubt is rightly extended in favour of the member of the Armed Forces; any other conclusion would be tantamount to granting a premium to the Recruitment Medical Board for their own negligence. Secondly, the morale of the Armed Forces requires absolute and undiluted protection and if an injury leads to loss of service without any recompense, this morale would be severely undermined...

Salute to our Constitutional Courts! Jai Hind. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mr Derek O’Brien takes up the issue of disabled soldiers in Parliament, just as Ms Smirit Irani did last year

Close on the heels of a similar issue raised by Ms Smriti Irani in the Parliament last year, Mr Derek O’Brien (TMC) has raised the subject of irresponsible litigation by the Ministry of Defence against its own disabled soldiers.

The Defence fraternity should be thankful to both Ms Irani and Mr O’Brien for taking a stand for our soldiers.

August, 2014

It is a cause for alarm that 90% of the Ministry of Defence’s cases pending in Courts are against pension claims of its own disabled soldiers. The Ministry has been denying pension claims of soldiers on shallow pretexts like the disability occurred in peaceful conditions and not in an active war zone. Military boards have also been rejecting diseases such as neurosis and schizophrenia for being ‘constitutional’ in nature and not aggravated by service conditions. In contrast, pension claims for such diseases are routinely allowed by medical boards of Central Armed Police Forces under the Home Ministry.
Even though the Supreme Court has rendered a series of judgments in favour of the soldiers’ claims, the Ministry of Defence has continued to files appeals against claims at all stages. While the Income Tax Department does not go to the Supreme Court till the amount involved is more than Rs 25 lakhs, the Ministry of Defence has been dragging wounded soldiers to the Supreme Court for amounts as small as a few thousand rupees. Most soldiers cannot afford the costs of protracted litigation and are forced to abandon their claims.
It is shameful that tax payers’ money is being used to field top lawyers and pay exorbitant legal fees in an attempt to deny our soldiers their rightful dues. I strongly urge the Government to ensure that bureaucratic hurdles in the release of pensions are removed at the earliest. The Ministry must cease filing frivolous appeals and grant our soldiers the respect they deserve.

August, 2013

Though the rules of granting disability pension are inherently very liberal and also endorsed as such by the Supreme Court in the recent judgement of Dharamvir Singh Vs Union of India, yet many cases of disabilities arising during military service are restrictively and hyper-technically declared ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service’ by the MoD leading to denial of disability pension to disabled soldiers. Also military personnel with non-service related disabilities discharged with less than 10 years of service are not entitled to any form of pension leading to denial of the right to live a life of dignity, whereas the employment of civilian employees on being disabled is protected under Section 47 of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 enabling them to earn full pension. Majority of appeals and SLPs filed by MoD before the Supreme Court are against their own disabled soldiers on the specious ground that Courts and Tribunals have granted relief against Defence Ministry’s policy.
More than one lac retired defence personnel have been affected.
Ironically, far from safeguarding the welfare of retired soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of them disabled from battle injuries or the bleak conditions of service, the DESW stonewalls and holds off payment until an ex-serviceman claimant is either dead or broke
In view of the above, I urge the Government to intervene in the matter to resolve the issue and ensure that soldiers who made sacrifices for the Nation get their rightful and respectful due.

The Prime Minister must also take immediate steps to rein in the staff of the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW), which till date, has been able to misguide and mislead the political executive on this very important subject.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The tiresome fight for the rights of our men & women in uniform and veterans

I’ve been receiving multiple messages and mails on the subject of Toll Tax exemption.

Apparently, the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) has issued a Circular stating that serving Military personnel would not be eligible for toll exemption in their private vehicles.

Needless to state, this circular issued by the MoRTH is in contravention of the provisions of the Indian Tolls (Army & Air Force) Act, 1901, and also against the clarification issued by the same Ministry in the year 2003 in consequence of a case filed by me wherein the following was ordained by the said Ministry, in consultation with the Ministry of Law & Justice:

“The matter was referred to Ministry of Law. Ministry of Law and Justice have indicated that Indian Tolls (Army and Air Force) Act 1901 is a special Act which overrides general acts such as National Highways Act, 1956 and private vehicles of the officers, soldiers and airmen of regular forces are exempted from paying toll irrespective of whether they are on duty or not.”

The above was followed by multiple clarifications and letters by various agencies on the subject.

The same Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had later also issued Letter No NH-11065/12/2003-P&M dated 15 Sept 04 to National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) vide paragraph 1 of which it had clearly stated that private vehicles of defence personnel shall be exempted. The subject line of the letter also indicated that all categories of exemption under Section 3 of the Indian Tolls (Army & Air Force) Act, 1901, would fall under the definition of ‘defence vehicles’ which is an exemption term usually used on National Highways.

The subject was also adequately clarified on this blog through this blogpost.

Although I do appreciate the concern of all of you, especially serving personnel, on the subject and the anxiety in consequence of this latest illegally issued letter, but I would rather request you to look towards the Services Headquarters for resolution of your grievances.

I say so since I had communicated all material on the subject to all concerned including the Chief of the Army Staff, The Vice Chief, the Adjutant General and the Additional Director General Movement vide a detailed letter (Nav/Toll/Mov/2) in the year 2008 with fourteen annexures and the said authorities are now well equipped to take up cudgels for our men and women in uniform since they have the material to do so. In any case, it is the job of the three services to look after the interests of its personnel.

It is not that I do not empathize with the subject, but the last few years have resulted in an extreme form of dissatisfaction when I have discovered that while we keep fighting for the rights of our service-members and veterans, many of those in uniform tasked with protecting those very rights, incorrigibly stand in opposition of these causes. Believe me, it is a sad sight to see officers in uniform taking stands opposite of what we all stand for- justice and welfare for the military community, restoration of status, rights and privileges of our serving personnel. Yes, it is distressing and disheartening to see uniformed officers take hyper-technical objections and laugh and chuckle and rejoice on dismissal of rightful and genuine claims of soldiers, disabled veterans and widows in Courts forgetting that their prime duty is to assist the Courts or the system at arriving at justice and not to bludgeon the prayers of such people by hook or crook.

If some serving personnel of today are not wanting to reclaim their rights or to live a life of dignity with their equitable benefits guaranteed by law after retirement, if they want to only file appeals against decisions of Courts rendered in their favour rather than sounding the clarion call for change of anomalous and unjust policies, if they want to celebrate their own defeat, so be it.

It is tiresome to bang one’s head against a barricade that divides the just from the unjust.