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Friday, December 12, 2014

Dismissal of en masse appeals filed by Ministry of Defence in the SC against disabled soldiers: A great opportunity lost of earning goodwill by the top political executive, and the need for care in the future

It is well known that the current political regime is proactive and deeply concerned about the welfare of men and women in uniform. It is also well documented that both the Prime Minister as well as the Defence Minister are sensitive towards the fact that military veterans in this country are perturbed by the functioning of the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) and also the litigation unleashed by it on disabled soldiers, poor pensioners of lower ranks and also military widows. Not only that, this issue was also raised in the Parliament and very recently by known public figures. I had also sent a confidential note to all concerned, including the defence services, requesting action in this regard. But of course, this issue is not as glamorous or brownie point oriented like say the OROP.

Keeping in view the fact that the manifesto of the ruling party spoke of minimizing appeals filed against military veterans by the Govt, many veteran organizations wrote to the PM and all concerned apprising them of some ruthless decisions taken in the past, not by the political executive but by the bureaucracy at the lower levels in tandem with some staffers of the defence accounts department who cannot think beyond the literal interpretation of Govt policy which it feels is sacrosanct even if it is struck down by Courts or contravenes law, logic or basic common sense. Unfortunately, in our system, any illegality or illogical action can be defended with a noting sheet by the civil as well as military bureaucracy leading to wrong inputs to those occupying posts at the top who do not have time or inclination to hear the other (affected) side of the story.

The issue of broad banding affected quite a few disabled soldiers.

The Fifth Pay Commission had introduced the concept of broad-banding to minimize medical subjectivity and rationalize mistakes of medical boards by providing that those with a disability below 50% would be granted a disability element by treating it as 50%, those with 50%-75% would be granted the benefit of 75% and above 76% would be considered as 100%. However while implementing the concept, the Defence Ministry granted it only to post-1996 personnel invalided out on medical grounds and not to pre-1996 or those who were released with disability pension on superannuation or completion of terms, though all categories were equally afflicted with the problem of medical subjectivity. Military pension rules however provided that defence personnel released in a low medical category were deemed to be invalided out of service for purposes of disability pension.

There was a series of litigation thereafter wherein various benches of the Armed Forces Tribunal, High Courts and then the Supreme Court in a detailed decision (Capt KJS Buttar Vs Union of India) held that  pre-96 disabled personnel and those released on completion of terms or superannuation could not be deprived of broad-banding. One of the lead cases therein was that of Former Army Vice Chief Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, war disabled in the 1965 Indo-Pak War. The then Chief of the Army Staff, Gen VK Singh, rightly and strongly directed that appeals should not be filed in such cases and the decisions needed to be fully accepted and implemented by the establishment.

The filing of appeals in the broad-banding matter even after the decision of the Supreme Court in Capt KJS Buttar’s case displayed a strange kind of incorrigibility. The continued filing of appeals even after the Review Petition of the Defence Ministry was dismissed by the Supreme Court in January 2014 in Capt KJS Buttar’s matter reflected administrative arrogance which surpassed all lines of institutional decency. The sustained filing of civil appeals against disabled and war disabled soldiers in the Supreme Court much after the new regime had taken over was perplexing too since it was diametrically opposite to the sentiment of the new Govt. In the bargain, thousands of appeals were filed and tagged together wasting crores and crores of taxpayers’ money. Your money, my money. Would the citizens of any nation allow their taxes to be used to unleash terror on disabled and war disabled soldiers?

One always thought that with a strong political will in place, the lower level bureaucracy would be tamed. With so many verdicts on the same subject in favour of disabled veterans and with the expressed sentiment of the present government, I personally expected a decision at the highest level to the effect that such appeals filed at the behest of the DESW and also elements of the military establishment would be withdrawn.

Ultimately, like always, it was the judiciary that came to the rescue when the Supreme Court dismissed more than 800 appeals filed by the Ministry of Defence and the Army against its own soldiers. Though it has brought relief to disabled and war disabled solders, in it the Govt has also lost the opportunity of earning a whole lot of goodwill, a chance that should have been grabbed by simply suo moto withdrawing these unethical appeals from the Supreme Court. The anti-veteran sentiment of the lower bureaucracy has let down the political executive but that is for the higher echelons to realize.

I hope the Govt gives no more occasion to junior babus of the ironically titled Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare to let down defence veterans and consequently the entire nation with their sadistic egotism. I hope next time the Govt is faced with a situation like this, it takes the side of judiciousness, logic, sentiment and sensitivity and not morbid file notings put up by a babu sitting in a dingy office somewhere attempting to decide the entitlement of thousands of those who sacrificed their comforts in their prime, for all of us.

Ungrateful we are indeed. 


Anonymous said...

It's an excellent opportunity for the new Defence Minister to move away from age old knee jerk reactions and re calibrate the attitudes of the govt vis a vis the military. Dismissal of such petetions filed by public entities against disabled citizens/soldiers should be followed by fixing of accountability for the cost of litigation and the cost of detriment to image of the Govt.

sreekumar nair said...

Respected navadeep sir,a well written and compassionate piece by you,but sir,this is nothing compared to the fierce anti disabled war vet attitude of desw were it refuses to publish dopt circular on broadbanding benefits wef 24/9/2012 on percentage basis as published by your honour in your website in November last 2014 even after 3 requests.

Eugene R. Fidell said...

Is the decision available online. I was unable to find it on the SCI website.

Pokar Ram said...

Dear Navdeep singh,

All that has culminated in this final decision is as a result of your and your tireless efforts for the last five years.

You have rightly brought out the missed opportunity by political masters.

Kudos to you, Sir.

Anonymous said...

Dear Maj Navdeep

I do not agree that it is the junior bureaucracy responsible for the agony faced by the faujis. The higher bureaucracy definitely just dont put their dhobi mark on what ever is put up to them. In fact it is the people at the top responsible for all this mess.


Unknown said...

Dear Maj NS, What more can I say...Your explosive presentation is brilliant and appropriate. I find except a few TOP/ HIGHER LEVEL BURAUCRATS , MAJORITY APPEARS TO BE DEPENDENT ON THE "BUNGLING / BLUNDERING/ DELIBERATE SCREWING" DONE ON FILES BY THE LOWER ECHELONS (who again appear to be oblivious of the fact one day they also shall be pensioners)!. For every case, now we have to go to HSC-Cur Pet.?

Anonymous said...

Dear Maj Navdeep

As always you have helped the Veterans community by projecting their cases to the highest authorities and come out winner.It is you or SC but concerned BABUS always created hurdles but invariably lost after being told by SC to behave in a human way towards the disabled . Thanks a Million.
Gurdeep Singh
Gp Capt (Retd )

Alok Asthana said...

The judiciary is India's saviour. Let us hope that BJP bigwigs do not start influencing this body too, otherwise we're done for. I am sure they'll see through the BJP games and guard their objectivity.

Amitabh Negi said...

Dear Navdeep. I think I can speak for the entire Veteran community in lauding the good work that you do on their behalf. Please keep up this crusading zeal and a generation of soldiers will bless you.

Unknown said...

After OROP, the next fight should be to disband this most thankless and disgusting DESW , lock, stock and barrel and the whole staff compulsarily transfered to Sia Chin.

Unknown said...

Dear Navdeep ,
Congrats , you are doing excellent service to veterans. Keep it up

Anonymous said...

It is indeed oral boosting to know this. Dear Navdeep, you are doing a great service for the soldiers and we all in uniform or ex uniform know this. Now it is time that the civilians of the country are made aware of what is happening. Can this become a regular feature in media both print and TV. All the best.

Maj Gen (Retd) Ashok Coomar said...

The whole veteran community is obliged to dear Navdeep for the great service he has rendered. But I disagree with Navdeep that it is the "lower level bureaucracy" that alone is ill-disposed towards ESM. All bureaucrats right up to the very top nurture animosity towards ESM community and are a party to every thing that happens. We need to condemn them en mass for this abuse of authority.

Col Datta said...

Dear Navdeep,
You are indeed a 'jewel', amongst us and God Bless you. Please advise on the date, which it would take effect from.
Col Datta(Retd)

digvijay said...

Keep up the good work .like they have taught us in our earlier years " WHAT HAS TO BE HAS TO BE DONE '

digvijay said...

Thank you Navdeep ,What has to be done has to be done .This is what we have been tought in our early days .

Harri said...

A very positive step by the Supreme Court. Thanks to Major Navdeep who has fought the case at every level. may the tribe increase.

Ajit Datta said...

Thank Heavens for the Indian Judiciary. Time and again they
have exposed the manipulators responsible for undermining those who fought for them and protected them and their families at the peril of their lives. When they are disabled and helpless, thrown out by those they protected, it is the Judiciary that donned the protectors role to help the helpless

Lt Col CK Kaushik(Retd) said...

Dear Col Datta, Broad Banding was result of Vth PC so it should be implemented wef 01 Jan 1996. Pl correct me if I m wrong. Regards.


Unknown said...

Dear Maj Navdeep,
You are doing the veterans a yeoman service by taking up their cause.I read about this in Washington Post & hence I am posting the same.In the US the Presidents appoints a well known person to handle the affairs of the veterans.In our case some 'babu' like H Singh who is a big guy as DESW.Its a pity hence you plse take up this & ask for a change in MOD.
( Obama taps former Procter & Gamble chief to run Veterans Affairs
President Obama on Monday will nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald, a West Point graduate, to serve as the next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, White House officials say. The department has faced months of criticism for allegedly covering up long waits for veterans seeking medical care. The nomination comes four weeks after former Army general Eric Shinseki resigned from the post over the scandal. An acting undersecretary and the VA general counsel have also quit. [The Washington Post])

Commodore B K Mohanti VSM IN(Retd)

Anonymous said...

Dear navtej

That fine but on ground no notification is done by Govt thus making SC judgment unfruitful

Unknown said...

Dear Maj Navdeep,
You have done a yeoman service to the veterans fraternity.
A big thank you.
CMDE B K MOhanti.

A Sunder Rajan said...

Dear Maj Navdeep,

With this decision of the Supreme Court, do we take it, that broad banding benefits will also be applicable to all those disabled soldiers, who completed their full terms and got pension. Will they now get the benefits of broad banding? Please clarify..Thanks.

Col A Sunder Rajan

saran said...

I simply do not understand this obsession of Navdeep with "lower bureaucracy". It kinda beats me that the 'higher' leadership is so naive and this country is run by morons. Please do not fool everyone by saying that the IAS Babus and netas have done no wrong or do not see any wrong.....at times.. and only mildly, it even feels, therez a bit of disingenuousness on the part of Navdeep. I respect Navdeep a lot, except in this one aspect, where I feel he is misleading others.

Anonymous said...

I am frustrated and disgusted with the way we have to fight for social justice. Now off late i have started questioning was it a mistake i joined army to disgrace myself or i have stand in the society.it is better to serve american army.

opinder singh said...

Dear Maj Navdeep, excellent exposure on a most sensitive subject. Civilian employees of the same govt are entitled since 1996 and our men have to approach the Supreme Court in 2014 to get it implemented.... it can only happen in India. Please rethink on the blockages... it is not possible in this country to take such decisions at the lower level. The secy's of Def, Finance and Law are jointly taking such decisions along with DESW Secy& CGDA etc.An RTI expert should audit the performance of DESW of their welfare of soldiers Vs their taking up such cases upto the level of SC to deny benefits which the other employees are entitled.
Maj Navdeep deserves kudos for his efforts but what are our Generals like AG etc doing... cant they thump the table and get a fair treatment for their subordinates.

vishnoi said...

Dear Major Navdeep,

I retired during Aug 2007 after putting 30 years service a few months before superannuation with 50% disability to be reviewed after 2 years. After review the disability was brought down to 19%. Is there any order that disability given at the time of retirement holds good for ever.

Col Deepak Vishnoi (Retd), Engineers