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Thursday, February 26, 2015


(A). Suffixing “(TS)” for Time Scale Ranks: A really strange practice of suffixing “(TS)” with Time Scale Ranks had been prevalent for quite some time. For example, one could see the proliferation of terms such as “Colonel (TS)” even in official correspondence. Of course this was totally incorrect since there is only one rank of “Colonel” that exists officially and legally, and there is nothing called “Colonel (TS)” in the universally and internationally accepted system of military ranks. Such distinction had only been introduced for auditing purposes for practical reasons and not for day to day usage. To elaborate, officers promoted to the rank of Lt Col by Time Scale used to be placed in the pay scale of a Lt Col but with the rank pay of Major, and hence, for the purposes of audit, pay and pension, it was practically required to clarify the same in order to release the correct entitlements. Now, commendably, the Army HQ has clarified it to all concerned that “(TS)” would not be used in any communication for officers promoted by Time Scale. A welcome step indeed!

(B). Defence Travel System: In the railway budget announced today, it has been stated that paper warrants shall be eliminated and a new ‘Defence Travel System’ would be introduced. Again a welcome step.

(C). SC again clarifies law on disability benefits: The apex Court has yet again dismissed an appeal filed by the Ministry of Defence and the Air HQ against a disabled Air Warrior. The SC has ruled by way of a detailed decision that disability pension has to flow in terms of the rules which are to be liberally interpreted and not as per the whims of the medical board. A report on the same can be accessed by clicking here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Inclusion of Non-Practicing Allowance in the pension of Doctors- after duly issuing instructions w.e.f 1996, Govt grants benefits w.e.f 2006 also, in compliance of the SC decision (while Military Doctors await parallel orders)

A detailed post was placed on this blog on 30 Nov 2013 explaining the dubious stand of the officialdom in the case involving counting of the element of Non-Practicing Allowance (NPA) in the pension of Central Govt Doctors, factum of which became clear on perusing the decision of the Supreme Court in KC Bajaj’s case.

After the decision in the above case, the Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare (DoPPW) duly complied with the decision and issued instructions with regards to inclusion of NPA in the pension of Doctors with effect from 01 Jan 1996 (5th Central Pay Commission) which was a subject matter of the said litigation. When informed that the same logic also applied to fixation of pension after the 6th Central Pay Commission, the DoPPW, upholding its image of a progressive department, rose to the occasion and has now resolved the anomaly in toto by extending the benefit to pension fixed with effect from 01 Jan 2006.

Of course, similar orders for 5th CPC as well as the 6th CPC have not been issued till date for Military Doctors.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"One Rank One Pension" and other military veteran issues: Myth Buster


Navdeep Singh

The very recent assurance on “One Rank One Pension”, or OROP as it is colloquially known, by the Defence Minister of the country should calm some nerves. The Minister, by now known for his sensitive and humane approach, reassured military veterans that he staunchly stood behind the promise made by the Government on the subject time and again, including by the Prime Minister. A case is hence definitely made out not to read too much into the negativity floating around in the environment on the subject.

Why OROP for soldiers some may ask! Common sense is all that is required to fathom that the current cost of living equally applies to a military veteran who retired say fifteen years back vis-a-vis the one who retires today in the same rank. When both go out to the grocer, they pay the same price for atta that they buy, they pay the same for the vegetables which feed their families, they are also expected to maintain a similar level of daily life, so why the sharp difference in their pensions?

Precisely this is the reason why the concept OROP, came into inception. At a rudimentary level, it simply means similar pension for similar rank for an equal length of service. It is not only desirable, but highly logical. Agreeable is the suggestion that ideally it must be applied to all services under the government, military or otherwise, but then we do not live in an ideal world and till that final objective is achieved for all other classes of employees, military veterans do have a case for favourable consideration as explained in the succeeding lines.

As would be expected in any democracy, departments concerned or dealing with the Armed Forces of most nations strongly stand behind their men and women in uniform and plead for the best of benefits from their respective governments. But in our country, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), till recently, was legendary in always taking an adversarial stand against the profession of arms. And not straying from this dubious legacy, it were elements of the same Ministry that always opposed the grant of OROP to military veterans repeatedly citing financial, administrative and legal impediments for resisting the concept, and in the bargain, attempting not only to mislead and misguide the highest of political executive, but even Parliamentary Committees. While financial constraints are well understood and appreciated, there is never too high a price to pay for those who protect us at the peril of their lives. Under the garb of administrative constraints, it was pointed out by the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) of the MoD to a Parliamentary Committee in 2011 (Koshyari Committee) that OROP was not feasible to implement since documents of military personnel are weeded out after 25 years- an incorrect averment, to say the least. In reality, it is the documents of non-pensioners that are weeded out in 25 years as per Regulation 595 of the Regulations for the Army. Moreover, the Pension Payment Orders (PPOs) of pensioners which contain all relevant details such as the rank last held and the length of service are retained during the lifetime of each pensioner and then during the lifetime of the family pensioner  in case of demise of the former, and  these details, which are the only two basic requirements for OROP, are also available in a document called “Long Roll” which is maintained in perpetuity in terms of Regulation 592 of the Regulations for the Army. Of course, a complaint to the then Raksha Mantri related to false statements by representatives of the MoD to the Parliamentary Committee and also to Constitutional Courts did not elicit any action whatsoever, as expected. Even the legal constraints pointed out by the DESW repeatedly hold no ground since the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Maj Gen SPS Vains, being the latest on the subject, fully endorses the concept of OROP.

Another strange bogey historically put across by the establishment has been the imaginary fear that “other employees” would also start demanding OROP. This argument too is faulty at multiple levels. Firstly, it is a fact that no civilian pensioners’ body has ever opposed additional pensionary benefits to military veterans and mostly civilian peers have supported the cause, tacitly and even overtly. Secondly, unique service conditions such as living away from the family in a strictly regimented, at times hazardous and highly stressful environment, maintaining two households on being posted away from family, being under a disciplinary code 24 hours a day, 365 days a year et al make an additional dispensation such as OROP all the more justified. Thirdly, depending upon rank, soldiers start retiring at the age of 34 which is not the case in any other service including comrades of the Central Armed Police Forces who also no doubt face tough service conditions. Fourthly, civil employees are blessed with a much higher lifetime earning as compared to military employees and they also are fortunate to see multiple salary revisions through subsequent pay commissions. Fifthly, a much higher system of calculating pensions remained applicable to the defence services till the third pay commission when it was abruptly discontinued and military pensioners were suddenly (broadly) equated with civilian pensioners in many aspects. Sixthly, the fear of ‘similar demands’ also now does not hold much water since other employees (post-2004) are on a New (Contributory) Pension Scheme which is much different than the traditional pension system of the Government. Seventhly, contrary to popular perception, and interestingly, the average life expectancy of military personnel and veterans is much lower than other civilian employees, especially at the lower ranks.

With a proactive Prime Minister, a sensitive Defence Minister and other former soldiers on Ministerial berths, the new Government has definitely given hope to defence pensioners in the well known demands of the military community in issues such as OROP as well as other insidious matters such as the way disabled soldiers and military widows are treated by the system. The new government, which now seems to be getting a grip of things, however must ensure that the political will in this regard is imposed and enforced with an iron fist from the top downwards towards the bottom and not the other way round. The last few years have been witness to a deleterious culture whereby junior Section Officer and Under Secretary level officers were ruling the roost by initiating misleading noting sheets which were approved till the very top without question. The one-way imposition of appalling, illegal, illogical and negative policies hence emanated from below with the top brass merely affixing initials. The attitude must shift from ‘how a thing cannot be done’ to finding ways to move towards a constructive and positive foundation. The Defence Accounts Department must also not be allowed to influence policy or present exaggerated figures by juggling with numbers as was seen in the last few years. The office of the Controller General of Defence Accounts is only responsible for accounts and auditing and must not be seen as the policy-maker as has been the case in the last few years wherein the MoD has been asking the former to draft policies and government letters related to pay, allowances and pensions of defence services.

Per chance, co-extensive with the proactive top brass in the government, the higher echelons of the military have also seen some changes including the newly appointed Adjutant General of the Army who is expected to make a change with his sensitive and pragmatic approach. It is a perfect opportunity for the defence services to work in tandem with the government to ameliorate the problems being faced by the veteran community. The fillip to the Veterans’ Cell in the Army HQ, which is rendering excellent service, is a step in the right direction. It would in fact augur well for the system, if just like the DESW, the military too cleans up its act especially in its Personnel Services directorate and Record Offices, some elements of which are also ensconced in cobwebs of negativity and rigidity and who do not let the seniors in the chain of command look at issues with an optimistic vision. File notings are framed in such a manner so as to ensure the elicitation of a negative decision. This attitude must change, so must the structure of initiating multiple litigation by the establishment against old veterans, disabled soldiers and military widows.  Military veteran organisations too must not take extreme positions or bicker amongst themselves. In fact, the veteran community expects veteran organisations to play a beneficial role and facilitate a well oiled overall veteran welfare machinery, bereft of politics.

The time is right, the leadership is optimal; however it needs to be instilled and drilled into the authorities dealing with the welfare of soldiers that an environment of positivity needs to be inculcated towards our men and women in uniform. All stakeholders must shun rigidity, sit together and work towards smooth and early implementation by efficiently ironing out the creases without any delay. Friction and antagonism is not in national interest.

It is our obligation that we must rise to the occasion, aid and assist the current leadership in ensuring a better deal to our protectors. Issues concerning our veterans and also our serving soldiers have to be dealt with a caring, sympathetic, compassionate and sensitive approach and not in the environ of pessimism or  with the spirit of hyper-technicality and hyper-legalese. It is time for all of us to salute our men and women in uniform who protect our freedom in this proud democracy, not with lip-service but with steps that facilitate them in day to day life.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Supreme Court again upholds the dignity of disabled soldiers

Again coming to the rescue of disabled soldiers denied disability pension, the Supreme Court has yesterday rendered a detailed landmark decision holding that any disability that arises during service is to be deemed to have been caused by military service unless reasons are recorded as to how the disability was such which could not have been detected at the time of entering into service.

Before I proceed with more details, I must put it on record that the present times are the best for military veterans. The political leadership, that is, the current Defence Minister, is inclined to resolve all such issues, especially related to disabled veterans, and the military brass dealing with the subject seems to have a pragmatic leader in the new Adjutant General. They need to now implement their vision and enforce the law of the land without being bothered about the personal opinion of their staff. I have, in the past, discussed in detail the issue how the establishment (more specifically the medical set-up) is being unfair to our disabled soldiers by its hyper-technical and mathematical approach.

The decision, while dismissing 26 appeals filed by Ministry of Defence against disability pension granted by High Courts and Armed Forces Tribunal to physically and psychiatrically disabled soldiers, again reiterates what had been held by the Supreme Court in 2013 in Dharamvir’s case, in 2014 in Sukhwinder’s case and also by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in its landmark judgement in Umed Singh’s case again in 2014. The following is notable from the dicta of the Supreme Court:

A. The opinion of the medical board stating that a disability is “neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service” is not sufficient to deny disability pension to disabled soldiers.

B. As per rules, a presumption of fitness operates when a person joins service and it is also presumed under the rules that any deterioration that has taken place in the health of a soldier is due to military service.

C. Claimant is not to be called upon to prove entitlement and he/she shall receive the benefit of doubt.

D. If the medical board holds that the disability could not have been detected on medical examination at the time of acceptance in service, reasons for the same shall be stated.

E. Provision for payment of disability pension is a beneficial provision which ought to be interpreted liberally so as to benefit those who have been sent home with a disability at times even before they completed their tenure in the armed forces

F. The burden to establish non-connection of disability with service would lie heavily upon the employer since the rules raise a presumption that deterioration in the health of soldiers is on account of military service or aggravated by it. A soldier cannot be asked to prove that the disease was contracted by him on account of military service or was aggravated by the same.

Thanks to the Supreme Court and the Delhi and Punjab & Haryana High Courts for ensuring a life of dignity to our disabled soldiers.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The 7th Central Pay Commission: The Services should ensure a better deal for the Short Service Commission Scheme

Now that the issues tagged with the 7th Central Pay Commission are gaining momentum, it is very important to again bring to light the matters related to the scheme of Short Service Commission, which arguably is being thought of as the backbone of the officer cadre of the defence services for the future.

A few years ago, the Short Service Commission Scheme of the Army was regressively tweaked from the earlier 5+5+4 system to the 10+4 system making service of 10 years compulsory in the Army for such officers. This was ostensibly done to make the scheme more ‘attractive’, but ironically, this is the greatest disservice that could ever be rendered and has had just the opposite effect. The reasons why I say so can be fathomed from this old post of mine:

A. There is no seniority protection in the civil services for former SS officers anymore, which means that an ex-SSCO starts his/her civil career alongwith civil direct recruits 10 years younger to him/her and atleast two ranks junior to his/her former status in the Army.

B. If joining the corporate world, the ex-SS officer again starts at a point of the ladder where he/she competes with youngsters who already have had a head-start which the former SS officer missed out due to his/her joining the Army.

C. Ex-Servicemen benefits are entitled only on completion of terms of engagement which means that the said benefits which were earlier available after 5 years, are now available after serving for 10.

D. 10% of appointments at Assistant Commandant (Lieutenant equivalent) level in the CAPFs are reserved for SSCOs. There is no protection of seniority. Hence, ex-SSCOs of Major and Lt Col level are expected to join at Lieut level (GP 5400) in the CAPFs which makes the entire reservation redundant.

E. After completing 10 years of service, an SSCO is in his/her 30s and to expect him/her to then look around for a fruitful career, in my opinion, is otiose.

It may be important to point out that in the civil services, in accordance with Rule 49 (2) (b) of the Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972, civil employees become eligible for pension after serving the govt for 10 years, whereas our SSCOs are released without a pension and are only granted a gratuity even after serving 14 years. After the 6th CPC, civil employees are now entitled to full pension after serving 10 years under the ibid rule (it was 33 years for full pension prior to 6th CPC). Of course the 10 year rule on the civil side only applies to those who are released or retired after completing 10 years and not to voluntary retirees. The above applies to pre-2004 recruited employees and the ones who joined service after the said date are eligible for benefits under the New Pension Scheme. 

On learning that the defence services had made no recommendation of a proper pension scheme for SSCOs to the 7th CPC, I had duly pointed out its very pertinent requirement if we were to ensure retention of talent in this very important cadre of the military.

In short, the top brass of the Ministry of Defence and also the defence services, without being unduly guided by personal opinions of their staff, must take a holistic view and address the following issues to retain talent in the Short Service Commission and to maintain the izzat and sheen of the military rank in the civil society in general:

(1) Reverting back to the system of 5+5+4 years terms of engagement rather than the 10+4 years which leaves our officers neither here nor there.

(2) Introduction of pension after 10 years for those who opt to continue beyond 5 years on the lines of Rule 49 (2)(b) on the civil side, or a suitable contributory pension scheme.

(3) Ensuring retention and protection of seniority and status in the civil services for SSCOs.

(4) Restoration of outpatient medical facilities to released SSCOs and ECOs which were illegally withdrawn by the Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services.

Though the above steps are not exhaustive, it is only now that putting our brains together could make any positive dent, otherwise, the matter would further be postponed for another 10 years to the next pay commission. The Services HQ should stand up and take a call!