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Sunday, May 17, 2015

More Chapters of wisdom read out to the system by the Supreme Court for disabled soldiers. But then, who cares!!!

At times we redundantly expect the officialdom to stand behind our uniformed men and women or to move heaven and earth to ensure the grant of benefits to veterans in order to guarantee a life of minimum dignity. But then this shall remain a dream it seems, forever.

Again, the Supreme Court has ruled on an issue which the officialdom itself should have addressed. While adjudicating an appeal filed by the Army and the Ministry of Defence against a poor disabled soldier boarded out of the Jammu & Kashmir Rifles after branding his disability 'neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service' and who was finally granted his disability pension by the J&K High Court, the Supreme Court has reminded the system that approach towards disabilities arising in military service cannot be unpragmatic or insensitive and that even constitutional or genetic disabilities can very much get aggravated by rigours of military life. Dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court has held the soldier entitled to disability pension even though he was boarded out soon after his training.

As discussed earlier, I fail to understand as to why are we becoming the masters of our own defeat. The whole approach towards litigation is misdirected. Litigation in the defence services is not based on legal principles but on ego trips. There is unethical pressure on officers handling litigation to ‘win cases’. Of course, every party to a litigation has the right to prosecute and defend its case, as the case may be, but then the first and foremost duty should be to assist Courts in arriving at justice and not to apply a hook or crook approach by misleading judicial fora or hiding facts or not even conceding cases which are squarely covered by existing policies or judicial pronouncements. Let me give another recent example. The Punjab & Haryana High Court had last year rendered a landmark decision on disability benefits to personnel disabled while on authorized leave. The decision was hailed in military circles and also appreciated by the official establishment. It was also communicated to the Raksha Mantri who is personally looking into the matter. The issue was also progressively raised before the Seventh Central Pay Commission. However shockingly, without any intimation to the Ministry of Defence or the Raksha Mantri, elements of the Army filed a review in the said case before the High Court citing that one of the notifications quoted by the High Court in the judgement had been superseded and that the Counsel for the Ministry/Army did not know about the supersession of the notification at the time of arguments. The reality however was that firstly, the said notification made no material difference to the outcome of the case since the judgement had been rendered by the High Court on multiple reasons and logic and this was only one of the ancillary points discussed. Secondly, the same point of review on the pretext of the supersession of the notification had been raised by the Ministry and the Army before the Supreme Court in a review petition in another case which was dismissed by the Apex Court in January 2014. Hence now a false affidavit had been filed before the High Court that the Army came to know about the supersession of the notification in 2015 whereas the same point had been already raised before the Supreme Court way back in 2014 and rejected too!

This raises various questions about our functioning- Whether some elements of the uniformed community can show undue exuberance in filing such reviews and appeals without due information to the Ministry or at least the Chief and the AG, fully knowing that the issue had been projected for resolution by the Services themselves to the Pay Commission? Whether a false affidavit on behalf of the Ministry/Chief can be filed locally without information to the concerned authorities more so since it is in direct contradiction of an issue taken up for resolution at the highest level? If on one hand the Pay Commission Cells are tirelessly working for getting soldiers and veterans their due benefits, can another branch on the other hand present diametrically opposite damaging and self-defeating views before Courts stating that benefits should not be granted to disabled soldiers? Whether false affidavits regarding lack of knowledge be submitted in a High Court knowing fully well that the same Review Petition on exactly the same point was dismissed by the Supreme Court way back in January 2014? Whether a hyper-technical approach to litigation is desirable in such cases wherein it is much known that the issue being canvassed before a Court has no relevance and makes no material difference to the final judgment rendered by the Court which was rendered on a variety of points? Whether the responsibility of a legal branch of an organisation is to kill the benefits of its own personnel and oppose all that is raised in Courts or uphold the principles of law in an ethical and humane manner? Whether undue pressure by higher-ups to ‘win cases’ is leading to unethical practices?

These are questions which were not asked in the times of yore but the times are changing and we must make the system answerable for the actions it takes against the interests of the veteran community and also of those who require our utmost care- our disabled soldiers and widows.

We refuse to stand up before notings prepared by Section Officer level officials in the offices of Financial Advisors but willingly file cases against our own disabled soldiers without taking a stand! I would like to remind readers again that General VK Singh had refused to file an appeal against Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi’s war injury pension case and ultimately it was the Ministry of Defence which had to initiate the process all alone. Today the MoD is on record saying that it is the Army HQ, after consultation with JAG and Legal Advisor (Defence), which files appeals, but the Army HQ states that it does so on the instructions of the MoD. Whatever may be the truth, the ultimate sufferers are our own people, especially those of the lower ranks, and their families. It was painful for me once to hear a Bench questioning the capability of the establishment to look after the morale of troops in operations when en masse appeals were being filed against their sundry benefits, sometimes amounting to a few hundred rupees per month. 

What I have written above is not to pinprick but just to show a mirror to all of us and should hence be taken in the right spirit. This once again reminds me of some lines that I wrote not many months ago, which resonate in my mind every time I am made to undergo the agony of dealing with such cases:

“...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...”

Déjà vu.


Avi Sud said...

It is a very sorry and sad state of affairs which our Govt in the the past and present have been paralyzed with, where the only respite being provided to the poor and disabled personnel of our Armed Forces is from such orders to the Courts in our country.

It is shameful that the bureaucracy of our nation is only paper pushers and not dynamic leaders within the Govt machinery. Maj Navdeep do keep up this good job of reminding our nation of the silent sacrifices being done by our men in uniform.



Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep Sir,

There is immense truth and wisdom in every syllable of your post. NANA verdict has not been implemented. Right of appeal in High Courts has been taken away. Toll Tax issue is another example where people are perhaps waiting to see the result of your personal efforts. The service HQ are intentionally silent; for the crab race is on. The heavy brass shoulders are not affected. for the last two years of their career they become unfit, claim highest disability and tax free pension. File an RTI and you will find that most of the heavy brass shoulders have taken recourse to much action. Specially those who are in the service of handling medicals and medical boards. So will be the messiah of the lesser humans? I follow your posts and tweets to only feel more and more disgusted.

Warm regards always

Raxas said...

Sometimes I feel that every appeal that is filed should be done after the cost of the appeal is calculated vis a vis the time of the Court wasted on such frivolous appeals. They should take Government sanction prior to appealing laying down the financial "benefit" they are likely to incur wrt the time of the judges and courts. Pay of the lawyers and bureaucrats appealing should be cut to pay punitive damages which our courts should award in frivolous cases.

Anonymous said...

Many times more will be spent on this legal game than this poor soldier would be getting in his lifetime otherwise. In the meantime, that smart babu will peacefully retire without breaking his head ( and may get his FAIR SHARE from the appeal money!!!!)on the calculations involved to grant benefits to this poor chap. A Punjabi Proverb suits this occasion: "Chor uchakke Chaudhary te gundi ran Pradhan". Our National Anthem should be....God save our country.......Jai Hind.

Anonymous said...

Maj Navdeep, You are absolutely right in highlighting the issues. As you have rightly brought out, military has habit of shooting self in the absence of clear enemy. Hence as far as middle-lower levels of military is considered, the service HQ is the first and foremost adversary.

Wg Cdr K M Vijayan said...

You are absolutely right when you mentioned "Ego Problems". It is the attitude of officers both in Min of Def as well as Armed Forces need to change. When I was teaching in AFA after my Staff Course almost 35 years back, I had categorically told all gentlemen cadets that the rules are made for us to interpret to the advantage of our forces.

Wg Cdr(Veteran)

Dr K M Vijayan


What a cruel joke. almost all our present problems seem to have come from"SELF INFLICTED INJURIES".Yes. why blame the BABUs?

Alok Asthana said...

True. Navdeep. Mostly our own people are to blame - if not for their active connivance, surely for their passivity. Acts of omission, if not acts of commission.

Anonymous said...

PCDA(P) circular is yet NOT seen on their website on disability pension to be granted wef 24-9-12 based on minimum fitment in the pay band . Your post dated 21 April 2015 refers.
Similerly MOD does not seem to have issued any letter for changing the effective date of payment from 24-9-2012 to 1-1-2006
for minimum guaranteed pension as per fitment in the pay band ( and not on minimum of the pay band).
Wonder if the same will at all be issued any time in near future..

Anonymous said...

Dear Major,
an eye opening blog. you are doing a wonderful job of educating all concerned. unfortunately the so called "TOP BRASS" do do forget that they have risen from the days of sub altern.

bala said...

As soldiers (incl officers )start feeling injustice and inequality ,their motivation and spirit of fighting/sacrifice diminishes. Why should they take any risk ??.The effectiveness of military diminishes.
What are these short sighted bureaucrats ( incl. Mily ) doing????. They are only weakning Nationl Defense !
In ultimate analysis - these are worse than criminal acts.

Anonymous said...

The toll tax, NANA, DACP for Docs, non grant of NFUs are examples of how we shoot ourselves. Many more cab be cited- but, is anyone Listening? Hope we unite about OROP atleast.

Ramapati Sahana said...

I am in awe and utter respect each time I read your comments/ blogs.
It is utter shame in my view that if anyone has brought the degradation and insult to the community , it has been primarily from within.
In some of my small experience where I had chance to be part of muti-group delegation, acquisition group, seminar found that higher a person reached lower was his sincerity ,self respect and compassion for others.
It was easy to make 03 services differ and fight among themselves for petty cause and for some petty self gain.
Bravery , dare-devilness intrinsically comes with some demanding questions / accepting no-nonsense which is swiftly crushed in the name of “Good Order and Discipline” and specially with injustice towards sub-ordinates/ Jawans.
Today we have these so called artificial and subservient characters going ahead in ladder only to find them hiding/ feigning illness during war/ hostility/emergency .