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Friday, March 25, 2016

Redressal of Grievances in the Defence Services: Testing times!

Mixed feelings is how I would rudimentarily describe the moment I read the news about the Defence Minister’s retort to the Defence Services for seeking to take action against those who complain to him directly.

On one hand came the realization that in no hierarchical organization would jumping the queue be taken very kindly since it does affect command and control in a way. But on the other side of the spectrum, my mind was divided as to what would then be the answer if a person is not heard by his or her own or if he or she is blocked from informing the authorities up the chain!

There can be no easy answers and thus the predicament in my mind persists.

In an ideal situation, hopping the chain is not apt. But then, as I say always, we do not live in an ideal world and there can be no mathematical or straitjacket solutions to such situations.

The reaction of many senior retired officers to the news above was that it would disturb the equilibrium of the defence services and encouraging personnel to directly approach the very top is not a healthy phenomenon. There can be no cavil with this proposition. But have we introspected as to why things have come to such a pass? That answer is not far to seek- that clearly the system of redressal of grievances is in shambles which is why unconventional or rather non-regulation methods are being employed by those who are not being heard or who perceive themselves as not being heard. There is no sounding board. There is no catharsis.

It is well known that non-statutory or statutory complaints, especially by the lower ranks, are not being decided in the prescribed time-period and at times linger on till inordinately long periods and by the time the relief becomes redundant in many cases. It may not be out of place to mention that the time limit prescribed for redressal of such grievances by the Government of India is 3 months and in the services the time limit prescribed for decisions on statutory complaints is 6 months, but even that is not adhered to in most cases. The military does not even encourage complaints, especially by the lower ranks, and most of the personnel keep groping in the dark about the ‘format’ of such complaints and many of these are returned by various intermediary authorities indulging in infructuous correspondence for not being in the ‘prescribed format’ or due to other hyper-technical reasons. Some of the personnel posted in remote locations are also consigned to the backboard of red-tape and left scampering for formats and all that wondrous jazz. Worse, the statistics would prove that relief is finally granted only in a minuscule number. Pulling strings and over-reliance on file notings, at times initiated by those who have been complained against, in case of all ranks, is also an open secret and no amount of denial could hide this reality.

In such a scenario, what do you expect? Frustration of course, which finally manifests itself in skipping the hierarchy. And once that happens, can such behaviour be truly blamed on the individuals when it emanates from our own deficiencies?  

In a changing world and changing dynamics of public grievances and interactive formats, including social media, it would be futile to rely upon outdated practices or live in a time warp. While formal complaints cannot be initiated to one’s seniors in the hierarchy directly bypassing the proper channel, there is no strict bar on informal letters, including Demi Official communications, which are simply now being substituted by emails and informal electronic communications to seniors and hence may not exactly fall foul of regulations since these are not formal ‘complaints’ but mere written substitutes for face to face interaction. The way to avoid this is to brace up with the times we live in and make grievance redressal receptive, humane, objective and quicker. True, there are incorrigible elements and habitual complainants but genuine grievances cannot be subsumed by disputable ones. We also need to introspect as to why Demi Official letters are commonplace with officers but similar informal communications frowned upon when initiated by other ranks. 

One of the cardinal references to the Committee of Experts constituted by the Raksha Mantri, of which I too was a Member, was strengthening of the system of redressal of grievances in the defence services. The issue, which has been engaging the attention of the Minister, weighed heavily on our minds also, especially on my senior colleagues, who with their progressive approach were totally attuned to the changing interface of modern life in the age of internet and social media, after which we had recommended a few changes in the existing dispensation. Some of these were providing a better system of personal interaction and opportunity of hearing, reducing red-tapism and hyper-technical approach in grievances redressal mechanism, initiating faster redressal and following existing Government of India guidelines for the same. Some of these have been enumerated in Paragraphs 3.3.2, 3.3.3, 4.2.2, 4.2.5, 4.2.7, 7.2 and 7.4 of the Report which now stands declassified. I would be failing in my duty if I do not mention that many senior officers of the Defence Services Headquarters were also concerned about mandating improvement in the existing mechanisms and were not oblivious to the contours of the subject.  

Just as the head of an organization is supposed to be in the know of all that is happening under him, the Defence Minister is doing a good job in ensuring that systems work. He is not an outsider external to the chain of command; he is the political executive heading the Ministry of Defence. In my opinion, he is not micromanaging, he is not encouraging personnel to bypass the existing channels, but only functioning as a de facto ombudsman for ensuring that in the long run the systems are so well oiled that personnel get the desired decisions and redressal at the lowest possible level within the laid down time-limits. His methods may be unconventional, but for that, we should be thankful that he is taking active interest in the portfolio allotted to him and also that he cannot be evaded by the talent of wiliness and craftiness.

The discussion makes me want to recapitulate what the Delhi High Court stated in 2004 on the fine balance between discipline and fairness:

“...Discipline is highly desirable and is essential for achieving the purpose for which Armed Forces have been created and set up. However, in order to obtain discipline and obedience, it is essential that the personnel of the Armed Forces are dealt with an innate fairness and justice is meted out to the members of the Forces. This is necessary to not only ensure discipline but to motivate these brave soldiers who perform their duties in the service of the nation and who have to be motivated to lay down their lives to the cause of the nation. When guidelines have been laid down and procedures prescribed they should be applied to the letter lest the same shall result in demoralization in the lines and ranks of the forces which may lead to insubordination and indiscipline...”

Ideally hence, there should be no occasion to bypass the existing channels for redressal of grievances but it is ultimately for the system to ensure that the rank and file repose so much faith in it that they do not run helter-skelter. For sure our systems are time-tested, but then the times have changed and we need to match up and catch up. And till that happens, till our systems adjust with the times we live in, there are bound to be minor corrections and tribulations which we must take in our stride.


RSS said...

Sir, that was a great exposure of thought with citation of Hon. Delhi High Court's judgement on balancing the discipline with justice. I would like to bring following case to your (and other honorable reader's) notice to elucidate the concept of justice dwelling in the heads our military and civilian bosses-

1. The government removed the stipulation of 10 months service in the last rank in 2001 and decided to pay the pension of the "last rank" held before discharge w.e.f. 01 January 1996, but PCDA and CDAs kept that stipulation 'live' in their circulars and the pension for last rank is paid to only those Jawans who won it from the courts or AFTs. In 2001, the Government had clarified it as under :- “It is clarified that pension of all pre-96 retiree Armed forces Personnel will be revised on the basis of the rank/group last held by the individual and the revised pay scale connected thereto, even if the rank/group was held for less than 10 months before retirement. Such pension will be reduced proportionately if the qualifying service is less than 33 years. Other conditions to earn pension will continue to apply.”
‘Ministry of Defence Report’ prepared by ‘Raksha Mantri’s Committee of Experts’ on
“review of service and pension matters including potential disputes, minimizing litigation and strengthening institutional mechanisms related to redressal of grievances” concludes-

“Since this issue has led to, and is leading to multiple litigation in Courts, the Committee recommends that no appeals be filed before the Supreme Court on the 10 months’ stipulation since not only is the issue covered by the Constitution Bench decision of the Supreme Court in DS Nakara’s case but also the stand taken against the proposition defies all logic since such personnel are being forced to accept pension of a lower rank than the one in which they had retired and that too by impishly reintroducing a negative stipulation without the sanction of the Cabinet, which anyway stands abrogated with effect from 01-01-2006. In future, it may be taken care to grant pensions based on the rank last held, as is the case on the civil side, and not based on the last rank held for 10 months.”

Bet it that 'In future,' in the last sentence of above conclusion will now enough cause a cataclysm in the dummy heads of the babus to separate the past pensioners from this benefit unless they approach a court to claim the arrears with 12% interest and other expenditures.

2. Circular 547 (for arrears w.e.f. 01.01.2006) says "3. After issue of GOI, Ministry of Personnel, PG & Pensioners, Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare letter No. 38/37/08-P & PW (A) dated 30.07.2015, it has been decided that with effect from 01.01.2006 pension/family pension of Pre-2006 JCOs/ORs pensioners/Family pensioners shall be determined as fifty and thirty percent respectively of the minimum of the fitment table for the Rank in the revised Pay Band as indicated under fitment tables annexed with 1/S/2008 as amended and equivalent instructions for Navy and Air Force, plus Grade Pay corresponding to the pre-revised scale from which the pensioner had retired/discharged/invalided out/died including Military Service Pay and X group pay."..........as pension for Havaldar in x group is shows Rs. 5564/ in its table. But, when we calculate the minimum pay for corresponding rank at 20 years (without weightage as for civilians) that should be (5200+2800+2000+1400)/2 = Rs. 5700/-

Best regards.

JWO Ram Singh sahni (Retd.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep, you have aptly summed up the issue. The system is collapsing under its own weight. The definition of Right is being translated at different levels in different manner.For all those who thought that Soldiering was the most simplest of profession where all those straight speaking was appreciated have to do a rethink. A system which is pushing up Wrongs will get wronged some day. For all those in the system, pl save the values and ethos it was built on before we become one of the Dept of govt service.

pradeep sharma said...

It is unfortunate that those in service have to jump the que; however, this happens because they have no trust in the system. Mr Parricker would do well to go into merrits of each case rather than what he has announced.
Simultaneusly, the club of Star Ranks in the Armed forces need to introspect seriously and take corrective action by personal example.
Today these officers are viewed with contempt, not a healthy sign.

Manohar AM said...

We assume that the Committee of Experts constituted by the Raksha Mantri is our future ombudsman. I only wish the authorities will consider the complaints that are not following the protocol desired. The word discipline got varied meanings and is not the propriety of the defence personnel only. Correcting a mistake in time too can be counted as disciplined action.

a k sethi said...

how about ESM sir ---their is NO CHANNEL of lodging
AVTAR SINGH lodged 20 times ultimately had to go to court and got thousands the arrears from 01 jan 2006

Jeyaprakash Gopalswamy said...

it is all because of fear we don't raise our vioce.redressal of grievances&action taken within 60 days limitation will deliver good things.expert committee report done a very good job .we senior citizens look forward early implementation of expertcommittee report on reservist pension,who
\country wars .

Sankaran Subramaniam said...

You cannot sacrifice Justice at the altar of discipline. On few instances Armed forces hierarchy behaves worse than civilian babudom.The redress is seemingly stereotype and favors the system only and not the individual.I have many cases to quote. Regards. Veteran Wing Commander S.Sankaran 1963 Direct Entry Tech officers course

Ak Roy said...

dear navdip sir, aptly put , u have very correctly brought out the issues. one reason i feel may be because of our cover self from fire attitude for promotion that has led to increased babugiri. in other words in overindulgence of Minor SD we have let go of Major SD and instead oftrying to solve issues and be leaders the officers have become managers and supervisors trying always to pass the buck.amit

Jeyaprakash Gopalswamy said...

sir. your expert committee report to raksha mantri on reservist pension needs immediate implementation as we all crossed the age of 70 ,some even above 80 years.sufering a lot. myself without medical facilities to my family of 2 100% deaf mute with ,mul,,multiple disorders ,one with single kidney.&sick wife have to face unbearable struggles in this age of 72 .i have filed O.A.17/2010, to which the shortfall OF reserve period of 5 years could not be condoned & my service of 9 years 9mon 9days cannot be as 10 minimum service required to grant pro-rata pension 10 complete years of serviceREQUIRED.& with liberty to appeal.after comming to KNOW the judgement,notable one being that of K.SIVARAMAN VsUOI IN T.A.NO 53/2010AFT KOCHIWHICH HELD EVEN IF THE APPILICANT HAD APPLIED FOR DISCHARGE ON COMPASSIONTE GROUNDS HE IS ENTITLED TO RESERVIST PENSION WHICH FORMS PRESENCE TO MY CLAIM.ACCORDINGLY I FILED O.A IN AFT CHENNAI VIDE RECEIPT NO.2994/2013 ON 30.10 13.REGISTRARY OF AFT CLOSED IT AUG 2015.WITHOUT NUMBERING ,PL KNOW ALL I WENT THROUGH STATE FREE LEGAL AID COMMITTEE.AGAIN I FILED A O.A. IN SFPT 2015,WHICH IS ALSO NOT NUMBERED. DEFENCE PERSONNEL,MAINLY SR.CITIZENS HAVE TO FACE LOTOF. HURDLES IN GETTING O.A.S NUMBRED .I FEEL VERY BAD ABOUT ME.& IN DISTRESS POSITION.IT TOO MUCH FOR THE VETERAN WHO FOUGHT 1965&1971 WARS DECORATED WITH 7 MEDALS. NOW I HAVE FIND IN MY DISCHARGE BOOK WAR SERVICE ENTERED AS'. NIL.' PREVENTING ME TO GET FREE MEDICAL AID AS PER NOTICE OF ZILLA SAINIK BOARD,I REQUEST EMMINIENT TO HELP ME TO GET MY RESERVIST PENSION. 257283 CPL .G.JEYAPRAKASH FROM TAMILNADU

Gp Capt NK Maharishi said...

Maj Navdeep has been very aptly taking up the cause of AF personnel. Kudos to him.
I do agree with many fellow veterans who have expressed their anguish with the state of affairs of the redress all of grievances system. It is only the top hierarchy of the forces to blame for no taking any action against those in the chain of command responsible for taking redress all action with sensitivity and well in time.

Gp Capt NKMaharishi, veteran

bala said...

Fine and o Kay.why not open up an additional channel ,a direct one on some matters of grave in nature ;before a bubble bursts or an event of great damage.
Earthquake does not wait or go through est systems or channels of command.
Under prevailing environment and conditions ,DM obviously activated a channel.
When the time comes these formats are irrelevant. Even a single line script is good enough for activation of action with due deligence.

Anonymous said...

Dear sir, when a personal belonging to lower rank try to lodge grievance through proper prescribed channel. Officer sitting at lower started to deal with him like enemy. They use all wrong means to supress him. Sir discipline should not be maintained at the cost of justice. Just presume what a soldier will do at lower level when his immediate boss is highly indulged in corrupt practices and misusing the power. Raising valid point through proper channel is seen as a crime in armed forces these days.

bala said...

My comment of 6 April.sorry ,I got mixed up and comment was at a tangent.
Instead ,I am in total concurrence of Navdeep as expressed in judicial pronouncements.
It wound be fair enough in administration of grievances ( and avoid certain...)o) to receive complaints by a direct channel when a serious matter has been suppressed or not acted upon for long period .