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Friday, September 30, 2016

7th Central Pay Commission notification for defence pensioners issued: Some Good News, Some Bad News- good on OROP fitment, very bad for rates of disability pension

The Ministry of Defence has today issued the notification for grant of pensionary awards based on the recommendations of the 7th Central Pay Commission. The same can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

While there is good news for regular pensioners in the sense that the Government has decided to grant a fitment of 2.57 on the pension drawn by pensioners as on 31 Dec 2015, which includes 'One Rank One Pension' (OROP) pension drawn on the said date, the notification very regressively has reduced the amount of disability benefits admissible to disability pensioners. They have relegated the rates to the ‘slab system’ as was prevalent prior to the 6th Central Pay Commission thereby placing defence disability pensioners at a sharp disadvantage as compared to civil disability pensioners.

My analysis on each entry in the notification:

1.    Revision of Pension of pre-7th CPC retirees: A good move. Both options accepted. The first option of notional pension based on fitment as per service in the pay level in which the person had retired has been accepted subject to feasibility study. The second option of multiplication fitment of 2.57 of the pension as on 31 Dec 2015 has been implemented with immediate effect. This translates into OROP X 2.57. One must congratulate the Defence Services Headquarters, especially the Adjutant General of the Army, for ensuring the judicious implementation of this aspect. This also puts an end to the needless rumour-mongering that OROP shall not be configured with the new pay commission modalities. 

2.    No comments required.

3.    No comments required.

4.  Pre-2006 Honorary Naib Subedars: The stated position of the 7th CPC that this ‘closed matter’ may not be reopened has been accepted by the Government. This is clearly not in order. It may be recalled that while post-2006 retiree Honorary Naib Subedars were paid the pension of a Regular Naib Subedar, the same was refused to pre-2006 retirees. This statement of the 7th CPC and its acceptance is legally not in order since there already is in force judicial dicta, upheld till the Supreme Court, providing that pensions of pre-2006 Honorary Naib Subedars are also to be calculated based upon the pay of a regular Naib Subedar. The non-acceptance of this issue means that litigation on the subject shall continue since the anomaly has not been addressed.

5.    No comments required.

6.    Pension of Territorial Army personnel: This issue has also been addressed by way of judicial verdicts and should have been resolved by the 7th CPC.

7.    No comments required.

8.   Disability pension rates: This is the single most condemnable recommendation by the 7th CPC which has strangely been accepted by the Government. Frankly, I never thought that this regressive recommendation would ever be accepted. While recommending this aspect, the 7th CPC had made unfounded and uncharitable remarks against disabled soldiers by casting aspersions on those who have incurred disabilities while in service. I had discussed the issue in detail earlier on this blog post dated 21 Nov 2015. While the heading of this entry is “Enhancement in rate of disability pension”, it has actually resulted in a massive decrease resulting in a payout even lower than 6th CPC rates. The 6th CPC had removed an anomaly wherein disability pension was being earlier calculated based on percentage of pay for civilians but on slabs for defence personnel. This (the slab system) was leading to an enormous discrimination between civilians and defence personnel except at lower ranks where defence personnel were getting a slightly better deal. The 6th CPC hence equated civilians and defence personnel after which in both cases the disability pension was directed to be calculated on percentage basis (30% of emoluments for 100% disability). A protection clause was further introduced so that the lower ranks did not face any disadvantage due to the percentage system. All anomalies were therefore addressed for all ranks and all sections of employees. The 7th CPC, based on totally vague and unsubstantiated grounds, which should have been actually expunged from the report itself, recommended the reversion to the slab system. This is totally uncalled for and should be strongly contested by the Defence Services HQ by requesting the Raksha Mantri to immediately review these orders. The arbitrariness of this decision becomes evident from the following chart:

(100% Disability)
Rates under the 6th CPC as on 31 Dec 2015
Rates applicable after the 7th CPC as on 01 Jan 2016
Lt Gen
Rs 52,560
Rs 27,000
Head of Central Armed Police Force
Rs 52,560
Rs 67,500

9.  Broad-banding of disability pension: The Government has accepted broad-banding of disability pension for cases other than invalidation, that is, all cases irrespective of manner of exit. But the catch is that this has only been made applicable from 01 Jan 2016 whereas the anomaly arose from 01 Jan 1996 which the Supreme Court adjudicated. Hence, regrettably there would be no change or reduction in litigation for claims of broad-banding from 01 Jan 1996 till 31 Dec 2015 as mandated by Supreme Court orders. Practically this helps only those who retire on or after 01 Jan 2016 while for the rest the legal position for claiming benefits remains the same.

10. Enhancement of old age pension for disability and war injury pensioners: The strangest part of this entry is the fact that the Defence Services had indeed asked for this, and the commission actually rejected it and the Ministry of Defence has accepted that rejection. I say it is strange because the Government had already clarified way back in 2010 that additional old age pension very much applies to disability and war injury pensioners. Hence the Defence Services HQ had demanded and the 7th CPC and the Ministry of Defence rejected something that stood granted and clarified way back in 2010 by the Government which becomes clear from this letter issued in 2010 which can be accessed by clicking here. This single instance should be an indicator enough of the expertise and institutional memory available at various echelons of our systems. Unfortunate, to say the least!

11. Disability Pension to “Neither Attributable to, Nor Aggravated by Military Service” Cases: The recommendation of the 7th CPC is redundant in this aspect since the Supreme Court and various High Courts have already ruled that in case a person is fit at the time of enrollment, then any disability arising during service is deemed to have a connection with service thereby entitling a him/her to disability pension.

12. No comments required.

13. No comments required.

14. No comments required. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Time for Moral Courage- We Must Deal With Suicides in Armed Forces: The Quint

My opinion piece for The Quint on the ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’:

Ironically, one of the strongest organisations of our nation, our pride- the Indian Army, is downright timid in certain respects. I say so since this sturdy and powerful establishment has not had the moral courage to admit its deteriorating physical and psychological profile over the years, perhaps in order to maintain a certain kind of image in the public, but for what? And with what consequence?

The inherent stress and strain of military life is universally recognized and we have discussed it here at The Quint before. India is no different. The rigours of military duty coupled with distance from one’s family takes a toll on the health of troops, thereby exploding the myth that defence personnel enjoy a better health profile than civilians. Closer home, studies show that military personnel die a decade earlier than civilian employees but then such studies are kept dormant and are not put in the spotlight as they should be. But it seems that the focus is more on brushing this aside and delinking it from military service and blaming ‘domestic reasons’ rather than admitting that stress and strain of service is taking a toll on the health of uniformed personnel and also leading to a rising rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicides. Of course, this is intertwined with even the rising rate and aggravation of physical diseases since the thread of stress and pressures of military service commonly runs across.

It goes without saying that the Indian society has failed its soldiers. When a soldier is away on military duty, his or her mind is not at ease. The mind wanders. The mind is where the family is, the mind is where the local goon is troubling the parents, the mind is where the children are struggling for admissions, the mind is where the property is usurped by the neighbour but the administration or police do not give a damn. But then all these are ‘domestic reasons’ for the Army, not realizing that the stress which emanates is a direct result of military service since the person cannot be there to handle domestic commitments like his civilian peers. To put it bluntly, these problems would not have emerged had the person not been in military service- a situation which even the Defence Minister of the country understands when he writes to State Chief Ministers elaborating that “frustration arising out of inability to resolve domestic issues is a major contributing factor to stress”. Still however, at times the Army’s medical boards or even finance and accounts officers sitting in their air conditioned offices declare them ‘domestic reasons’ thereby  washing the system’s hands off and also denying such soldiers their disability benefits, a grim reality discussed in detail in Paragraph 2.2.1 of the Raksha Mantri’s Committee of Experts of which this author too was a member. The British were better since even in the 1930s, they considered behavioural and psychiatric disorders in the Indian uniformed forces, including suicides under certain circumstances linked with service conditions, a stipulation which exists in the rule book even today but is very conveniently ignored by the system.

Whatever be the rate of suicide and such problems in the Army as per our perception- high or low, it’s a problem the existence of which needs to be accepted. The situation cannot be salvaged merely by steps such as meditation and yoga and liberalized leave policy or by training General Duty Soldiers in counselling. The situation can only be addressed if there is ample confidence in the men and women in uniform that the civil administration would be responsive back home when the family needs them, the problem would only be controlled if within the system there is reasonable catharsis and vent to the grievances of soldiers through more interaction between seniors and juniors rather than the hackneyed ‘statutory’ and ‘non statutory’ complaints which are seldom decided in time or with due application of mind. The problem would only be sufficiently taken care of when it is admitted that this indeed is an issue that stares us in the face.

Other modern Armies are doing much better and taking it head on. Soldiers are trained to recognize symptoms such as emotional outbursts, avoidance of interaction and other unusual behaviour. It is being imbibed that seeking help is not a sign of weakness. The US Army has embedded more than 60 behavioural health teams in operational military establishments consisting of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers.

In our country, while the Army incorrectly thinks that their regular soldiers imparted training on counselling or psychiatrists of the Army Medical Corps can handle it, it is the Indo Tibetan Police Force (ITBP) which has shown the way and taken the apt progressive step by recruiting Education and Stress Counsellors, a specialized cadre at lower ranks specifically meant for the purpose of handling stress. Moreover, the job of identifying and addressing these issues is that of Clinical Psychologists and professional Counsellors, not of Psychiatrists. So if a person repeatedly ‘wanders out’ of the unit in a dazed state or displays irritable or erratic behaviour with his peers or seniors or suddenly starts indulging in binge drinking, the answer to it may not be a ham-handed ‘red ink entry’ or disciplinary action or throwing him out of service, but adequate care to understand the root cause.

To sum up, the following steps are the need of the day in order to contain the concerns of the rising behavioural and psychiatric disorders in the uniformed services:

A.      Inculcating the moral courage of admitting the deteriorating health profile due to rising stress and strain in the forces which primarily emanates from a highly regimented lifestyle and time away from the family coupled with the demanding nature of the job. It must be realised that admitting the problem is not a sign of weakness.

B.      Ensuring that such disorders are not blamed just upon ‘domestic reasons’ and the organisation takes full responsibility since mostly there is a direct or indirect link with military service. Moreover, transgressions by soldiers due to behavioural disorders or irregular behavioural patterns should not be dealt with by way of punishments but through counselling or medical care.

C.      The States should be made to understand the gravity of the situation and district administrations be made aware of the fallout of not addressing complaints and representations of soldiers.

D.     Redressal of grievances should be realistic in the Armed Forces and not merely a formality through the system of formal complaints that are not decided in time or which are not satisfactorily addressed. There should be more interaction between senior and junior ranks so as to allow catharsis and vent to ease troops’ pent up emotions. Electronic forums introduced by the Indian Air Force and the Army’s Western Command are good examples of encouraging such interaction.

E.      Focus should be on counselling and clinical psychology and not on psychiatry alone. Not all such functions can be performed by psychiatrists who are medical professionals and not trained to handle these issues. Professional Counsellors at Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) level must be inducted on lines of the ITBP in all uniformed services and embedded in operational units or formations.

We must realise that the tough looking soldier standing guard for us is as much human as any other person on the street. He or she is extraordinary in bravery but very ordinary in other human attributes- has the same family, the same feelings, the same emotions and the same problems as all of us and of course the same flesh and blood. It would therefore be a travesty if the response of the society or the establishment is not commensurate with his or her impeccable service. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Defence Pay as per 7th Central Pay Commission Pay Matrix, notified

After the removal of the controversial line concerning ‘parity with Central Armed Police Forces’ by the Ministry of Finance (the issue was discussed earlier in this post of 29 July 2016), the Ministry of Defence has issued the notification related to pay of defence personnel of all three services.

The notification concerning Officers can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

The notification concerning Ranks other than Commissioned Officers can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

The anomalies, including those concerning allowances, have been referred to separate committees.

This paves the way for release of pay as per 7th Central Pay Commission scales.