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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pension instructions for pre-2016 retirees issued, based on 7th Pay Commission orders

The Ministry of Defence has issued the instructions for payment of pensions implementing the recommendations of the 7th Central Pay Commission.

The rates of disability element have not been reduced for now and shall continue to be paid as per existing amounts under the existing percentage based formula till the issue is resolved by the Anomalies Committee.

The note under Paragraph of 12 of the new letter related to non-grant of additional quantum of pension to pensioners aged 80 years and above as far as their disability/war injury elements are concerned is incongruous and shall be taken up with the Government for rectification at the earliest. The same is the strange result of an incoherent recommendation which was discussed earlier in the post of 30 September 2016 in the following terms:

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!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

My op-ed in ‘The Hindu’ on disabled soldiers

My op-ed published in The Hindu:

Questions of Compensation

India has the distinction of exhibiting disdain towards the cause of disabled soldiers

Navdeep Singh

Quite a paradox India is. While on one hand there is excessive chest-thumping for our men and women in uniform, on the other we pride ourselves in laying a constant siege on the benefits and legal rights of those very personnel whom we superficially cheer during parades.

Bearing the brunt at the forefront are our disabled soldiers. The deleterious effect of stress and strain of military service on health is a universally recognised phenomenon. Nations go out of the way to make lives more comfortable for their troops with rising payouts for their loss of health, but India has the unique distinction of showing utter disdain towards the cause of disabled soldiers. At a very rudimentary level, it is questioned, mostly by defence accountants, as to how ailments such as heart disease, neurosis, backache, seizures et al, which are also common in civilians, could be affected or aggravated by military service. Well, it is not quite complex to discern that a highly regimented life away from family most of the year- at times under the shadow of the gun, inability to cope up with domestic commitments, lack of community living, lack of sexual fulfillment and physical proximity, curtailed freedoms and rights, all lead to aggravation of common medical conditions. The life of military or even paramilitary troopers who are on duty 24 hours a day and who require the permission of their seniors to even use the washroom or visit a market after signing multiple registers, cannot be compared with those employees who are living with their families and working fixed office hours five days a week.

The inherently balanced disability rules, in India and other democracies, aptly provide that there is a presumption of service-connection of disabilities incurred during military service, but our army of accountants and financial wizards mostly reject such disability claims leading to judicial intervention. However when disability benefits are awarded by Courts and Tribunals after a long haul, the Ministry of Defence appeals against disabled soldiers till the highest Court of the land, at times for amounts of a few hundred rupees. In the year 2012-2013, ninety percent of all appeals filed in the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Defence were against disabled soldiers, a shamefully dubious distinction. The efforts of the current Defence Minister to control the litigation malaise are being met with strong resistance from the official-legal ecosystem which thrives on the miseries of disabled soldiers.

A recent example of this attitude was the sadistic recommendation of the 7th Central Pay Commission for slashing disability pension rates which created quite a commotion. Out of the blue, without there being any demand for it, the commission made an observation that there was an increase in the percentage of disabled officers in the defence services vis-a-vis lower ranks and hence the benefits needed to be slashed from the ‘percentage of pay system’ to a ‘slab system’ which would be more equitable for ranks other than officers. It was recommended that from the current formula of ‘30% of pay for 100% disability’, disability element should be granted at the fixed rate of Rs 27000, 17000 and 12000 for Commissioned Officers, Junior Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks respectively for 100% disability, proportionately reduced for lesser disability. Surprisingly, no such corresponding ‘equitable’ change was recommended for civilian disability pensioners, including those from the Central Armed Police Forces, who continue to receive benefits on ‘percentage of pay’ basis.

Needless to state, statistically, there is higher probability of incurring disability by officers than jawans since while the latter start retiring in their 30s with about fifteen years plus of service, officers retire in their 50s with a service spanning thirty years or more. What reflects a heartless mindset however is that instead of being concerned about the increasing stress and strain in the military and a deteriorating health profile and also the recorded information that military personnel are dying earlier than their civilian counterparts, the commission went ahead and cast aspersions on the maimed and the infirm. Which sane nation would condone this?

Shockingly, the above recommendation was made suo moto based on some data provided by the Defence Accounts Department to the commission without being authenticated by the Defence Services and without even granting a chance of discussion or rebuttal to the stakeholders. The jugglery is even more jarring since the slab system would result in a better payout only to those rare cases in the lower ranks who are medically boarded out in the beginning of their careers, while it results in a loss to all those jawans who are released on completion of regular service terms. In the higher ranks, the difference is even more outrageous. Whereas a 100% disabled Lieutenant General who was in receipt of disability element of Rs 52,560 as on 31-12-2015 would now be relegated to Rs 27000 on 01-01-2016, his civilian counterpart, who was at par, would now receive Rs 67,500. While the pay commission handsomely increased all pensions, including civil disability pensions, it slashed military disability pensions drastically- at places by more than half. The fact that certain vested interests chose to inject twisted figures on this sensitive issue on to social media platforms citing ‘government sources’ sets an even more dangerous tone.

One cannot just help thinking about the futility of all that pomp and show and regalia at military displays or revelling in our military achievements if we cannot sensitively take care of our disabled soldiers. Can we live with the hope that one day the establishment might perhaps find some other punching bag to expend its negative energy, leaving this minuscule and frail portion of our veterans in peace?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Disabled Generals and the Truth!

The media reported a letter written by a former Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services on the subject of disability benefits to officers of the rank of Major General and above. Though the media reported the issue objectively without taking sides, the mere existence of such a letter causes concern and also paints an untrue picture of the entire military establishment besides causing fissures between various ranks. I have penned a detailed opinion piece on the subject which appears in Swarajya Magazine :


Navdeep Singh

It was bewildering to see the circulation of a letter purportedly written in 2014 by the then Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) to the Defence Secretary insinuating that Generals of the Army were wrongly claiming disability benefits for personal gain. Of course it got wide coverage, and amongst others, the following points were raised in the said communication:

  • Generals present themselves with disabilities at the fag end of their careers and doctors working in hospitals under their command find themselves constrained to oblige “these officers”.
  • The provision of post-discharge claims is being misused for claiming benefits for disabilities such as corns, eczema and hearing loss.
  • That Generals should be examined at a central place and not in establishments under their command.
  • That disability pension claims should be decided two years prior to retirement and tax benefits should be abrogated.
  • Concept of a disability arising in a peace area or field should be done away with and any disability occurring in any area should be taken as connected with service and entitling a person to disability benefits. 

 One by one, let me attempt to clear this muddle:

Generals presenting themselves with disabilities at the fag end of their careers and doctors obliging them

The DGAFMS should have known that medical science is not mathematics wherein disabilities can be controlled or planned. Generals retire at the age of 58 onwards and the likelihood of incurring certain disabilities is higher at such an age profile and merely because a person attains a higher rank cannot be considered a disqualification from flow of benefits entitled under the rules. The rules do not discriminate between a Sepoy or a General and even this author is personally aware of many instances wherein senior officers developed diseases towards retirement, including Coronary Heart Disease, Ischemic Heart Disease necessitating angioplasty and even open heart surgery, and also back problems. So is the DGAFMS implying that a senior rank shields a person from disease? It should be absolutely clear that unless it is shown that a person has feigned a disability (used to happen in the times of yore when diagnostic tools were not advanced- with hearing loss and backache being the most commonly faked disabilities which could not be objectively discerned), there is no question of discriminating a person based on rank. Interestingly much water has flown from the date this letter was written by the DGAFMS and which factum has not been reported by any of the media houses and this very issue had been duly deliberated upon by a Committee of Experts constituted on the directions of the Raksha Mantri, of which this author too was Member and which recorded its conclusion on this subject in the following words:
“…The Committee notes that the rank of a claimant is immaterial for claiming disability pension if admissible under the rules, however cases of feigning disabilities where none exist should be dealt with strongly and medical boards should also be extra careful in examining cases where individuals have reported with a medical condition just before retirement.”

Hence, instead of scandalizing the issue out of proportion, the DGAFMS could have simply written to all medical authorities to exercise due care. Moreover, if medical boards, in the opinion of the DGAFMS, were being pressurized by senior officers, then the fault lies with those medical boards which are under the overall command of the DGAFMS for being so fickle. Also, if the DGAFMS felt that officers were declaring themselves fit during the most part of their careers and disclosing their disabilities just before retirement, then it is again the fault of the annual and periodic medical boards for not being able to identify disabilities and lowering the medical categorization of officers at the correct time. It was an issue that could have been resolved in-house and the Defence Secretary had nothing to do with this malaise, if any. Also, it is none of the concerns of the DGAFMS about the relationship between career advancement of officers and their disabilities and the medical board cannot go beyond certifying the disability and its connection with service.

Post-discharge claims for corns, eczema and hearing loss

This is a surprising averment. Firstly, the rules provide for the system of post-discharge claims for both civilians as well as defence retirees. Secondly, merely submitting such a claim does not result in grant of benefits and a proper medical board is still held to confirm whether the disability was such that could have had a basis in service but fully manifested itself after retirement and whether it had a service-connection or not, and the said exercise is to be conducted by the office of the DGAFMS itself through a proper medical board. Floating a claim by a General does not mean the automatic grant of such a benefit. Moreover, medical documents of the disability under consideration initiated during the course of service are always required to be produced for any such claim to be accepted. Regarding eczema and corns, it seems that the two medical conditions have been mentioned in the letter just for effect, and I would be surprised if any person after retirement has been granted disability benefits for these two disabilities at all, and in case true, then the number would be negligible and if this hunch of mine is correct then the argument of the then DGAFMS self-destructs. However, to add, if such instances are true, I agree that disability benefits for such minor ailments giving rise to no functional problems should not be considered after retirement. On the point of hearing loss, I think that the then DGAFMS should have been in a better position to understand that noise above 85-90 decibels is harmful to the ear and even a single gunshot over 140 decibels can damage the ear. The 5.56 shot of the standard issue infantry weapon produces a sound of over 150 decibels and there is no system of using hearing protection devices in the Indian Army. All troops of all ranks undertake regular firing practices all throughout their careers and hence cases of hearing loss should not have been broad-brushed in such a manner by the highest medical authority of the Armed Forces casually unless there was diagnostic evidence to prove that a particular General had faked his disability. The office of the DGAFMS should restrict itself to commenting whether a disability exists or not and if a person is faking a disability, it should raise the red flag, nothing more, nothing less.

That Generals should be examined at a central place and not under hospitals under them

Wonderful idea that should be acceptable to all stakeholders since it would reflect objectivity in the entire process and offset any conflict of interest. The letter of the DGAFMS should have limited itself to this aspect instead of casting aspersions on senior ranks of the defence services. Going a step further, medical boards could be held at hospitals of other services. For example, if a Major General of the Army is being examined, the board could be held at an Air Force establishment, and vice versa.

That disability pension claims should be decided two years prior to retirement and tax benefits should be abrogated

A ridiculous suggestion, to say the least, which unfortunately also shows the lack of knowledge of basic disability law by the highest medical authority. As per law, disability benefits are determined on the basis of Release and Invalidation Medical Boards at the time of release from service and the medical condition persisting at the time of severance from service, and not earlier. Also, why should a General be held responsible only because a disability emerges at the later stages of his career? While calling for abrogation of tax benefits, the then DGAFMS has transgressed all limits of his jurisdiction. What is he? The Chairperson of the Central Board of Direct Taxes? The Finance Secretary?

Concept of disability arising in a peace area or field should be done away with and any disability occurring in any area should be taken as connected with service entitling a person to disability benefits

Very pertinent suggestion and to support the DGAFMS I would forcefully state that this is already provided under the rules which prescribe that incurring of a disability in a peace or field area has no implication on disability benefits. However, there is a twist to this. Despite this rule and various High Courts and the Supreme Court adversely commenting upon the peace/field distinction perpetrated by military medical boards, it is the same office of the DGAFMS which has illegally, and in contravention of rules, issued personal and Demi Official letters to medical establishments asking them not to consider cases of certain disabilities arising in peace areas. The same office of the DGAFMS has also illegally omitted to reproduce the beneficial disability rules to the said effect while compiling its “Guide to Medical Officers, Military Pensions”. It is therefore ironic that after issuing illegal communications to its lower formations and also issuing guidelines contrary to rules, the senior most authority of the said office makes a somersault and talks of something that his own office is responsible for. In fact, this suggestion, though very much relevant and correct, is contrary to the first part of the DGAFMS’s communication to the Defence Secretary. The DGAFMS therefore is suggesting that though all disabilities incurred in service should (rightly) qualify for disability benefits, if the disabled officer happens to shoulder a heavier brass, he or she should be disentitled. It would have been in the fitness of things if all of us had rather been deeply concerned about the fact that defence personnel of all ranks are dying earlier than their civilian counterparts due to a deteriorating health profile and increase in stress and strain of service. In any case, the issue has been decided in detail by the High Courts and the Supreme Court, and any aberration suggested would not just be unethical but also contemptuous. The entire length and breadth of the matter has also been deliberated upon in much detail in Paragraph 2.2.1 of the ibid Committee of Experts which thrashed out the subject from all corners.  

To conclude, I would only say that the issue of disability benefits to our soldiers of all ranks is much too sensitive to be discussed without due background or with little knowledge and such matters which involve precious rights of our troops concerning their health, irrespective of their rank, cannot be held hostage to a short three page note which turns the entire law and practical realities upside down. Also, assuming that there had been a few undeserving cases or rotten apples, which could anyway be counted on our fingertips where disabilities were supposedly faked, though not quite an agreeable proposition, the responsibility of letting such disabilities pass rests squarely on the multiple medical boards which allowed the same to happen and then the medical authorities who approved them- all of whom function under the office of the DGAFMS.

The letter therefore clearly appears to have been written with a background, and dare I say it, with a foreground. It is yet another matter of concern that the subject that should have been addressed to the three Chiefs of the Defence Services was endorsed to the then Defence Secretary who had no role in the subject thereby providing a leverage to many elements within the system to inject further chaos in the matter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

More on implementation of the new dispensation of disability pensions : Swarajya Magazine

As discussed at a number of places in the past few days, the new disability pension formula recommended by the 7th Central Pay Commission and accepted by the Government is not equitable for the defence services. The 7th CPC recommendations for disabled personnel were faulty and unethical, to say the least.

Some quarters have pointed out that the new slab system would be beneficial for all ranks other than commissioned officers. However this is incorrect since the slab system would only be beneficial for those with very little service. It would not be beneficial for any person of any rank who would be retiring on completion of terms. Also, a minimum protection slab could have been introduced in case it was felt that lower ranks would benefit more through the slab system.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Delinking of service requirement of 33 years for full pension: Orders issued by Ministry of Defence

The orders delinking service of 33 years for earning full pension, as directed by the High Court and affirmed by the Supreme Court, have been issued for pre-2006 defence pensioners by the Ministry of Defence and can be downloaded/accessed by clicking here.

Please do not send me individual mails/texts/messages/queries regarding this subject or on the latest pensionary notification issued with respect to the 7th Central Pay Commission. Whatever needs to be commented upon by me would be stated here on this blog. Please however feel to discuss the issue under the comments section.

Thank You