Feel free to contribute on burning issues concerning the armed forces. Contributions would be acknowledged - Use the 'Comments' tab or email navdeepsingh.india[at]gmail.com. No operational/business/commercial matters to be discussed please. Legal advice/litigation related issues would strictly NOT be published or discussed or entertained. Information on this blog is opinion based and is neither official nor in the form of an advice. This is a pro bono online journal in public service related to issues, policies and benefits, and the idea behind it is to educate and not to create controversy or to incite. Be soft in your language, respect Copyrights.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pay Rules issued for Commissioned Officers of the Military Nursing Service

The Pay Rules for Commissioned Officers of the Military Nursing Service (MNS) have been promulgated today and can be downloaded by clicking here. These are in consequence to approval of the scales as per the 7th Central Pay Commission. 

The Rules had to be issued separately since the pay scales of MNS are different than regular Civil and Military employees.

Many legal issues related to the MNS are pending resolution with the Government and the Armed Forces and it is fully hoped that the matter is finally settled with an open mind and full participation and satisfaction of all stakeholders so as to promote a sense of belongingness and cohesion in the military medical setup. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Concordance tables issued for pre-2016 pensioners of all grades as per the new pension fixation formula

Recently, orders were issued for revision of pension based on the ‘notional fixation’ formula which was different than the 2.57 multiple dispensation. The said orders were discussed here on this blog on 12 May 2017 wherein it was informed that the revision shall be undertaken by notionally fixing the pay in the pay matrix recommended by the 7th CPC in the level corresponding to the pay in the pay scale/pay band and grade pay at which such pensioners had retired (for pension) or died (for family pension). This was to be undertaken by notional pay fixation under each intervening Pay Commission based on the Formula for revision of pay.

The above formula was quite confusing for those who do not have deep knowledge about pay scales of the past Pay Commissions.

The Government has hence issued concordance tables for each rank/grade/scale today to make things easier for pensioners. The same can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

Similar tables for defence pensioners shall be issued by the Ministry of Defence separately. The formula which results in the higher payout of pension shall be applicable. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

A reluctant step, but an important and landmark step nevertheless by the Ministry of Defence for Disabled Soldiers probably ending the dark era of en masse appeals against disabled soldiers

As regular readers would be aware, the issue of declaring disabilities of soldiers as “Neither Attributable to, Nor Aggravated By Military Service” (popularly known as NANA cases) has been a vexed one. While the rules on attributability and aggravation are quite liberal, their interpretation has been literal, leading to denial of disability and special family pensionary benefits to disabled soldiers and families of soldiers who die due to some disability while in service.

Despite several judgements by the Supreme Court, High Courts as also followed by various Benches of the Armed Forces Tribunal, benefits were denied to such disabled soldiers, and on the contrary, multiple appeals were filed against favourable verdicts rendered by Courts.

Besides other issues, this issue was also deliberated upon and discussed in detail in Paragraph 2.2.1 of the Report of the Committee of Experts constituted by the then Raksha Mantri on directions of the Prime Minister, for reducing litigation involving the Ministry of Defence and strengthening the mechanisms for redressal of grievances, of which I too was a Member. The following were the recommendations of the Committee to this end:

In view of the foregoing, the Committee notes and recommends the following:
(a) According to rules, as also endorsed by the Supreme Court, a benefit of doubt regarding ‘attributability/aggravation’ or ‘service-connection’ needs to be granted to any disability arising during service [See Paragraph 32 of Dharamvir Vs Union of India (supra), Paragraphs 15 & 16 of Union of India Vs Rajbir (supra)]. The same however can be denied when it is shown that the disability is due to a person’s own gross misconduct or negligence, illegal activity, substance abuse or intoxication. The same is also a universally acceptable norm in all democracies [See Rule 105 of US Code 38 (supra)]. The same benefit is also admissible in ‘death’ cases due to in-service disabilities leading to entitlement of Special Family Pension for families. The said proposition is also agreeable to all stakeholders including the medical side with the apex medical body, the MSAC, also on board.
(b)  There is no linkage with ‘peace’ or ‘field’ service as far as attributability of disabilities is concerned and any such differentiation locally put across by the office of DGAFMS in the past or professed by any other authority is illegal, contrary to Entitlement Rules, contemptuous towards decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and also against Regulations for Medical Services in the Armed Forces (See Para 33 of Dharamvir Singh Vs Union of India and Regulation 423 of RMSAF). So for example, if a soldier develops Heart Disease while in service, the benefit of doubt needs to be extended to ‘service-connection’ and the claim need not be rejected on grounds such as ‘served in peace area’ or ‘cause unknown’. The claim can only be rejected in case of a note of disability at the time of entry into service or reasons such as ‘heavy smoking’ or ‘lack of dietary control leading to obesity and heart disease’ are recorded, if applicable. Otherwise, the presumption operates in favour of soldiers, as per rules and as held by the Supreme Court.
(c)  Broadly blaming domestic reasons for psychiatric disabilities arising during military service is against common knowledge and unethical since domestic reasons are bound to give rise to stress and also to aggravate the same in soldiers because of the very fact that due to military service they remain away from their families most of the year and cannot hence cope up with all familial requirements efficiently by virtue of their being absent from home. Putting the blame on ‘domestic reasons’ not only gives out a message that the organisation is simply washing its hands off the responsibility towards such soldiers but also results in denial of pensionary benefits to such affected soldiers and their families. The issue already stands addressed in K Srinivasa Reddy Vs Union of India (supra) and also explained in detail in the preceding paragraphs by us. The said principles and causative factors of stress also stand endorsed by way of DO letters written to Chief Ministers by successive Raksha Mantris, which of course has also not resulted in desirable results and needs renewed efforts.
(d) All concerned agencies should realize that non-grant of “attributability” or “aggravation” on flimsy grounds results in denial of pensionary benefits and consequently denial of a life of basic dignity to disabled soldiers. While it may be just a casual stroke of a pen for a medical board, it may be a question of survival for a soldier or his family. The exercise needs to be undertaken in a common-sense oriented, practical, liberal and scientific manner. Guidelines, if any, may not operate in derogation of actual rules and need to move with the times as per global norms based on scientific studies. The lack of transparency in past amendments in the “Guide to Medical Officers (Military Pensions)” wherein the said amendments do not even carry the footnote of the study or the basis leading to the change/amendment is highly avoidable and so is the tendency not to honestly reproduce the actual rules in the said guide and eliminating important parts such as the erstwhile Para 47 of the 2002 version which has vanished without trace and without reasoning and the spirit of which needs to be restored. All authorities, including Medical Boards shall decide attributability/aggravation on a case to case basis as per law laid down by the Supreme Court based on the interpretation of actual rules and ground realities of the inherent stress and strain of military life, rather than the mathematical guidelines of the Guide to Medical Officers or locally issued instructions and DO letters written to medical boards.
(e) Cases of feigning of 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 prior to retirement or release.
(f) The current approach shows that despite clear cut law laid down by the Supreme Court and also the spirit of the rules, there is resistance in accepting the settled legal position based on hyper-technical hairsplitting reasons. The concerned authorities must accept gracefully and with all humility the law laid down by the Apex Court and come to terms to the same since an approach of resistance is not only against law but also at odds with global practices for disabilities incurred during military service.
(g) It is further recommended that henceforth in medical boards, all disabilities arising in service may be broadly dealt with on the anvil of the above practical realities, all appeals pending against such disabled soldiers filed in the Supreme Court be withdrawn immediately and pending or future litigation in Courts and Tribunals related to past cases of disabled soldiers may be dealt with by Government lawyers in judicial fora on the basis of Supreme Court decisions as above, except in cases of gross misconduct, negligence, substance abuse or intoxication, on a case to case basis. Needless to state, the same principles also apply to deaths while in service.

Based on the position as above, the Ministry of Defence has finally issued a policy letter for implementation of Court orders granting disability pension to disabled soldiers, which can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here. While the Ministry has fully accepted judicial dicta as emphasized in the above recommendation, what is strange is that in Paragraph 3 of the said policy, though the Defence Services Headquarters have been asked to implement Court orders and also grant absolute sanctions while implementing the same (as against Conditional sanctions pending appeal, as was the case in the past), the Ministry has still not shown a large heart as far as withdrawal of the pending appeals are concerned, and on the contrary, rather than asking the Defence Services to withdraw the said appeals, the Ministry states that ‘absolute sanctions’ be issued on dismissal of the appeals already pending in the Supreme Court. The question arises that when the recommendations of the Committee are unambiguous on the subject and so is the law declared by Constitutional Courts, why should the pending appeals be pursued till ‘dismissed’, and why not simply withdrawn with full humility?

These are questions to which there are no answers. Notwithstanding this, we should stay positive since not only will this ensure a faster implementation of Court orders related to disability pension, it also, in all probability, marks the closure of a dark era of en masse appeals against disabled soldiers, and I am sure the remaining issues shall also be ironed out soon.

Must place on record my gratitude to Mr Manohar Parrikar for initiating these reforms leading us to a better today

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Cabinet decisions on allowances of Government Employees: To be paid with effect from 01 July 2017 (UPDATED)

Here is a gist of today’s major cabinet decisions for allowances of Central Government employees based on recommendations of the 7th Central Pay Commission, in layperson terms:

1. Total number of allowances decreased from 197 to 128. To be paid with effect from 01 July 2017.

2. An additional Cell for Siachen introduced in the Risk and Hardship Matrix. The amount enhanced to Rs 42,500 for Officers and Rs 30,000 for ranks other than Commissioned Officers. The rates recommended by the 7th CPC were Rs 31,500 and Rs 21,000 respectively.

3. HRA rates decreased to 24%, 16% and 8% for X, Y and Z cities respectively. However the rates to go up to 27%, 18% and 9% and then 30%, 20% and 10% whenever the rates of DA touch 25% and 50% respectively. The HRA would however remain protected at 30%, 20% and 10% for the lowest possible pay under the Government and would not hence be less than Rs 5400, Rs 3600 and Rs 1800 for any employee.

4. Newly proposed Dress Allowance to be paid @Rs 5000, 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000 per year to employees of various categories. This subsumes all other uniform related allowances.

5. Ration Money Allowance (RMA) not abolished but will be paid directly with the salary in lieu of actual rations to officers posted in peace. Will update readers once there is more clarity on this issue.

6. Facility of One additional Railway Warrant extended to CAPFs and Coast Guard.

7. Field Area Allowances to be regulated @Rs 6,000-16,900. Counter Insurgency Allowance also at the same rates.

8. MARCOS and Chariot Allowance to Marine Commandos and also COBRA Allowance to CRPF personnel in Naxal areas to be granted @Rs 17,300-25,000.

9. Flying allowance @Rs17,300 to 25,000, also extended to BSF’s Air Wing.

10. Deputation Duty Allowance ceiling for defence personnel increased from ₹2000 - ₹4500 per month to ₹4500 - ₹9000 per month.

11. Fixed Medical Allowance for pensioners increased to Rs 1000 per month and Constant Attendant Allowance increased to Rs 6,750.

The Gazette notification for all allowances has been published on 06 July 2017 and is available here

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Justice at last for PSU absorbees who had opted for 1/3rd pro-rata pension: Government implements decision of the Madras High Court for payment of 100% pension, as affirmed by the Supreme Court, for all similarly placed employees

On dismissal of the SLP filed by the Central Government against the judgement of the Madras High Court, the Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare of the Government of India has issued orders for all similarly placed employees finally undoing more than four decades of patent injustice.

In the 1970s, Government employees who opted to join Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) or autonomous bodies were made entitled to a payment of lumpsum amount in lieu of pension that had accrued from their Government Service. In terms of Rule 37-A of the Central Civil Service (Pension) Rules, 1972 (added in 1973), an employee was entitled to a lump sum amount not exceeding the commuted value of one-third of the pension and terminal benefit equal to twice the aforesaid lump-sum amount, subject to the condition that the Government servant surrendered his right of drawing two-thirds of his pension.

Later, on the directions of the Supreme Court, orders were issued to restore 1/3rd pension after the period of commutation culminated.

An employee however approached the Central Administrative Tribunal stating therein that even the rest of the 2/3rd portion needed to be restored on culmination of the period of commutation since the undertaking taken under Rule 37-A was in contravention to provisions of Section 12 of the Pension Act, 1871, which provided that a person could not be made to wish away his right to pension by any authority. The petition filed by the employee was however dismissed by the Tribunal.

The order of the Tribunal was then challenged by the employee, K Ganesan, in the Madras High Court, which ruled in his favour and held  that the undertaking taken from the employee was repugnant of the Pensions Act and the 2/3rd commuted amount also needed to be restored after expiry of the period of commutation. The Madras High Court directed the Government to do the needful and set aside the order of the Tribunal. The High Court also observed that the earlier decisions of the Supreme Court were not on this point and neither were the provisions of the Pensions Act brought to the knowledge of the Supreme Court. The High Court however refused to grant interest on the arrears in view of the major delay in challenging the provisions of the Rules by the employee.

The Central Government thereafter went into appeal to the Supreme Court but the SLP was dismissed in 2016. The Government thereafter filed a Review which was also dismissed in March 2017.

The Government has now issued orders implementing the decision for all similarly placed employees thereby directing the release of 100% pension from the date of culmination of the period of 15 years from commutation. As a result, all such PSU/Autonomous bodies absorbees shall be entitled to 100% restoration of pension on the date of completion of 15 years from the date of commutation. All such employees would now be entitled to full arrears from the 4th, 5th, 6th and the 7th Pay Commissions, as the case may be.

Again, this case shows as to how the above proactive approach of the Department of Pension & Pensioners’Welfare is in contrast with the approach of Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare under the Ministry of Defence. While even single-liner judgements and orders of the High Courts and the Supreme Court are implemented across the board for all similarly placed employees/pensioners by the former, the latter does not even implement decisions for specific petitioners unless multiple litigation is indulged in, including contempt and execution applications. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Penury Grant enhanced to Rs 4000 per month from the existing Rs 1000

In a progressive move, the Government has enhanced the rate of the monthly Penury Grant to Rs 4000 from the existing Rs 1000 which had remained constant since the year 2011.

The Penury Grant is payable to those ex-servicemen and widows who are living in a state of penury and are not in receipt of pension from any source. The recipient has to be over the age of 65 years to be eligible.

It may be recalled that earlier a one-time grant at the rate of Rs 30,000 was granted to needy veterans and their widows and the system was then changed in the year 2011 to a monthly payout of Rs 1000.

Most of the ex-servicemen affected by the grant are those who were released without any pension on reduction of establishment or for other reasons without completion of minimum pensionable service.

The payout of this scheme is through the Armed Forces Flag Day Fund.

The new letter issued by the Government today can be accessed by clicking here.

Friday, May 19, 2017

After decades of judicial pronouncements, disability benefits finally made admissible by the Government to pre-2006 voluntary retirees with effect from 01 January 2006

The Government has finally given effect to judicial pronouncements whereby cases of premature retirement and personnel ‘discharged at own request’ were held eligible to disability and war injury benefits.

Earlier, as per regulations, disabled and war injured retirees were not allowed disability and war injury benefits if they had sought retirement on their own volition. This practice was held to be illegal by the Delhi and the Punjab & Haryana High Courts. Later when a Government letter was issued by the Ministry of Defence entitling such personnel to benefits, it was made applicable only to those who had retired after 01-01-2006. This cut-off date was also held illegal by the Armed Forces Tribunal later. The Punjab & Haryana High Court had also endorsed the action of the Tribunal. Later, the Chandigarh Bench of the Tribunal had taken the official establishment to task for not giving effect to judicial dicta.

A Committee of Experts constituted by the then Raksha Mantri, Mr Manohar Parrikar, had also strongly recommended the resolution of the issue and the recommendation on the said point was accepted by the Minister.

The letter resolving the matter has finally been issued by the Ministry of Defence and can be downloaded and accessed by clicking here.

The benefits have been made applicable with financial effect from 01 January 2006 and to all cases where the disability was declared attributable to, or aggravated by military service.

This settles one of the most important issues concerning our disabled veterans.

There is however one problem still existing in the dispensation wherein the letter again only talks about ‘disability element’ and not ‘disability pension’ which consists of both elements, that is, service element as well as disability element. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Orders for “Notional Pension Fixation Formula” under the 7th Pay Commission regime, as approved by the Cabinet, issued

As all are aware, the 7th Central Pay Commission (CPC) had recommended two formulae for calculation of pension of pre-2016 retirees. While the first formula involved calculation of pension based on a notional basis, the second involved the multiplication of old 6th CPC pension X 2.57. The orders for the second formula were issued earlier and the first formula was recently accepted with certain modifications by the Cabinet.

The Government of India has today issued orders for calculating pension based on the first formula for civil pensioners who retired prior to 2016 and similar orders for defence pensioners shall be issued separately since military pensions involve certain additional complexities as compared to civilians. Pensioners shall be entitled to receive the higher pension out of the two formulae.

The revision shall be undertaken by notionally fixing the pay in the pay matrix recommended by the 7th CPC in the level corresponding to the pay in the pay scale/pay band and grade pay at which such pensioners had retired (for pension) or died (for family pension). This will be done by notional pay fixation under each intervening Pay Commission based on the Formula for revision of pay.

The pension under the new dispensation shall also be allowed from 01-01-2016.

The new orders can be accessed and downloaded by clicking here.

Again, please DO NOT mail me individual queries on email or social media. You are free to discuss the above @ the comments section of this post.

Thank You.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Clarifications and update on the Cabinet decisions on pay and pensionary issues emanating out of the 7th Central Pay Commission

There is a press note floating around on social media regarding certain decisions taken by the Cabinet related to pay and pensionary modalities related to the 7th Central Pay Commission (CPC). Though many have questioned its veracity, this is to confirm that it is absolutely a valid document and has been officially issued by the Ministry of Finance.

That said, let me run through some of the important decisions taken by the Cabinet, clarifications thereon and their impact. Please note that the new Pay Rules issued by the Ministry of Defence do not take into account the changes in the pay structure or removal of anomalies and these shall be incorporated through separate amendments in the rules issued on 03 May 2017.

Restoration of Percentage based Disability Pension Rates
The 7th CPC had recommended ‘flat/slab’ rates of disability pension for the defence services rather than the ones based upon ‘percentage of pay’. Civil disabled personnel were however retained on the percentage system as before. As stated earlier, frankly, I never expected this regressive 7th CPC recommendation to be accepted by the Government, but unfortunately it was. While recommending this aspect, the 7th CPC had also made unfounded and uncharitable remarks against disabled soldiers by casting aspersions on those who have incurred disabilities while in service which was discussed in detail by me earlier in my opeds, here and here. This resulted in a massive decrease after the 7th CPC resulting in a payout even lower than 6th CPC rates for almost all post-2016 retirees of all ranks and also for pre-2016 retirees of certain ranks. The arbitrariness of this decision becomes evident from the following chart at the apex levels:

(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

This issue was much close to my heart. Thankfully, the then Defence Minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar, fully understood the consequences and took personal interest in getting the matter referred to an Anomaly Committee. The Defence Services HQ as well as the Ministry, and even civilian employee organisations, supported the resolution of this anomaly which now stands addressed and the Cabinet has decided to retain the old system of calculation on percentage basis, that is, 30% of pay shall remain the disability element for 100% disability. I however do hope that a protection clause is introduced for pre-2016 retirees of lower ranks who stood to gain from the slab rates.

Improvement in Pension calculation system for pre-2016 civil and defence retirees
The Cabinet has also accepted an improvement over and above the system of pension calculation which was finally effectuated after the 7th CPC. Rather than basing the pensionary calculations on the “Old Pension X 2.57” formula, an option would be provided to calculate the pension based upon the notional pay stage from which the employee had retired as opposed to the minimum of pay as was the system followed till the 6th CPC. Calculation of pension in this manner would definitely enhance the pension of civil pensioners and perhaps a small number of defence pensioners, who, in all probability would be provided the opportunity of choosing the most beneficial option, that is, the new formula, 2.57 multiplication formula or OROP rates. Contrary to popular perception, this does not exactly result in OROP for pre-2016 civil employees as is being projected, since while this is based on notional data, the military OROP is operated on live date of fresh retirees, moreover while this system is expected to be revised only after ten years, the military OROP as per the current scheme is meant to be revised after every five years.

Issuance of Pay Rules rather than Instructions on Pay
There were messages in circulation that the Chiefs of the Defence Services have been sidelined and downgraded since the earlier system of issuance of Special Army Instructions, Special Navy Instructions and Special Air Force Instructions (SAI/SNI/SAFI) has been discontinued and a new dispensation of ‘Pay Rules’ has been initiated. This seems to be an extreme case of over-interpretation and negative imagination of fertile minds. SAI/SNI/SAFI were never issued under the authority of the Chiefs or the Defence Services HQ but were always issued by the Ministry of Defence, that is, the Government of India. ‘Orders’ such as Army Orders (AO) etc were (and are) issued by the Defence Services HQ under the power of the Chiefs. The new Pay Rules have been promulgated under the authority of Article 309 of the Constitution of India and are statutory in character rather than being mere executive instructions like was the case till now. With this, the pay rules of the Defence Services are at par with the statutory pay rules of the civil services which are also issued under the authority of Article 309 of the Constitution of India.

Defence Pay Matrix to have 40 stages
The 7th CPC had recommended only 24 stages in the defence matrix while 40 stages were provided to civilians. This anomaly has been rectified and now the defence pay matrix shall also have 40 stages. This will particularly be helpful for JCOs towards the retiring years and will also beneficially affect their pension and other retiral benefits.

Multiplication factor of 2.67
This anomaly had been rectified earlier for Brigadiers and a multiplication factor of 2.67 had been applied for the said rank. Now the benefit of multiplication for Index of Rationalization (operative at the beginning of the entry pay) has also been extended to Lieutenant Colonels, Directors to Government of India and Colonels, that is, Levels 12A and 13 of the Pay Matrix. Further, just to clarify, this multiplication factor has no link with pensions whatsoever. 

Other Anomalies
There shall be pay protection for the amount of Military Service Pay (MSP) on promotion from the rank of Brigadier to Major General. It may be recalled that MSP is not entitled to ranks above the rank of Brigadier. No decision has been taken by the Government on the aspect of Non Functional Upgradation till now since the matter is being considered sub judice. On directions of the Supreme Court, the Government is re-considering the issue of NFU for Central Armed Police Forces for which a meeting was recently held. The issue is to be considered by the Government and the fresh decision is to be placed before the Supreme Court in August 2017. The most pertinent anomaly of enhancement of Military Service Pay, especially for JCOs, also remains pending along with other matters and probably these issues would be clearer after various anomaly committees submit their reports and a decision is taken thereafter by the Cabinet. Non-inclusion of 'X Group Pay' for pension is also a cause of concern, it may be recalled that till now the same was included as an element for pension. The committee on allowances has already submitted its report which will now be examined by the Government. Unlike pay and pension which are admissible retrospectively from 01 January 2016, most freshly rationalized allowances shall only be admissible prospectively.

This is all I have to say at present, please DO NOT mail me individual queries on email or social media. You are free to discuss the above @ the comments section of this post.

Thank You.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Seventh Central Pay Commission orders for pay issued by Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence has issued the orders for the new pay regime on implementation of the recommendations of the 7th Central Pay Commission for all ranks.

The orders shall now be known as Rules rather than Instructions. For example, the modalities for Ranks other than Commissioned Officers of the Army shall be known as the “Army Pay Rules” rather than “Special Army Instructions”.

The orders for Ranks other than Commissioned Officers can be accessed and downloaded by clicking here.  

The orders for Commissioned Officers of the Army can be accessed and downloaded by clicking here.

The orders for Commissioned Officers of the Navy can be accessed and downloaded by clicking here.

The orders for Commissioned Officers of the Air Force can be accessed and downloaded by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Interview in Times of India on Jadhav issue

The issue of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s sham trial by a military Court in Pakistan has truly hurt the conscience of all those who believe in the rule of law.

My Question and Answer session on the subject was published on the editorial page of The Times of India.

The same can be accessed here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Path-breaking move by the Ministry of Home Affairs for the bravehearts of the Central Armed Police Forces

There would be naysayers who would spare no effort to look down upon this move, but to apolitical persons like us, this is one of the most path-breaking concepts brought about by the Central Government for brave-hearts of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) the nation lost in the line of duty.

www.BharatKeVeer.gov.in is a website where any individual can contribute directly to the accounts of the kin of bravehearts of the CAPFs. The amount can either be contributed to the fund of the kin or to the “Bharat Ke Veer” corpus. A maximum contribution of Rupees Fifteen Lakhs can be made to the kin directly, and in case a higher contribution is made, then the amount over and above Rupees Fifteen Lakhs can be transferred to the corpus or to the account of the kin of another braveheart. 

The corpus would be managed by a committee of eminent personalities and senior government functionaries.

The concept is applicable to 8 CAPFs, including the Assam Rifles and National Security Guard.

Gratitude also goes out to Mr Akshay Kumar for his contribution to this cause and also to the leadership of CAPFs for strongly standing behind their men and women in uniform. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

SC comes to the rescue of an HIV+ veteran- grants him Disability Pension

In what may be quite a progressive decision by the Supreme Court, a soldier suffering from AIDS and Meningitis has been granted disability pension by the Supreme Court, which was earlier refused by the Army and then also the Armed Forces Tribunal.

HIV+ population continues to suffer stigma in our nation and the military population declared HIV+ faces another major issue, and that is the fact that such soldiers can be discharged from service on medical grounds- at times without pension in case the condition is declared “neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service”.

Though a harmonious interpretation of the rules would show that the condition needs to be declared attributable to service if the cause is unknown and can only be declared “not related to service” in case the reason is directly discernable such as contact with a commercial sex worker, more often than not, medical boards declare it ‘not related to service’ even if the reason remains unknown. Of course, it is well understood that there are plenty of ways how the virus can spread, and the individual may not even be at fault for his condition, but the stigma till date in our nation is such that personnel affected by the virus are left to fend for their own.

This decision is not just in line with the global effort to make AIDS less stigmatic but also protects the life and liberty of the individual by providing him and his family a means of a dignified life through disability pension and also ensuring medical treatment via the military medical establishment which is only permissible to pensioners as far as in-patient treatment is concerned.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Once again the High Court strikes down discrimination by Haryana Urban Development Authority in plot allotment based on ranks

The Punjab & Haryana High Court has once again held that there should be no discrimination based upon military ranks while deciding eligibility of defence personnel for plot allotment by Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA).

For those who are not aware, HUDA allows defence applicants to apply for sizes of plots depending upon the rank held by such applicants. This seems odd, since HUDA is not a military organisation and neither is the allotment in a military or official environment where any such hierarchy is required to be maintained. In fact, in my own opinion, there might be persons holding lower ranks having the financial means to apply and own larger plots whereas there might be cases of officers who may not be having the means and would want to own smaller plots, and hence, putting shackles on eligibility based upon rank and that too by a civilian organisation, may not be apt. Eligible applicants should have been allowed to own plots based upon their financial means and there ideally should have been no classification within the reserved category of defence personnel.

The sad part however is that even in the past, the High Court had passed similar orders which were upheld by the Supreme Court but till date the authorities concerned have not amended the policy in line with the decisions.

Friday, February 24, 2017

On Reemployment and Dignity of Labour and an Egalitarian Society

A few days ago, I responded to a tweet wherein a Subedar Major was driving a cab to earn his living. I found the situation odd because of reasons I would articulate in due course, within this write-up.

There were mixed reactions to my response on twitter. Some agreed with me, while some, including a few of my very good friends, stated that we should respect dignity of labour and that there was nothing wrong in driving a cab to earn one’s living.

I fully stand behind the concept of dignity of labour. I also firmly believe in an egalitarian society. I further believe in living a life shorn of redundant ceremonial regalia and working with my own hands. But that is not the point that I wish to make.

My plain and simple argument is that as a society and a nation we have failed to harness the skills of our military veterans, in this case, a Subedar Major of the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army who would have served in uniform for at least three decades and who retired from a Group B (Formerly known as Class II) level gazetted appointment. Would a Subedar Major be driving a cab if offered a commensurate post-retirement placement by us as national policy? the answer would probably be in the negative. Would an equivalent gazetted police or civil officer be found driving a cab like him? the answer to that too would probably be in the negative.

Egalitarianism and dignity of labour is one thing, however making use of skills and providing a dignified post-retirement re-settlement to soldiers is a different issue altogether. Our soldiers start retiring in their 30s, while some of us may be happy to see them stand guard at the neighbourhood ATMs, that simply is not what they are worth. All organisations have a certain hierarchy based upon skills and experience, and that hierarchy cannot be merely brushed aside or stretched to absurd levels in the name of ‘dignity of labour’, since if that be so, then there would be no harm in a retired Colonel or a retired DIG of Police taking up the appointment of a security guard after retirement! If that be so, then there should be and would be no reason for holding on to any hierarchy in any organisation or establishment.

Though much effort is going into it today, the state of resettlement of our soldiers is not worth praise. To take an example, the Railways, with much fanfare keep initiating special drives for recruitment of ex-servicemen. But what are the appointments? -the jobs of cleaners and helpers and khalasis at Group D level (junior even to a newly recruited Sepoy) being offered to all ranks, including to Junior Commissioned Officers of the rank of Naib Subedar, Subedar and Subedar Major. Appointing a former senior functionary of the Army as a cleaner or even a driver is not dignity of labour, it is an affront to the dignity and experience of the military rank, it is indignity of skill sets, it is exploitation of human resources. A fauji lives and dies for his izzat but there is no protection of his military status on re-employment on the civil side. This old news-report would also show how such appointments were accepted with heavy hearts by ex-servicemen and not willingly. Our society also is blissfully unaware that if soldiers are unable to find a suitable vocation after their early release from the defence services at the peak of their lives, they at times develop complexes and even psychiatric ailments, which, of course is an area not even documented or researched upon this side of the world.

Of about 60,000 personnel who retire every year, the Directorate General of Resettlement (DGR) is able to adjust only about 4000. Even after the DGR had written to all Defence Public Sector Undertakings on directions of the Defence Minister, just 8 PSUs even cared to reply with only about 9.5% vacancies utilized. If such is the response of the official establishment even to the right intentioned moves of the political executive, one can well imagine the overall state of affairs.

Familial and societal responsibilities are at peak levels when soldiers retire in their 30s and 40s. Their income drops down exactly to half when they are released, unlike their civilian counterparts who continue in guaranteed employment till the age of 60. To thrust upon any kind of job onto such veterans in the name of ‘dignity of labour’ not commensurate to their skills or experience, would thus be a disservice, to say the least, in my humble opinion. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Developments on the Armed Forces Tribunal and also the overall concept of Tribunalisation

Some positive developments on the tribunalisation front.

The Government, it seems, is finally making concrete moves to place all tribunals under the nodal control of the Department of Legal Affairs under the Ministry of Law & Justice. Rationalisation and merger of various tribunals is also being considered. The process to rationalize 36 tribunals and reduce the number to 18 is going to be effectuated in three phases.

More on this has been reported by The Tribune here.

The Armed Forces Tribunal (Amendment) Bill, 2012, is also under consideration of the Rajya Sabha for the current session. The Bill confers the powers of civil contempt on the AFT, besides rationalizing the tenure and retirement ages of Members and abrogating the system of reappointment to ensure independence.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Oped: The Gaze of Social Media, Societal Churning and the Uniformed Forces

My opinion piece on the current societal issues affecting the Armed Forces, published @Swarajyamag:

The Gaze of Social Media, Societal Churning and the Uniformed Forces

Navdeep Singh

In my opinion, no organisation, the uniformed services included, is beyond scrutiny.

And with that disclaimer, I would like to emphasize, that the recent events in public gaze concerning our armed forces, triggered by a video posted on social media by a trooper of the Border Security Force (BSF), must not be viewed in black or white and till the full facts are made known, neither the organisation nor the individual should be the target of preconceived notions or bias. There is no denying that like other large organisations, the security forces also face certain issues at various levels, but that reality must not become a tool for spreading discontentment, frustration or disaffection or an opportunity to create fissures between the leaders and the led. Scandalizing of the subject must cease, but at the same time, such instances, even if assumed as emanating from disgruntled personalities, should lead to all stakeholders trying to ensure resolution and improvement. As I have stated many times in the past, while there is too much focus on anomalies related to pay and pension and other financial matters, real issues which affect the very heart and soul of our organisations comprising brave men and women, are ignored.

Though the incident primarily revolved around bad rations, it has encompassed many facets of life in the uniformed services. Let me comment on certain highlights of various aspects that are being played out in the media and social media. I must warn though that this is going to be a long read.

Us and Them syndrome

All security forces serve the same flag and are expected to work shoulder to shoulder for the same ultimate aim. The episode however again brought to fore statements such as “This is the BSF and not the Army” or “This never happens in the Army” or “There is a problem of leadership in the Police Forces” and so on. That is no consolation. It was the Border Security Force (BSF) this time, tomorrow it could be the Army. Irrespective of the veracity of this incident, complaints on quality of ration are not rare in the Army and we must not pretend to be surprised. Further, the Army has had its share of ration (and other) scams too, and the Army is also not a holy entity removed from the society. The quality of roti, kapda and makaan is talked of in hushed tones and we should have the moral courage to admit and make amends.  While there is no reason for the voices of superiority from military veterans, there is also no reason for former and current members of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) to play out how they are discriminated against in pay and allowances time and again, especially with regard to the additional Military Service Pay (MSP) granted to defence personnel (Army, Navy and Air Force) but not to those in other uniformed services. It is pertinent to note that there is one inherent difference between the Defence Services and the CAPFs, and that is, while personnel of the former start retiring in their 30s, troopers of the latter retire in their 50s, serving two decades more than the former and in the bargain enjoying not only certainty and protection of livelihood during productive lifetime but also higher lifetime earnings and multiple pay revisions. Similarly, while it is true that the military gets higher allowances in certain field areas, the reverse is also correct wherein CAPFs have an edge. It is a fact that on one hand, over the years, some of the better military specific allowances stand extended to the other services, the same courtesy or reciprocity has not been allowed to the military. Today, payouts such as the detachment allowance, Special Duty Allowance, Tribal Area allowance and Double House Rent Allowance are not available to defence services. Of course, bullets of the enemy do not distinguish between the colour of the uniform and the CAPFs operating in the same area as members of the defence services deserve the same risk-related allowances, but vice versa should also be made applicable. Hence apart from the basic pay, which is broadly the same for all services including the military, there is no comparison of service conditions- you win some, you lose some, and which is absolutely clear at the time of joining service, whether it is the military or the CAPFs. Yes, discriminatory practices such as inequitable allowances must be ironed out. I am anyway not a believer of superiority or inferiority of any service or organisation. All play a role and all are equal.

Excellent system of redressal of grievances in the uniformed forces?

I tend not to fully agree. The number of representations, petitions, non-statutory complaints, statutory complaints and litigation cannot be termed as low by any stretch of imagination. The redressal of grievances theoretically is apt in the forces, but practically speaking there are many rough edges which need to be smoothened out since handling of grievances is personality oriented and there is no thumb rule. On various TV shows during this episode, it was argued that the Commanding Officer (CO) is a father figure and if a person does not get redressal from his Commanding Officer, he can always approach the next senior in hierarchy. Easier said than done. Can a prudent person expect a soldier, who has complained against his CO, to have a smooth time thereafter in the unit under that very CO? Are all complaints made to superiors in the hierarchy even promptly forwarded to them? Both answers are in the negative. Moreover, the CO can only deal with local issues within his control, nothing beyond it, and again, the resolution would be dependent upon personality traits.  It is also well known that the formal system of statutory and non-statutory complaints for issues such as Confidential Reports, disciplinary matters and promotions is a slow grind. While such complaints are supposed to be finalized within 6 months (against the 3 months prescribed by civil departments), despite emphasis by successive Defence Minsters on promptness, complaints are rarely decided in time, unless, let us face it, strings are pulled. What does it lead to? Nothing but frustration and discontentment and lack of closure- aspects that can be easily handled in-house with a well-oiled responsive grievances redressal machinery. To add to the woes, complaints are rejected on points such as ‘incorrect format’ and what not, leading to more disgruntlement. Should soldiers who are cut-off from the world sitting in tough posts on the border be expected to adhere to formats and red-tape and then wait forever to get their issues resolved? Should soldiers remain preoccupied with their pending grievances or perform their duties? Should a few disgruntled ones then be allowed to disproportionately flag these problems and hurt the image of the entire force? There is hence hollowness on display when we hear phrases of praises on the system of redressal of grievances. The reality is that one has to be well connected or street-smart to get himself or herself heard and those stating otherwise obviously do not have the courage to admit the follies of the existing system. Think if you must that we are ‘the best’, but let us strive for making the system even better and ensure objectivity and decisions that are not influenced by any other aspect but the merits of the grievance.

What can be done?

To improve the system of redressal of grievances, some simple steps can be initiated, of course within the four corners of discipline and military efficiency. Steps that would be easy to implement but may not undermine the authority that is needed to command troops into battle.

Going up the hierarchy: In case of a grievance related to an individual’s unit or an officer under whom he is serving, rather than jumping the hierarchy, the person must be allowed to write to the higher formations or Commanders through proper channel, as is permissible under the existing system, but with an additional concept of a direct ‘advance copy’ to the senior officer as a matter of right. Further, it should be reemphasized strictly that officers in the channel would not hold back any complaint or representation for more than the prescribed days and any such delay would entail a notice to the lower unit, officer or formation from where it was supposed to move up. The authority to whom the advance copy is addressed must interact with the affected person and hear him out before reaching a conclusion. Officers should be encouraged not to consider ‘recommendations’ or ‘comments’ from down below as binding and must not shy away from forming own objective opinions by overruling such recommendations, if required.

Opportunity of hearing or interaction: In case of statutory complaints, which are not routine representations as above, but usually involve career aspects, an opportunity of hearing or interaction must be provided to the complainant by the competent decision-making authority or the authority closest to the decision-making authority. This procedure, recommended recently by a Committee of Experts, of which this author was also a member, already stands accepted by the Defence Minister in principle but the implementation instructions are yet to be issued. Explaining the benefits of such an approach, the following was stated by the Committee:

“...Opportunity of personal hearing or personal interaction has many advantages. It is what is known as sunwai in vernacular. Not only does it lead to satisfaction of the Complainant that he/she has been heard objectively by the decision making authority but at times it may also lead to the competent authority getting convinced that what the Complainant is stating is correct and the picture painted by the authorities on noting sheets lower in the chain could be incorrect. It may be pointed out that in almost all civil organizations and even in the Indian Air Force, opportunity of hearing is freely provided which leads to a higher degree of satisfaction level and also harmony within the system. Though the informal system of ‘interview’ is available in the defence services, it is discretionary and not institutionalized and not at the ‘competent authority level’ especially while dealing with statutory complaints. The system of opportunity of hearing also provides a catharsis to individuals who may feel stifled at times and hence would provide an outlet to at least open up before the competent authority. It becomes all the more important in defence services where there is no trade unionism or associations, and rightly so. It becomes even more important in the stratified rank structure environment and physically long distances of location.
Under the current system, complaints of aggrieved personnel are being dealt with by way of a one-way file noting system on which, after a complaint is submitted, the complainant is neither heard nor is given an opportunity to rebut what is put up against his Complaint by the dealing official chain. At times, decisions are taken based on the comments of those very officers/officials who have been complained against giving rise to a question of bias, which could be simply a perception, or even real, and which may not result in closure of the issue with rampant dissatisfaction due to the very reason that a person has not been heard and only a one-sided decision has been taken. There is also a challenge to address the perception that there remains an element of subjectivity in the processing of the Complaints since the system would perceivably remain favourably inclined towards the organisation. It also so happens that on many occasions, especially at ranks other than Commissioned Officers, personnel are apprehensive in approaching the institutional redressal system for the fear of reprisal from superiors. All this would change with the system of institutionalizing ‘opportunity of hearing’ which would not only be in tune with the best practices of the current times, but also in line with decisions of Constitutional Courts, the views of the Hon’ble Raksha Mantri and also DoPT instructions issued from time to time. In fact, it has been emphasized time and again even by the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances that employees’ frustration rises from the perception of inaccessibility and lack of concern of superior officers, failure to acknowledge and act upon grievances and non-involvement in organizational activities...”
Faster and time-bound redressal: Timelines on grievances must be strictly adhered to and non-processing in time should provide a right of audience for the soldier to the competent authority. Though there must be a balance between individual and organisational rights, the precious personal rights cannot be held hostage to administrative lethargy. Again, in such cases, when grievances are not decided within a particular time limit, to obliterate any negative usage of other unauthorized channels, soldiers must have a system of informing the competent authority directly or through electronic means and the designated authority should be obliged to provide an audience or interaction. It is well known that many complaints are rendered infructuous, including in career related issues, due to the fact that they are not decided in time. I would mince no words in stating that it is truly unfortunate that seven decades after independence we have not been able to even ensure decisions on complaints within laid down time limits, and time limits which, ironically, are themselves needlessly generous- six months in most cases. It should not be forgotten that timely, objective and fair disposal of a grievance is like a legally provided pressure valve which can provide quietus to an issue and bring closure for a person, but if that vent or outlet is not provided, the built-up pressure is bound to escape through routes that would not be palatable.

Social engineering and flattening of hierarchy through technology: The Army Chief’s idea for grievance boxes is a welcome step but it may prove to be ungainly since he alone would not be able to monitor grievances from such a large manpower, and some of such complaints would be frivolous and personal rants which would have to be filtered out. Since interaction with senior officers is not feasible at all times due to the nature of duties, there must be an established system for more interaction in real time with seniors without being put-up through staff officers with a hackneyed approach, and for designated grievance officers in all formations who must remain insulated from influence and subjectivity. This actually is nothing new. The Army’s Western Command under the aegis of the then Army Commander, Lt Gen KJ Singh, had initiated a blog wherein all ranks were free to float suggestions, recommendations and grievances. In fact, it could be loosely termed as an electronic and more feasible version of a grievance box advocated by the Chief of the Army Staff. It provided real-time outlet for such issues thereby eliminating simmering undercurrents. Further, this was not done as a mere formality but grievances and recommendations were acted upon and star recommendations were also publically awarded. At the same time, the same Army Commander had also done away with an eatery in a market within the cantonment which had separate sitting spaces for families based on ranks. While hierarchy within official spaces and establishments cannot be avoided, and in fact may be desirable, public spaces for families in cantonments need to be rendered totally rank-neutral. The sahayak system is also in news. Though the uniformed services often emphasize the ‘buddy system’ and ‘breaking bread together’ and the ‘camaraderie’, it is still felt in certain quarters that there is a clash of societal dynamics which has resulted in personnel resisting work outside their charter of duties. The system, by whichever name it may be called, is an integral part of operational environment and apart from relieving Commissioned Officers and Junior Commissioned Officers from the rigmarole of mundane day to day issues, sahayaks act as a bridge between the troops and their leaders. Just as support staff is provided to officers to enable them to perform duties efficiently in peace and staff appointments, sahayaks are entitled in units and formations on war establishment. If an officer cannot be expected to type all his letters without assistance of a clerk in a staff appointment, he cannot also be expected to perform routine administrative tasks and run around without assistance in a field appointment. Rules anyway prohibit combatants from being used for domestic chores but it does seem that the concept has faltered and has become hazy due to unfortunate aberrations. If there is so much hue and cry on this subject, obviously there must be things that require to be fixed. With some very senior officers and veterans brushing aside the voices raised against the exploitation of the system, we should simply ask ourselves whether the system is being misused or not. Even if the answer is uncomfortable, it should not be ignored, and with changing social dynamics, the effort should be to provide a practical alternative without compromising the dignity of combatants. Due to frequent movements, military families have to struggle for survival in new places every now and then, they even have to live most of the service life without the breadwinner. It is a nightmare, to say the least. There is hence requirement of support but the answer to that must be brainstormed by the establishment itself. Whether it is staff specially recruited for the purpose, whether it is manpower arranged out of contributory funds at each station centrally after due verification or whether it is a trained and organized system of housekeepers and maids with background checks at military stations paid by those who employ them- it is for the stakeholders to devise and find a solution to. In fact, the few cases of transgression cannot be blamed upon the uniformed organisations per se or even on officers, we have simply failed to provide an alternative, and in other cases, it might be a sense of entitlement at play and being miserly with a tendency to live on the house, crudely put. Yes, the issue is blown out of proportion every now and then with extreme stands on both sides, yet, a long lasting solution needs to be found.

Stress and strain of military service and its effect on mental health

At times, there is a thin line between misdemeanour and a psychiatric condition, a line which is not discernable to an untrained eye. Stress and strain is the hallmark of military service, which is recognized universally, all over the world. The fact that a person is away from his family most of the year and cannot hence fulfil domestic commitments results in added pressure which at times becomes unbearable. It is not a sign of weakness, we’re all different constitutionally and the body reacts differently to varied stimuli. Under such pressures, certain individuals tend to develop conditions which need care and sensitivity and not disdain. For example, a person may wander out of the lines due to his mental condition and while a mature leader of troops may rightly refer him to a psychiatrist, another may simply declare him absent without leave. Similarly, mature leaders would understand that while intoxication on duty could be an offence, alcoholism could well be a psychiatric condition. While I do not mean to defend the BSF trooper we all saw on TV, I found it a little odd for him to be summarily branded as a ‘bad hat’ or an ‘alcoholic’. If so, he required psychiatric care and not entrustment with a weapon in an operational area! Officers should not forget that stress and strain of service and effect on mental health is much higher on lower ranks than on higher ranks. A great contributor is the inability to cope up with requirements back home, seemingly small little matters- education of children, property disputes, registration of house, municipal work and so on, and an insensitive administration does not help. While officers are still able to get a grip by speaking to their civilian counterparts and are blessed with better education and wherewithal, personnel of lower ranks are at sea, the result of which is stress which is then also wrongly blamed on ‘domestic reasons’ while the actual cause is military service and its exigencies which keep troops away from efficient and timely resolution of the multitude of issues back home, but that is another story for another time.

The times we live in are complicated and there are no easy solutions. The answers, or even the questions, cannot be so simplistic as many of us seem to believe. There is no wrong and no perfect right, there is no black and there is no white. The only truth in this is the fact that this perhaps is an uneasy era, but just like the society, the uniformed forces shall also self-adjust with these times. The churning is not comfortable but all stakeholders must show flexibility and balance to tide over this temporary disquiet. 


Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing High Court lawyer, author and the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association. He is Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War. Apolitical, he writes on law, issues concerning the military, public policy and governance.