Thursday, December 20, 2012

How lower level Functionaries in the Defence Ministry make a Mockery of the System

 by Major Navdeep Singh

On numerous occasions I’ve pointed out on this blog and OPeds as to how lower level functionaries in the Defence Ministry are making a mockery of the system and ensuring that benefits and welfare related schemes for defence personnel, disabled veterans and military widows are surgically scuttled before they reach the tables of decision makers. The minds of the competent authorities are confused and breached by these mischief mongers in a way difficult to describe.
Earlier this year, I had pointed out to Sh AK Antony how the system was being taken for a ride by some of the officers in the MoD, but despite the fact that the Services HQ officially and in writing agreed with what I had stated, the officers in question were not confronted or taken to task, of course which is in line with the best traditions of the Ministry of Defence.

I am left with no option but to describe in detail to the readers of the blog the contents of my letter and demonstrate how certain quarters of the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) of the Ministry of Defence have not only misguided the Defence Minister of this country but also the judiciary and Parliamentary bodies. When the top political executive and constitutional bodies can be hoodwinked, the fate of the foot soldier or his family can well be imagined.

Please spare a few moments and go through my below reproduced letter minutely. It may be noted that my letter was not just based on hearsay but substantiated with evidence on each and every point by way of certified annexures and appendices. And this my friends is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

A. The Raksha Mantri

B. The Chief of the Army Staff
C. The Defence Secretary
D. The Secretary, Ex-Servicemen Welfare (ESW)

1.    Being involved in, and as a keen observer of pensionary and welfare-related policies for defence veterans, I am perturbed by certain events at the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which, crudely put, are resulting in the entire department being held ransom by its staff at the lower rungs.

2.      It is no secret that despite the well-meaning intentions of the Raksha Mantri and the higher echelons of the Ministry of Defence in general, and the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare in particular, defence veterans remain unhappy with the functioning of the system with regard to their welfare and pensionary benefits. The reason is not far to seek – the entire set-up and the purpose for which it had been conceptualised has been hijacked by lower level functionaries of DESW who not only scuttle every single positive move, including those emanating from the top, but also derive sadistic pleasure out of doing so. And in the process, this has not just harmed the interests of the veteran community but has also resulted in deception of the political executive, the Services HQ, top brass of the MOD, judicial bodies and even the Parliament.

3.     What I have said above is not merely hearsay but the reality. If you could kindly carefully peruse the points enumerated below with specific incidents and the documents annexed herewith which would substantiate what I say, it would be crystal clear that efforts originating from all stake-holders have effectively been sabotaged by a couple of officers who are involved in making false and incorrect noting-sheets for perusal of the competent authorities and who seem to be running the show, with all others, you and me included, ultimately becoming puppets in this gloriously deleterious spectacle.

4.    I would like to particularly point out issue-wise the following to you, with evidence:-

(a)  The issue of grant of pension of regular Naib Subedars to those Havildars who were granted the Honorary Rank of Naib Subedar, misleading statements made before the Supreme Court and back-tracking thereon :

*       As you may be aware, the 6th Pay Commission recommended and the Govt implemented the grant of pension of Naib Subedar to Havildars granted the honorary rank of Naib Subedar, but the same was only done for post-2006 retirees. The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) at Chandigarh however held that the same needed to be notionally extended to pre-2006 retirees also. The judgement of the AFT was affirmed by the Supreme Court and thus attained finality. Against legal opinion, the DESW however still insisted on filing more appeals before the SC on the same subject and in one of the cases, the Department made the then Solicitor General record a misleading statement before the Court that the said benefit was only extended to those Havildars who were granted the Honorary rank prior to retirement (See Appendix A) and hence should be restricted to only such cases.

*      The truth however is that the said Honorary Rank of Naib Subedar is ALWAYS grantedAFTER retirement and never prior to retirement. The Army HQ protested in writing about this misleading statement (Appendix B) time and again requesting for rectification, and so did some ex-servicemen organisations (Appendix C).  However, no action was taken by the lower staff of DESW. When questioned under the RTI Act (Appendix D) as to who had briefed the Solicitor General into making the said incorrect statement and whether the Army HQ or any other organisation had taken up the case for rectification, one Sh XXXXX, Under Secretary of the DESW, falsely replied (also Appendix D) that the department had not briefed the Solicitor General into making the statement before the SC and that the Army HQ or any other organisation had not taken up the issue with the DESW regarding the incorrect statement made before SC for correction.

*      This reply of Sh XXXXX, the appendices obtained under the RTI Act from the Services HQ would show, is utterly incorrect since the case was repeatedly taken up by various authorities for rectification with even the then Secretary approving it, and the sad part of the entire issue which becomes clear fromAppendix B is that the above named XXXXX was fully in picture and was one of the signatories on the oscillating minute sheets on the subject. The question then also arises whether the Solicitor General could have acted in vacuum on his own in making an incorrect statement without any briefing by the DESW?, which naturally is not possible. It is clear from the above that the Army HQ and also other organisations had promptly taken up the issue but still Sh XXXXX not only provided false information under the RTI Act but also kept the entire system, the Solicitor General and also the Supreme Court in the dark about the reality even on being pointed out. What did he gain by cheating poor ex-servicemen?

(b)  Statement before the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the 15th Lok Sabha tabled on 03-08-2011 related to the pendency of cases :-

*    A report appeared in the media that a statement was made before the Parliamentary Standing Committee that only 303 judgements passed by Courts / Tribunals had not been implemented by the MoD and the blame for lack of promptness of implementation was tacitly put on the Army HQ. Firstly, the number of 303 is totally incorrect. The actual figure must be more than 2500. (It would be in the fitness of things if you could call for the figures from all Services HQ). Secondly, when the MoD was confronted under the RTI Act with this news-report, a reply was initially given that no such statement had actually been made and that a reply was merely in the drafting stage. The Lok Sabha Secretariat however provided a full copy of the statement which is annexed asAppendix E in which the Army has been blamed for non-promptness in implementation of judgements. Thirdly, it is common knowledge that it is not the Army / Services HQ who delay matters but the DESW, which, due to over-reliance on opinion of lower level staff does not take decisions on cases projected by Services HQ for policy resolution after judgements on particular subjects by judicial bodies. RTI replies have shown that multiple issues referred by the Services HQ are pending for resolution at the DESW even afterin-principle approval by the Secretary ESW. It is also learnt that the Defence Secretary had been informed, just before Mr Chaterjee took over as Secretary DESW, that all judgements have been implemented and no contempt petition was pending. This is also far from the truth and it is a fact that 90% of judgments are not implemented unless a contempt or execution petition is filed thereby leading to multiplicity of unnecessary litigation.

(c)   Spreading canards amongst veterans that it is the Army HQ which files appeals in verdicts favourable to ex-servicemen and not the MoD:-

*  It is again common knowledge, as also explained in the preceding paragraph, that the Services HQ have time and again projected many cases to the DESW involving amendment to policies adversely commented upon by Courts and the stake holders. The Services HQ have also many-a-times recommended and directed that appeals should not be filed in certain pensionary matters but still the DESW has remained adamant opining that its policies are sacrosanct and that judicial pronouncements are not correct. Not only that, ex-servicemen organisations are being informed that the MoD has always remained in favour of implementing judgments and not filing appeals and it is the Army HQ which files appeals. Moreover, as explained in the earlier paragraph, various important policy decisions are pending with the DESW which are not being resolved despite requests by the Services and affected veterans. It is being officially incorrectly portrayed that appeals are filed only on recommendations of the Services HQ in consultation with Ministry of Law. This stand has not only been mentioned in meetings but also expressed in writing; one of the examples is attached as Appendix F.

(d)   Evidence of wrong file-notings leading to skewed decisions by competent authorities, with special reference to the ‘broad-banding’ case :-

*    The lower staff of the DESW prepares false and incorrect file notings which lead to clouded decision-making at the top. It is well appreciated that senior officers do not have the time to go into minute details of all issues but the least that can be done is that
stake-holders could be consulted as is being effectuated by the Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare (DoPPW) on the civil side leading to a democratic decision making process, and the amount of application of mind could be intensified. One such glaring example is the subject of ‘broad-banding’ of disability element of pension which was introduced to curtail medical subjectivity and which was only extended by the MoD to invalided outpersonnel and not to superannuated personnel or those who were released on completion of terms of engagement.

*  This was done despite the fact that unlike the civil services, defence pensionary rules ordain that all personnel who are released in low medical category are to be deemed as invalided out from service for disability pension purposes. Moreover while issuing the policy; it was probably not appreciated that medical subjectivity and rigidity in calculating disability percentage equally afflicts invalided out as well as other personnel who are released with a disability pension. It is important to point out that till the 5th CPC, invalided out and other released / retired / discharged personnel of the defence services were receiving an absolutely equal amount of disability element, but this long standing parity was disturbed by introduction of broad-banding only for one section, that is, invalided out personnel.

*    What is disturbing in this issue is the fact that again the above mentioned official XXXXX, Under Secretary in DESW, prepared a noting sheet in one of the cases (obtained under the RTI Act and attached as Appendix G) in which he falsely and wrongly stated that disabled personnel who are released / superannuated / retired / discharged are not even entitled to normal disability element of pension but are entitled to only to a lumpsum compensation. This false observation went upto the top and was not questioned and was ultimately accepted.
*    The truth however is that all personnel retiring with a disability connected with service are entitled to disability element and the controversy was only restricted to broad-banding which had been granted after 1996 only to those who are invalided out. Disabled personnel however do  have an option of lumpsum compensation but that is in lieu of disability element and if at all such an option is exercised, then disability element is not admissible (See Paras 8 & 9 of MoD Letter dated 31st Jan 2001- extracted as Appendix H). Hence lumpsum compensation is not mandatory but optional. Nobody in the
chain ever questioned this officer as to how he made such a false statement.
  It is also learnt that despite the fact that two judgements have been rendered in favour of veterans on the subject of broad-banding by the Supreme Court (Civil Appeal 5591/06 KJS Buttar Vs UOI allowed on 31-03-2011 and Special Leave to Civil (Appeal) CC 5450-5451 UOI Vs Paramjit Singh decided on 04-04-2011) and the fact that the Army HQ has refused to file appeals in cases of similarly affected personnel, still again based on incorrect noting sheets the staff of DESW is trying its best to mislead the system by convincing to file appeals in the SC which is not only morally, but also ethically incorrect. While vide Appendix Fit was publically stated that it is only on the asking of the Army HQ that appeals are filed, here is a perfect example where the DESW is going out of the way against disabled veterans despite refusal of the Army HQ in this regard and despite authoritative latest SC rulings. I would also like to point out to you that the predecessor of the current Secretary ESW, Ms Neelam Nath, at one time had approved in principle an amendment in policy in this regard but again her approval was scuttled by misleading notings on file portraying that personnel who retire with a disability are not entitled to disability pension at all and hence broad-banding is not applicable to them.
(e)  Exaggerated and misleading public projection and wrong inputs to the Defence Minister :-
*   It would not be an understatement to suggest that most of the notings sent upwards play havoc with the understanding of the senior staff. Even the Raksha Mantri is not spared by spin-doctors in the DESW. To take a recent example, in speeches prepared by the DESW, the Raksha Mantri, on more than one occasion (Appendix I) stated in public that ‘keeping in view the valour and sacrifices of defence personnel’, the Ministry had decided to provide them with Rs 3000/- per month as Constant Attendance Allowance (CAA) and disability / war-injury pension. What is objectionable is the fact, that firstly, CAA, war-injury pension and disability pension have been admissible from times immemorial and there is nothing new in these concepts. Secondly, CAA is also now admissible to civil central govt employees and has no connection with ‘valour and sacrifices of defence personnel’. Thirdly, CAA is not granted to all disabled personnel as projected but only to those who are 100% disabled. Fourthly, it is not the DESW that had enhanced the CAA to Rs 3000/- but the same was done on recommendations of the 6th CPC and it was equally done by the DoPPW for civilian pensioners also. Fifthly, even the concept of disability pension is not unique for the defence services and has been in vogue since the 1930s for civil pensioners too under the Central Civil Services (Extraordinary Pension) Rules.

*  Hence when the senior most political executive in the Ministry can be made to believe and project wrong facts, God save the others !!!.It has been the constant endeavour of certain elements to make the public believe that the DESW is going out of the way for the welfare of veterans while the truth is, especially as explained above, that most of these benefits are already available to civilian employees also, and on the contrary, a majority of welfare related moves reach a road-block at the lower level of the DESW. It is the will of the bottom of the chain that ultimately prevails.
(f)  False statement before the Parliamentary Committee on Petitions of the Rajya Sabha (142nd Report) submitted on 19-12-2011:-

*   While dealing with the subject of enhanced pensions for defence personnel, the DESW pointed out (See Para 6.1, enclosed as Appendix J)  that they were faced with an administrative difficulty in processing the case for One Rank One Pension (OROP) since documents of defence pensioners are destroyed after 25 years. This statement is incorrect, false and misleading. Documents are destroyed after 25 years ONLY in respect of NON-PENSIONERS as per Regulation 595 of the Regulations for the Army. Moreover the Pension Payment Orders (PPOs) are retained during the entire life-time of a pensioner and then the family pensioner. Was the DESW attempting to project that pensions for defence personnel are stopped after 25 years since the documents are destroyed?. The aim behind such a banal statement cannot be understood. If a particular pensioner is being paid pension on the basis of a PPO, naturally his/her rank and length of service would be available in the records. The officer responsible for preparing this
excuse of 25 years which is not applicable at all to pensioners should be taken to task for attempting to mislead a Parliamentary Committee.

(g)  Non-adherence to National Litigation Policy and misleading statements before the Courts apparently because of incorrect briefing of govt counsel by the DESW : -

*  The National Litigation Policy promulgated by the Law Ministry provides that the Govt shall be a reluctant litigant inpensionary matters, but the same has not had any effect on the DESW. Moreover, the DESW staff has a history of wrongly briefing Govt counsel on matters of pensionary benefits in Courts thereby leading to decisions which are based on incorrect or incomplete facts. The most recent example has been enumerated in point (a) above and a list of such decisions is enclosed as Appendix K.

*     Some examples are as follows – In Secy MoD Vs Ajit Singh, it was stated before the SC that the person involved was not entitled to disability pension since he had less than 10 years of service. The reality is that there is no requirement of minimum service for disability pension. In UOI vs Jhujar Singh where the SC was examining the grant of disability pension on account of an injury sustained on leave, the Court was not informed about similar SC decisions in the past.  In UOI vs Ajay Wahi, the SC was not informed that the impugned rule that was being examined already stood amended, and so on.

(h)  Finding Excuses to put in limbo all welfare related proposals projected by the Services HQ and Ex-Servicemen Organisations :-

*   The lower staff of the DESW looks for excuses to either reject or to procrastinate on the proposals related to welfare of veterans. This is clear from the fact that more than 20 pension related proposals, some supported by authoritative verdicts of Courts, remain pending for issuance of policy decisions by DESW. One of the oft used delaying tactic is that opinions are sought from the office of the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) or the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pensions) which are merely auditing and accounting agencies and have no role to play in policy formulation or decision making. In fact, most of these agencies view such issues from a narrow and restricted point of view and are reluctant to have a positive outlook.

*   On the civil side, is it ever expected that the DoPPW would seek opinion from the Central Pension Accounting Office (CPAO) for taking such decisions? This, of course, is never the case. The openness and democratic system of functioning reflected by the DoPPW runs counter to the attitude of the DESW. While the former runs on Result Framework Documents (RFD) in which the time-period of decision making is completely defined, the latter runs on the ‘delay and deny’ spirit at the lower level. While the former places all important meetings, policy decisions and govt letters on the internet on the very day of issuance, the DESW does not even ensure their physical circulation to stake-holders or agencies. Again, the will is not lacking at the higher levels, but the system is being held at ransom by lower level officials and their ability to record false and incorrect notes.

5.      The idea behind informing you about the above is that it may kindly be ensured that all of us do not become pawns in the hands of a couple of officers who are bent upon taking the entire system for a ride. Governance should not become a joke and our thought-processes may not be mortgaged to mischief-mongering of a handful.  Most of such officers are resentful of the fact that the govt bestows upon defence personnel certain additional benefits which are not available to civilian personnel. Petty issues such as availability of subsidised liquor and groceries from Canteens become pin-pricks and encourage sadism. Moreover, since the Department has not, as a matter of practice, made any of the stake-holders a party to the decision making process, the voices of end-users remain unheard and this has a disastrous effect because the ones making noting-sheets are not affected by any of the policies under examination and thus take no interest in positively dealing with the same. The situation is reverse in the DoPPW on the civil side where the ones processing and taking policy decisions are themselves affected by the policies they are dealing with.

6.     It would be in the fitness of things if you could kindly take personal interest and go into details of this subject, inquire into the matter and take action against officers who have deceived the Parliament, the Courts, the MoD, the defence services, defence veterans and the public at large. That would be the greatest service to the nation and actual ‘welfare’ to ex-servicemen which in theory has been envisaged by the so-called well-intentioned but poorly executed Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare.

                                                            Thanking You,

                         (Navdeep Singh)

Copy for independent action to :

1. Chief of Air Staff
2. Chief of Naval Staff
3. Rajya Raksha Mantri
4. Adjutant General
5. Director, PS-4 (Legal)
6. Secretary (Personnel)
7. Secretary-in-Charge, DoPPW

1 comment:

  1. Maj Navdeep is a High Court lawyer. I am sure he knows whether and how to prosecute those poeple. Wonder if he does once, will any body have the temerity for a few months?
    Over to Maj Navdeep.