Friday, November 27, 2015

Committee of Experts for Reduction of Litigation in The Ministry of Defence and Strengthening of Mechanisms of Redressal of Grievances, Submits Report

Some Highlights in different colours to be noted
As we submitted our Report to the Raksha Mantri today, we felt proud as well as relieved.

Proud, since we were a part of a historic opportunity initiated almost seven decades into independence, to not only look into steps for minimizing litigation initiated against soldiers and veterans by the Ministry of Defence but also to address the status quo in the various systems of redressal of grievances, and improvement thereon, for the men and women in uniform and also defence civilians who so proudly serve us in trying circumstances. Relieved, since the last few months were heavy on all of us, as we went about this onerous task diligently and honestly and in great detail within the granted time so that we do not let you down.

Burdened by thousands of cases involving the MoD and the dissatisfaction on this account, the Raksha Mantri had constituted a Committee of Experts for review of service and pension matters including potential disputes, minimizing litigation and strengthening institutional mechanisms related to redressal of grievances. The step was in line with the Prime Minister’s vision that Government departments should concentrate on core issues of governance rather than wasting time and resources on unproductive activities. The Committee functioned almost like a Blue Ribbon Commission by going into minutiae of multiple issues and by interacting with various wings of the MoD as well as the Defence Services.

The 509 page Report is a result of that hard work for which thanks is due to all Members, that is, former Adjutant General Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal, former Military Secretary Lt Gen Richard Khare, former Judge Advocate General Maj Gen T Parshad and Kargil War-disabled and inspirational personality Maj DP Singh. All of us were equal partners in the final result.

We would also like to place our gratitude to the Raksha Mantri, Mr Manohar Parrikar, for not just being willing to take the bold step of identifying these issues which have caused major heartburn but more importantly for ensuring that only apolitical personalities with domain knowledge were a part of the Panel and also ensuring that there was no interference in our functioning and for encouraging us to render honest, candid and sincere observations without fear or favour.

We assure you that we performed our duty without any personal baggage or pre-conceived notions. Our approach was to make certain that practical on-ground efforts be made to reduce litigation, especially appeals, and also steps taken towards maintenance of harmony between employees and the establishment and balancing of rights of both parties which would lead to an increase in productivity and also enable the Government to focus upon administration rather than avoidable disputes with its own human resources. Our approach was conciliatory and we have consciously postulated only practical, progressive, workable, reformatory and gradual solutions rather than impractical or knee-jerk revolutionary ideas. On implementation, we are confident that this Report would result in a complete legal, administrative, cultural and social shift in the system bringing in harmony and a calming effect.

In our Report, which contains 75 recommendations, we have touched upon various aspects of pension and service mattersdisciplinevigilance and promotion issues, military justice reform, issues concerning civil employees and areas of potential disputes.
We have already recommended that our Report be made public in the spirit of transparency. However, till the Report is fully in public domain, the broader contours of the same can be spelt out.

We have attempted to identify service and pension related policies, including those affecting disabled soldiers and widows, which have been interpreted in the favour of employees and have attained judicial finality at High Court/Supreme Court level but in which the establishment is still filing appeals, and have recommended theimmediate withdrawal of all such appeals and harmonizing such policies and conceding similar cases in tune with judicial pronouncements. This includes issues related to declaration of in-service disabilities wrongly as “Neither Attributable to, Nor Aggravated by Military Service” by the system and injuries sustained while on authorized leave. We have taken note of the rising disabilities due to the inherent stress and strain of military service for which due benefits must be released. We have observed that the default reaction of official instrumentalities is ‘to appeal’ in cases decided in favour of employees and there is resistance to come to terms with the fact that the officialdom has ‘lost’ a case. Many appeals are fuelled by prestige and official egotism. We have also expressed concerns regarding over reliance on finance entities in decision-making and have stated that at best finance entities can comment upon financial implications but cannot go into the realm of merits or demerits of subjects which fall in the domain of medical or legal knowledge. Finance entities cannot override decisions of executive authorities competent to take those decisions under the Rules of Business or delegated powers. We have also recommended more role for all ranks in consultative process concerning pensionary policies.

We have recommended initiation of greater personal interaction and opportunity of hearing in the system of formal Complaints and Petitions so as to give a better role to human interaction rather than the one-way noting sheet method and to assist in providing outlet and catharsis to individuals related to their grievances. We have also propagated greater constructive usage of social media, including initiation of blogs by senior commanders, to promote an interactive process with the rank and file. We have recommended a face to face ‘collegiate’ system of decision-making in various aspects rather than the file circulation method. We have recommended more transparency in the system of promotion boards and matters related to promotions and confidential reports and decentralization of powers from power-centers that may have emerged and also changes in the system of dispensation of Military Justice.

The recommendations in the Chapter of Military Justice Reform include steps that can be taken without any legislative change such as introduction of permanent infrastructure for Courts Martial at specified stations to reduce ad hocism and reduction of Command influence in the process of military justice. We have also recognized other areas such as lack of adherence to the concept of separation of powers and independence of JAG Branch requiring statutory or legislative intervention for which we have recommended a high level Study Group to ensure that reforms in these very important areas are not ignored and are configured with the times and the best national and global practices.

We have also identified that civilians employed in the MoD are unsung heroes on whom adequate energy is not focussed. We have identified many issues concerning defence civilians which have attained finality at the High Court or Supreme Court level which need to be resolved by issuance of corrective policies.

We have recognized other areas of potential disputes including those of disabled cadets, women officers and Short Service Commissioned Officers. For SSCOs, we have recommended the grant of ECHS, reversion to the 5+5+4 system of engagement with graded grant of benefits and introduction of a Contributory Pension Scheme. We have also recommended restoration of outpatient medical facilities withdrawn from SSCOs and ECOs during late 2000s.

As far as appeals filed by the Government are concerned, we have stated that in the case of both civil and defence employees/pensioners, the orders of the CAT or the AFT if rendered in their favour should ordinarily be accepted and appeals by the Government should only be made in exceptional cases with the High Court being the last forum for appeal as a matter of policy.

While we went about our task sincerely, there was a minority which had imputed that the Committee had been appointed by the Government and hence would be speaking the language of the establishment. We wish to place on record here that we have been thoroughly objective in our Report as desired by the Raksha Mantri himself and we were functioning in an Honorary capacity after squeezing out time from our respective professions and routines and hence I personally found such voices not in good taste. The end result is objective and dispassionate and demolishes that minority view.

More details on the subject would now be made available by the Ministry of Defence when the Report is made public. The process of consideration of the Report would be initiated after 25th December 2015.

We wish to thank everyone for the unstinting support to the cause of defence employees, including our men and women in uniform, and we are hopeful of a colossal turning point from today due to this effort personally initiated by the Raksha Mantri.

Jai Hind.


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