by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
ON September 4 the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgment, which goes against the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The 4th Central Pay Commission (CPC) gave defence services’ officers up to the rank of brigadier rank pay in addition to the basic pay. The MoD, working in consultation with the CDA (O) and in a most arbitrary manner and without any authority, deducted the rank pay from the emoluments of thousands of the effected officers. That was in the year 1986. From then onwards all efforts to get the MoD to undo this gross injustice have been opposed by it. In this machination and subsequent cussedness have been involved the top bureaucrats in the MoD and successive Defence Ministers. From 1986 till now, a large number of defence services’ officers have died, some during the Kargil war, without getting their rightful dues.
A gutsy Major from the South fought it out in the Kerala High Court. Not willing to relent on its mischief, the MoD went in for a review petition, which too was rejected by the Supreme Court. It took the officer over a decade to get this injustice undone. This was followed by innumerable appeals in most high courts of the country by the officers who had been denied their rank pay. The Supreme Court in its wisdom ordered that all these be clubbed and brought before it. A spirited group called the Retired Defence Officers Association (RODA) obtained a favourable order from the Supreme Court on March 8, 2010. Thereafter, the MoD sought recall of the Supreme Court order. Then on subsequent 10 occasions the Solicitor-General of India sought adjournments, stretching the case to September 2012.
The Solicitor-General told the highest court of the land that the defence services headquarters too were opposed to giving back the rank pay to these officers. However, the defence headquarters gave in writing to the Attorney-General that they did not oppose the grant of rank pay and, on the other hand, fully supported the case of these officers. This letter from the defence headquarters falsified the position of the Solicitor-General and, in fact, he stands exposed for an act of perjury. Consequently, the MoD, throwing all norms of fair play to the winds and in a brazen manner, tried to “arm-twist” the defence services headquarters in asking it to withdraw this letter to the Solicitor-General, which the defence services headquaters declined to do.
The Solicitor-General, as a last ditch attempt, pleaded that the restoration of rank pay be ordered to only those officers whose cases are before the court. Ignoring this mischievous plea, the Supreme Court, on September 4, 2012, ordered that all the effected officers (their number is in thousands) should be paid their dues starting from 1986 to now and taking a lenient view of the MoD’s plea of financial constraints made by the Solicitor-General, reduced the period of interest, which starts from 2006 instead of 1986, and at 6 per cent interest.
The Fifth CPC took away the “running pay band,” which, on the hints of resignation by the three service chiefs, was granted by the Fourth CPC and was introduced to somewhat compensate for extremely limited promotions. In the case of the Sixth CPC, there are 39 anomalies that are still to be resolved. The grant of bounty of Non-Functional Advancement to all Central services officers by the Sixth CPC and denying the same to the defence services officers is not only scandalous but also blatant display of bias against them.
Instead of extending a supporting hand to the defence services, the MoD has in almost every case related to pay and allowances and the status of defence personnel been taking an adversial stance. In the case of the Second Central Pay Commission, (CPC), the MoD fielded the case of pay and allowances of defence personnel “as given”. In the case of the Third CPC, the defence services were not permitted to present their case before the Pay Commission on the specious grounds that the same will adversely effect their discipline! While the absurdity of this stance by the MoD is detestable, the fact that this arrangement was accepted by the services chiefs is equally distressing. In the subsequent CPCs, the defence services could get no support from the MoD and on the other hand its despicable act of illegally depriving the officers of their rank pay in the case of the fourth CPC needs no further elaboration.
The MoD’s stance has always been unhelpful to the military. Such a sustained attitude of the MoD has created deep fissures in its relationship with the military. There is palpable mistrust of the ministry among the armed forces. The adverse fallout of this relationship, at one level, relates to national security, and at another it impacts on the military’s commitment and motivation. The Ministry of Home Affairs fights tooth and nail to promote the interests of, say, the Central Police Organizations ( CPOs-inappropriately called para-military). As opposed to this, the MoD operates in a motivated manner against those of the military. This adversial stance of the MoD has become so visible in that the CPOs, in pay and allowances, are far better placed than the military. These policemen, unlike soldiers who retire at 35 years of age, retire at the age of 60 and further end up getting much higher pension, etc.
This attitude of the MoD towards the defence services has created a climate of mistrust, animosity and disharmony between these two major components of the government. This hiatus has had adverse effect on the pace of modernisation of the military as well.
The Supreme Court judgment of September 4, ordering the government to pay up the amount due to the affected officers starting with 1986, needs to be taken to its logical end by bringing to account all those officers who were responsible for this mischief, including those who have since retired, and ones who have continued to follow the same line. It is time some accountability was jacked into the government functioning, and those who function in an arbitrary and irresponsible manner are hauled over the coals.
The writer is a retired Deputy Chief of Army Staff.