Opinion: How the armed forces were deceived on rank pay

A lawyer looks at the defense ministry reference of the Rank Pay issue to the Attorney General and explains why he lacks confidence that this will lead to an equitable resolution.

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The Defense Minister A.K. Antony has referred the rank pay issue to the Attorney General, with the armed forces getting an opportunity to brief the AG on their interpretation of the orders issued by the Supreme Court last year, currently disputed by the defense ministry.

But this reference will not necessarily lead to a resolution of the issue, since similar measures taken earlier have failed to reach equitable conclusions.

For instance, in March of 2012, the defense minister had asked the Army and the Ministry to submit to the Solicitor General their respective views on a disability and war injury pensions issue arising from the judgment in the case of former Vice Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi, and directed the ministry not to file appeals before the Supreme Court in similar cases till the time the Solicitor General gave his opinion and the defense minister took a final decision.

Here’s what happened. Firstly of all, the ministry continued to file appeals despite the minister’s directions.

Secondly, the ministry asked the Army to ‘change’ the brief it had prepared for the Solicitor General.

And then the ministry made its own notes by subsuming and suppressing the analysis of the Army.

Finally, the Army was ultimately never provided a chance to present its views to the Solicitor General, allowing the Ministry to obtain an opinion that opposed the interests of disabled veterans.

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This is notwithstanding that the Solicitor General should have excused himself from giving an opinion on this issue because of a possible conflict of interest, since he had himself personally appeared against disabled soldiers on the same issue before the Supreme Court, representing the defense ministry.

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As to rank pay, the issue was decided by the Supreme Court in March of 2010 in favor of commissioned officers of the three services, ruling that ‘rank pay’ was not to be deducted while fixing the salaries of defense officers.

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For those who come in late, a running pay-scale was introduced for commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Brigadier (and equivalent) by the 4th Pay Commission to which a rank pay ranging between Rs 400 to 1200 was to be added for Captains, Majors, Lieutenant Colonels, Colonels and Brigadiers.

The notification in question stated that said ‘rank pay’ would be a part of ‘basic pay’ for all intents and purposes. Still however, while fixing the pay scales, the Ministry of Defense had deducted ‘rank pay’ from the ‘basic pay’ thereby resulting in damage to finances and the pay grades of military officers.

The thing is, basic pay is generally dependent on length of service. And a Colonel and Brigadier could easily end up (for example) with the same length of service. So this was also a measure to distinguish rank on the basis of pay grade.

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Evidently aware that their stand since the 4th Pay Commission was no longer sustainable after the Supreme Court verdict, the defense ministry set up a committee to figure out the financial implications of the judgement, and then, in an unprecedented move, approached the Court asking it to take back its own order and hear the issue again.

This was not a request the Court was ready to accept and it ruled on the issue in September, 2012.

The defense ministry argued that implementation of the judgment would require rehashing of not only the 4th Pay Commission scales but also the scales devised by the 5th and 6th Pay Commissions. The ministry also said this would alter the payment of all consequential benefits to officers and their families, as well as, affect the benefits of officers who had retired prior to 1986.

But this was a given, considering the deduction of rank pay from 4th Pay Commission scales and beyond had been declared illegal. And as a result, the pay-scales needed to be upgraded through the three pay commissions leading to enhancement of the pay and status of defense officers.

The defense ministry was now left with no option but to implement the judgment. But they decided to play games with it, again, when they issued their implementation letter in December 2012.

Here’s what the ministry said in the letter, purportedly to implement the Supreme Court judgment:

….and to re-fix the initial pay of the concerned officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force in the revised scale (integrated scale) as on 01-01-1986 as per Para 6 of those instructions without deduction of rank pay appropriate to the rank held by the officer on 01st January 1986….

For those not in a terrible hurry to read the entire Supreme Court judgment and compare it with the language above, here’s what ministry did.

It changed the language used by the Court in its judgment, when it issued this letter.

While the Court had ordered re-fixation of pay ‘with effect from 01-01-1986′, the Ministry’s letter grants it to officers ‘as on 01-01-1986′.

This subtle variation makes all the difference.

The judgement which was to have a cascading effect on pay-scales after 01-01-1986 with effect from the 4th Pay Commission, continuing till date, now effectively applied only to those persons who were already receiving rank pay as on 01-01-1986.

The letter also states that no changes would be made in the instructions issued after the 5th and 6th Pay Commissions except to the extent of re-fixation necessitated due to fixation as on 01 Jan 1986.

This simply meant that there would be no upgrade of scales or change in the implementation instructions except that, for those affected officers as on 01 Jan 1986 who remained in service as on 01 Jan 1996 or 01 Jan 2006, their re-fixation within the existing tables based on the fitment formula would be affected while switching over from 4th Pay Commission to 5th Pay Commission and then from 5th Pay Commission to 6th Pay Commission tables, but within the same scales.

This was nothing more than a natural consequence of the stipulation of fixation as on 01 Jan 1986.

With a dry, half-hearted implementation letter, the defense ministry not only ignored the spirit and the character of the judgement but also its own commitment before the Supreme Court. The ministry has also tried to tacitly impose litigation on affected officers to get similar exactly parallel anomalies of the successive pay commissions corrected.

But no change in pay scale, status or even the scales after the 4th, 5th and 6th Pay Commissions has been notified.

Clearly, getting the intentional anomaly rectified is a tough call since it involves not only the correction of the scales but also the restoration of the status of defense officers which has been on a constant downward slide after the 4th Pay Commission.

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While the rank of Captain had been shown equivalent to Senior Time Scale (Under Secretary to Govt of India) of the civil services till the 3rd Pay Commission, it was suddenly shown below this civilian counterpart with effect from 01 Jan 1986 after the 4th Pay Commission, when the concept of rank pay was introduced since it was deducted from the basic pay.

And while there was no 4th Pay Commission recommendation or government order downgrading the rank of Captain (and subsequent ranks), this downgrade was surgically performed in a vacuum without official sanction, without authority and it continues till date.

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The problem also remains that the defense services, especially till the last Pay Commission, were guilty of a failure to appreciate the impact of the actions of the bureaucracy affecting them. Some serving officers also never had the foresight to analyze how such issues would affect future generations as well as retirees, which would someday include their own selves.

The ministry leadership appears to be overly reliant on the diligence of its junior bureaucracy and the Defense Accounts Department, which portrays an attitude of opposition to military pay upgrades. For instance, most of the letters issued in pay and pension matters by the defense ministry are drafted by the office of the Controller General of Defense Accounts, including the letter issued on the rank pay issue.

It might not be politically correct to say this, but to get anything fair out of the bureaucratic retinue in the defense ministry, the armed forces need to be smarter and more artful in their pursuit of this issue. Serving officers need to remember that they too will be veterans one day and their interests are common to them.

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About Major Navdeep Singh

View all posts by Major Navdeep Singh
Major Navdeep Singh
Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate in the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the Armed Forces Tribunal. He was also the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels. He writes extensively at www.IndianMilitary.info and tweets under the handle @SinghNavdeep.
12 comments
coljpn
coljpn

What is the latest on rank pay, I m yet to get the arrears of pension part. Is the case again in the court.

alokasthana
alokasthana

Of course, our politicians and bureaucrats are first class bums. But the services themselves are responsible for accepting this treatment. You fool me once, it is your fault. You fool me twice, it is my fault.

The rot started when Gen Thimayya resigned as army chief in 1962 to protest against being sidelined and mistreated by Menon, the defence minister. By the evening, he took back his resignation 'since Nehru had requested him' . That made the resignation of the Chief such a tame and manageable affair.

Since that day, no one has taken the services seriously. And why should they? It is a practical world out there. We all set our own price. What we have set is simply too low i.e. being told, 'We love our soldiers' twice a month.

Idealism would have worked in a society that really appreciates its soldiers. Indian society never has. It is one of selfish people who clean their houses and dump the garbage in front of their neighbors.  It is a society of merchants and traders. Here, expecting the society to pressurize the politicians to give the soldier his due is being impractical. We have to do so ourselves, which we simply are not able to.

Just grab what you can through legal means. As for respect and consideration, just forget it.

Dhiren Bahl
Dhiren Bahl

Maj Navdeep's contributions to the interests of serving and retired Defence personnel are indeed laudable. I saw him participate meaningfully in the NDTV programme by Barkha Dutt on whether Indians forget our soldiers after having got the best out of them, in every situation. (Gen Gonsalves's comments were also stark and telling.)

Unlike other countries with military traditions like the USA, Russia, China and the UK (where even the grandson of the British queen is a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan), most of their top/royal families have served in their Armed Forces (presidents and senators in the USA; the topmost political leaders in China), in India it is considered infra dig for sons of the top leadership to serve in the Armed Forces. They are either in politics (the most lucrative profession), or the intelligent ones in business and finance. Unless there is compulsory military service for all citizens for just a short period, this attitude of looking down upon and denigrating the Forces (as seems to be institutionally inculcated in the Mussoorie civil services academy, as mentioned in a post by an officer who saw a board put up there to the effect that the Defence Forces must be suppressed, or something similar) will remain. Newly-inducted civil servants must especially be attached to military units for six months (in field, counterinsurgency and high altitude areas only) to see our lives and hardships. George Fernandes did the right thing by sending two of such (supposedly) obstructionist guys to Siachen! Mr Antony must do the same.

Lt Col Dhiren Bahl (retd)

Manuureet Singh
Manuureet Singh

I agree with views of Alok Asthana. It is reliably learnt that the report / recommendations of High Powered Committee constituted by PM in Jun 2012 under Mr AK Seth, Cabinet Secy had submitted its report to PMO on 17 Aug 12 and PMO had sent it to MoD on 22 Aug 12 for final comments, before taking it up as an agenda for approval in Cabinet Committee Meeting. However, our very own MoD is sleeping over it since almost last one year and report which affects the pay and allces of serving armed forces personnel is gathering dust there. Whose interests is MoD looking after - I'm sure even the hon'ble RM does not know!

rajnsushma
rajnsushma

I am glad to note that the three service chief's have involved themselves in the battle for Rank Pay case With the MOD.All rank's in the Army lay their  lives for the country on their orders issued by concerned officers Whatever may be the consequent of these orders.It is desired that the three service chiefs should fight with the Govt in the interest of all ranks as it is not possible for all ranks to fight with the Govt in the courts.I on behalf of all ranks  thank the service chiefs for showing their concern as all serving ranks are going to be Es-Servicemen,including the three serving chief's.They must stand with all rank's in the interest of  Discipline in the three services.



alokasthana
alokasthana

It is good to see the specifics, since the law requires it.

However, what is appalling is the larger question of the relationship between the forces and the government. The perception of the people of India is that the forces are the best instrument of the state. Itt delivers in war as well as in peace. The government is, however, at war with this very popular instrument. Most servicemen feel that the real enemy of Indian armed forces is the Indian MOD and not Pak or China.

Can the country live with this for long? I'd say -  yes, it can. 

Traditionally, Indians have never really bothered about their armed forces. As long as their kids keep getting pulled out of bore-wells, their ill and suffering tended to in natural calamities and a good show is put up on the R-day, all by the forces, they don't care a damn about how the forces deliver and how they are treated by the government selected by them.

Quite recently, the service Chiefs said that the forces were not fully ready for a war. I thought the people will bring down the govt. But they didn't even sneeze.

Manuureet Singh
Manuureet Singh

We would also like maj navdeep to throw some light on what could be the possible advice by AG and what should the veterans be prepared for? Also would like Maj Navdeep to use his sources to let the serving offrs know the fate of anomalies which were referred to High Powered Committee under the Cabinet Secy? 

S  Jayachandran
S Jayachandran

I  appreciate Major  Navdeep's yeomen service.But the bureaucracy is very determined not to give away a pie to  men in uniform.

S  Jayachandran
S Jayachandran

There is little hope in this exercise and AG is not going to give an opinion in favour of veterans.GOD BLESS US!

pattamalu
pattamalu

A well analyzed article. Major Navdeep has been doing yeomen service to the Military Veterans’ community by employing his “eye for details” skill and analytical abilities to bring out the falsehood of the Government, enacted through a pliable bureaucracy.

A Government in a democracy is expected to be fair to its citizens. It is supposed to respect the law of the land and the judgments of the Courts especially the highest court of the land. Cheating public or twisting words of the highest court to deprive the people of their legitimate dues, whose interests it is supposed to protect is more sinister than totalitarianism and larceny.

What is mystifying is what gains does the Government or the bureaucracy accrue by cheating its own people? Haven’t we gone through enough agony as a result of dishonesties and unprincipled actions in J & K, Punjab, Central India and Assam? Do we need more? How can the people trust the Government if this is its conduct?

Dhiren Bahl
Dhiren Bahl

@alokasthana  

Couldn't agree more with you, on every issue you've mentioned.

And, many thanks for your perspectives for the benefit of all of us.

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