Ode to Major AK Dhanapalan & Col BK Sharma
(Instead of bestowing honorary ranks to media darlings , rank of honorary Brigadier gshould be given to Major AK Dhanapalan and colonel B K Sharma and of course all three chiefs should award their Commendation Cards because for PVSM series they will have to go to the MoD .)
It was 1987. General K. Sundarji was in Pune, briefing senior Southern Command officers on the Fourth Pay Commission, when a lowly captain asked an uncomfortable question. He wanted to know why his basic had actually gone down after the rank pay was introduced. There was a buzz in the room. The chief told the captain to meet him separately, he would explain the issue. “I didn’t seek private audience later. I was too junior,” chuckles Major A.K. Dhanapalan (retd). “I actually had no business rubbing shoulders with senior officers that day, except that I was operating the computer for the conference. But I hadn’t got it wrong. I was right, bang on.”
The Engineers officer chanced upon the anomaly when he was asked to work on preparing the pay fixation of defence civilian setups, like Military Engineering Service, on the Fourth Pay Commission template.
“That year, the commission introduced a rank pay for defence officers between the ranks of captain to brigadier, which was 200 at captain rank. But what it actually did was deduct the same amount from the basic pay and give it as rank pay. Since all emoluments are linked to basic, not only was there no net gain, we were actually losing out,” Dhanapalan explains. He redid his calculations several times till he was convinced the government had tricked the defence officers.
“I wanted to take the matter to court, but I was in Pune and the High Court in Mumbai. Then, I got posted to Udhampur, and the High Court was in Jammu. Next, I was transferred to Port Blair….” Dhanapalan finally got his opportunity on being posted to Kochi in 1995.
His office was close to the Kerala High Court; it was time to make that movI’me. His colleagues were shocked at his daring. His advocate, too, was not convinced. The court, however, understood and ruled that the Union of India should pay the rank pay arrears and an interest of 6 per cent. The matter went on appeal and a division bench of the court upheld the judgment. The government took the matter to the Supreme Court but had to eat humble pie when, in 2006, the court rejected its plea.
He did not stop there. The arrears, while welcome, were not his goal. His aim was to alert defence personnel not to be lulled into complacency by the “you are being looked after” attitude of the establishment. So he photocopied the verdict and posted them to officers and clubs he had addresses of. “That itself cost me a bomb,” he recalls.
One such letter reached Colonel B.K. Sharma. Sharma was the first officer to do motorcycle daredevilry in the Republic Day parade in 1978. Post-retirement, he realised it was daredevilry time again, this time to take on the government for which he had once fought. He circulated copies of the judgment in canteens and clubs. Knowing there was strength in numbers, some retired officers got together and registered Retired Defence Officers’ Association (RDOA) and filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court in 2007. Meanwhile, across India, officers were litigating for the same demand, and all the cases were finally clubbed together before a division bench of Justices Markandey Katju and R.M. Lodha.
“We had not bargained for the level of resistance from the government. Instead of conceding gracefully, they tried repeatedly to stonewall us,” says Sharma. When in 2010, the bench ruled that it agreed with the reasoning of the Kerala High Court that rank pay be paid retrospectively, with 6 per cent interest, the government filed a transfer petition before a bench of three judges. The three service chiefs recommended to the solicitor general to withdraw the litigation and honour the judgment. The defence ministry, however, pressured the chiefs to withdraw their written communique. In a rare show of defiance, the chiefs stood their ground. The RDOA had to file an RTI to confirm the service chiefs’ stance on the matter.
“They used every tactic, from pleading inability to meet the financial burden to the solicitor general not appearing in court, due to which proceedings would get postponed,” recalls Sharma. “This summer, when the court fixed the last hearing day on September 4, we actually wrote to the law ministry that so many officers had already died in the last 26 years. Delaying justice was not fair, so either they withdraw the special leave petition or ensure the solicitor general be present in court on September 4.”
The final hearing was a marathon session. The government made a last ditch plea that interest be paid only to litigants. The court refused. However, it reduced the date of calculation of interest from 1986 to 2006 at 6 per cent, ordering that it be paid within 12 weeks. “This is a big victory,” says RDOA advocate Aishwarya Bhati. “It gives a shot in the arm to all other cases that the defence personnel have been fighting.”
According to RDOA, over 45,000 officers, retired and serving, will benefit, and it will also impact pensions and widow pensions. The amounts, Sharma calculates, will range from around 6 to 1 lakh, depending on length of service and rank held. The government claims it is a burden of 1,600 crore. “It isn’t about money. We fought on principle and we have won our prestige,” says Sharma, but admits being flooded with congratulatory calls, all of them with the suffix, “Mujhe kitna milega? (How much will I get?)”
How did only Dhanapalan get wise to the anomaly? “Faujis are great at protocol, discipline and a hundred other virtues. Studying payslips isn’t among those, unfortunately. They usually don’t question what goes to the bank, or do the sums themselves,” says Dhanapalan.
There are many other issues with defence pay and entitlements, but defence personnel say the government is changing tactics. Instead of risking its decisions being challenged in court, it now procrastinates.
The Sixth Pay Commission anomalies are an example. Last heard, a four-member committee headed by the cabinet secretary was appointed to look into the issue. Then Navy chief Nirmal Verma had expressed anguish at no defence representative being on the committee. Meanwhile, the man who ignited the spark sits back with a smile. “The government paid arrears only till 1996. I decided not to contest it, as by then, RDOA took up the fight.” There are fears the government might give arrears only till 1996 to others, too. “My mission is accomplished. No longer will faujis take at face value what is given to them. They have learnt to read between lines, ask, and fight for their dues,” says Dhanapalan, getting ready to go to the temple.
Message received from Maj AK Dandapalan is placed below for kind consideration of the serving officers, in whose hands the future of the Armed Forces will rest in times to come.
In the resent past a few issues have come up in the blogs concerning the Armed Forces Personnel and the Veterans. A few of them are:-
1. Non Functional Up gradation (NFU) to officers.
2. Amending the Pension Regulations of the Armed Forces.
3. Non-Implementation of Judgments of AFTs which is around 2000.
4. Payment of 100% pension to the Veterans up to the age of 60 years (age for superannuation for central Govt employees) and payment of OROP thereafter.
5. Separate Ministry or a Defense Board (like that of Railway) for Armed Forces Personnel.
6. Cadre Review (being done at every 5 years in other Departments)
7. Date of Birth (DOB) issue of Army Chief himself.
8. Difference of pension between two immediate Ranks is more than Rs.11, 000
9. Withdrawl of existing Rank Pay by 6th CPC (replacing with grade pay to give additional emoluments to civilian employees and also to create an equation between civ and Mily.)
10. Majors with more than 15 years of service equated with cadets and Hony Lt. (PB-3).
11. A meaningful resettlement of Armed Forces Veterans.
12. Dignity (Izzat) of the personnel in Uniform/Protocol/Precedence V/s Civilians.
The above are some of the major issues that are occupying internet mails and blogs nowadays. The blame is put on the babus of MOD and the Politicians. But one must think honestly…Are they fully responsible for these omissions. What is role of the Service HQs? Can we give a clean chit to service HQs on these issues? Are they not responsible for creating such a mess?
(It is unfortunate that those who reach at the helm of service HQs are mostly divorced from the realities on ground having lived in stone chambers in isolation, listening only to pleasing words from their favourable subordinates. Those of us who have had the privilege to be in the Ops Rooms during the visit of the Amy Cdrs or COAS would know how, most of them prove themselves to be generally clue less and incompetent specially in matters of administration, welfare and other such aspects which concern the Fauj as such)
Take the example of Judgments passed by the AFTs:-
It is understood nearly 2000 judgments are pending for implementation. The Service HQs are the Nodal agency for their implementation. So the service HQs are answerable for the non-implementation. Can we blame the MOD for this.? If there is a problem, the service HQs should come out publically or inform the Ex-servicemen associations or at least inform the individual about the factual position rather than some “goal..Mall…English”, so that he can take further action. If some decision is needed from the Ministry, the service HQs should put up the note and get the same in a time frame. The service HQs should also give the present position of all judgments immediately in the web site for the info of all. Similarly, Is it not the responsibility of the Service HQs to get themselves involved in drafting the Pension Rules of men under their command? Is it possible now? When a dept called”Ex-servicemen welfare” has been created during 2004, outside the Service HQs, no one has raised their voice. Even no one commented on the instructions issued by that dept regarding welfare, re-employment and re-habilitation of Ex-servicemen which can only be termed as an Essay on Ex-servicemen – no seriousness about the welfare-every org even the companies have the welfare schemes linked to their Provident Funds, whereas we depend on the mercy of some one which is also now restricted to only war widows and disabled which is the full responsibility of the Govt of India being the employer, re-employments are left to the States which only remained in paper, without any mechanism to check. How many vacancies in a year- now body knows, whether it commensurate with the number of retires in a year and the re-habilitation left to none- to the fate. There is yet another org called re-settlement, the jawans of the great Army is put on “Chowkidar” duties in front offices, hotels, houses for a petty 1500 to a max of 5000/- without any other benefits and taking commission out of it. (the benefit of pension of such person goes to the employers, if otherwise they have to pay salary like any other employee with other benefits like leave, pension, Provident Funds, ESI facilities etc- Take the case of the biggest employers-BSNL, Air Ports, Customs etc and see the difference between their regular employees and the “Chowkidars” under the re-settlement scheme- one can only feel pity!!) – No one has raised any voice on this policy issued by the newly created “Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare”. The service HQs felt very happy that this burden has gone from them.- So how can you blame that Dept now, for making a Pension Reg or any Regulation as they feel like? At least C’nt it be challenged in the Court of Law? Why is it not being done by the Army Chief who has filed a case for his own benefit, Is it the HONOR OF THE ARMY lies on the honor of the Army Chief or on the Soldiers of the Army? Where is pride of the Army Chief when lot many ex-servicemen are in the street with begging bowel after giving their youth to the Army? Is it not a matter of Right for them to have a Meaningful resettlement? Or the Right is only for the Army Chief to have his DOB corrected? What I am trying share with you all is that we are Not serious about what is happening to the Armed Forces Personnel as a whole, we are only self centered on petty issues. If it is a mistake on our part accept it instead putting the blame on someone else. Now, what is the further course of action to come out of this self created problems? Can these be solved by creating Mails or blogs?? It can only create awareness amongst the veterans but most of our problems were not ever made available to Medias for a public opinion. My humble suggestions are:-
1. Service HQs have to do some homework very seriously. The above points have come to light only when some of the Veterans have taken some trouble to study these cases and put in the mail, but the service HQs are silent or they have no such points at all.
2. Like any other department ,the Service HQs should take full responsibility to look after their Veterans, Widows, officers , JCOs and NCOs and their families who gave their blood and sweat to build Indian Army to the present shape from the scratches of Chinese aggression in 1962 and those who laid their lives . There is no point in blaming the Officers in MOD, for our in efficiency for that matter. It is for the Service HQs, how they Work out the strategy to accomplish this task. This is more important as there is no trade Union functioning in the org for collective bargaining of their service benefit which is available to all employees including the Central Govt.
3. Art 312 of the Constitution of India giving powers to Make Rules for Service benefit to Defense Services must be evoked by putting pressure on the Govt, the PM and the Supreme Commander. This has to be done by the Service HQs only because we are worst suffers of all other Central Services. If a pay or a service condition is to be changed /modified in respect of any Central Service, this has to be duly notified in the Gazette of India with the approval of the Govt/Parliament whereas it could be seen in the past that only an Army Instruction can meet the requirement in respect of the Armed Forces Personnel including the Service Chiefs. This has no backing of the Law of the Land. In the early years after the Independence, the matters concerning Armed Forces Personnel were dealt separately at the level of PM or RM but later it has been brought under the purview of the pay commission- only erode the dignity and reduce them to the status of mere employee. Well, then the Army Act also needs to be amended to include the liberty for collective bargaining for their service benefits which has not been done so far, the Service HQs should pursue this.
4. The Service HQs should create a high powered committee who will take up the matters concerning the personnel matters of Armed Forces Personnel with the RM, PM, The Supreme Commander. They should take feed -back and suggestions/complains from all corners including the jawans direct. They should also interact regularly with other departments, companies, consultants, Ex-servicemen Associations, Veterans etc. and update themselves with the latest, for which a proper office with well experienced Officers and Staff from both veterans and outsiders is set up for function on regular basis. It is not so difficult to set right the bureaucracy if the Service HQs have a will to firmly handle the Organizational interest, the interest of the Armed Forces Personnel and no compromise to be made at any point of time at any level. This should be made clear to all up to the Pl commanders.
5. A MEANIGFUL re-settlement of all veterans should be the full responsibility of the Govt and the Service HQ should ensure this (A suggestion in this direction is enclosed )
6. All are requested to offer their valuable comments and they may also take up the matter with the service HQs individually or collectively.
7. May I request you to kindly forward this to at least 10 (Ten) veterans with your comments.
Major AK Dhanapalan, Veteran