There seems to be no end to the slew of injustices that are being heaped upon the armed forces, one after the other, stripping them of so many of their rightful dues. After the OROP, down-gradation in the 7CPC, the denial in NFU, challenging pensions and promotions policy orders of the AFTs in the SC, the denial of disability pension and withdrawal of free rations, the government has now began recovering Rs 18 to Rs 20 lakh of pensions paid to around 400 Veterans spread around the country.
The Veterans, all former Emergency Commission Officers – holding ranks between Major to Colonels (and other equivalent ranks in the Navy and the Air Force), received their Permanent Commission (PC) in the NCC and fought in the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars – began receiving recovery notices between 2015 and 2016 for being “overpaid” in their pensions for nearly a decade. The cause is the confusion and an anomaly created by a situation where the pension is calculated by the Central Civil Service (Pension) Rules 1972, while the pay is received from the Defense Estimates. The EC Officers were a ‘One Time Special Cadre’ who were transferred to the NCC.
Owing to the anomaly, the retired Officers are now equated to as Defense Civilians, thereby being considered under Payband-3 and not Payband-4. The said recoveries were initiated by the State Bank of India at the behest of the Controller of Defense Accounts (Pensions) at Allahabad. Some of the retirees took the legal recourse and obtained stay orders from their respective High Courts. But there has not been a collective representation – or a ‘bunched up’ case as is termed in legal lexicon – before either the SC, Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) or the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFTs) leading to a largely fragmented and an ununified pursuance of the matter. Primary cause is the Veterans’ advanced aged, with a vast majority of them being over 70-years-old, incapable of the physical legwork of shutting between the courts, the MoD, the PCDA (P) and the NCC Directorate.
The notices asked for the extra money to be deposited within seven days, failing which the amount would be deducted from their accounts. Anand-based Lt Col Ram Kumar Gupta is one such case, who like the other affected Officers, was an Emergency Commission Officer (ECO) during 1962 war, serving with the Indian Army. Like him, there were others who, after winning accolades for their meritorious service, were relieved from the army between 1965 to 1972 and were then transferred to the National Cadet Corps (NCC) as Whole Time Officers. The reason why Gupta and the others were re-employed in the NCC, was to rehabilitate demobilized army Officers and also because the army could not spare its Officers for an NCC service.
During their srevice, they were conferred the selection grade of a Lieutenant Colonel. On June 3, 2016, Lt Col Gupta received a notice of recovery of Rs 17.57 lakh, informing him that he had been overpaid from 2006 to 2016. The notice was issued by the State Bank of India, which manages his pension accounts. This happened at the behest of the Centre and Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pension).
The retired Officer took the legal recourse, unsuccessfully moving the Gujarat HC, where he complained about the government beginning to deduct more than 2/3rd of his pension. To his dismay, the HC cited a jurisdictional constraint on July 7, directing Lt Col Gupta to approach the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), saying the matter fell under the latter’s purview. The Gujarat HC agreed with the center’s contention that any dispute over pensions fell under the ambit of the Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, which is a Union government prerogative. It further contended that he ceased to be a member of the ‘Armed Forces of the Union of India’, upon joining the NCC, post his release from the Indian Army, and thus is entitled to receive the pension of a ‘defense civilian’. Ahmedabad-based Lt Colonel Inder Bhalla who served for seven years as ECO until 1969 also received a recovery notice of Rs 15 lakh.
“Our grouse is not money, but the indignity of first, being equated to a Defense Civilian, and then having to put up with the revolting act of parting with our money after so many years, when the government realizes we were being overpaid. It is humiliating to suddenly being considered as civil personnel despite having discharged combat duties like regular army Officers in the three of the nation’s biggest wars – a prospect no Defense Civilian would ever have to face,” said Col AK Mohey (Retd), a 70-year-old Veteran from Anand in Gujarat who acts as a legal advisor to the ex-NCC WTOs. All the 400 pre-2006 WTOs retired from the NCC in 1991. They were also entitled to the rank pay and pay scale of regular Officers even during the 5CPC.
The puzzling part however is the existence of documents, communications and correspondence from the MoD, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) the Deputy Director General (P&C) of the NCC Directorate that support their case. A notification from the Joint Secretary (E/PG) in the MoD (dated Jan 30, 2009) lists the postings that could and could not be considered as ‘deputations’, with reference to the issue of NCC Lt Cols. It listed three Categories, ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’, out of which ‘A’ and ‘B’ tenure postings were not to be counted as ‘deputations’ and therefore fell under Payband-4.
Category ‘A’ included tenure postings with the DRDO, DGQA, NCC, deputation and training to foreign assignments for which salaries of the personnel are paid from the MoD budget. Category ‘B’ identified tenure postings with BRO, NSG, Assam Rifles where the duty is military in nature. Only Category ‘C’ would be considered as ‘deputations’ under Payband-3 where “Lt Cols posted there shall draw the pay…in Payband-3.” This included deputations to NHAI, IRCON, Pawan Hans, state governments “where the nature of duties is not in line with the normal combat profile of a Service personnel.”
The NCC Directorate in fact not only admits, in an RTI reply about Whole Time NCC Lt Cols being equivalent to Army Lt Cols (and other equivalent ranks of the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force), but that they are considered senior to Army Lt Cols (Time Scale). This RTI reply (dated October 10, 2011 to one retired Lt Col Veliath of Kerala of Kochi) is actually the release of a proposal from the MS (B&D) of the NCC Directorate that throws its weight behind the WTO Officers.
“They were appointed against the vacancies tenable by regular officers and performed duties identical to those performed by the regular Army officers. Therefore, the pension of NCC Whole Time Lt Cols should also be equivalent to Lt Cols of regular Army officers minus one increment as hither to fore. In lieu of the above, it is proposed that the pension of Whole Time NCC Lt Cols (Retd) be revised to Pay Band – IV, equivalent to regular Lt Cols (Retd) as hither to fore,” it says. ‘Fauji India’ is in possession of all the above correspondence.
While the above documents only uphold the EC Officers’ parity with Regular Commission Officers, an Office Memorandum (OM) of the Department of Personnel and Training (dated March 2, 2016) strikes down the act of recovering pension itself. The OM itself cites previous HC judgements from Punjab, Uttarakhand and the SC, where the rulings favored the petitioners whose pensions were recovered. “It (the OM) reproduced excerpts from an SC judgement of December 18, 2014 where the order lists situations or cases, exempted from the recovery of the pension. One of the conditions is when a central government employee has been receiving the excess pension for a period of more than five years, before the recovery order. Our men have been pensioners for over 24 years,” said Abhimanyu Joon, grandson of one Col Baldev Singh, a 1965 war Veteran.
The Anomaly and How it Rose?
Joining under an Emergency Commission, the Officers were governed by Special Army Instruction of 9/S/74. The Emergency Commission was invoked to meet the sudden need of Officers to perform in the full-scale wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971. These officers were again drafted back to their respective Army/Navy Units during the 1971 war while they were serving as NCC Officers, before being again reverted back to their NCC units after the war. Thus, their nature of service as regular army Officers under the same combat conditions has also been proved.
The primary confusion arose from the contradiction about their status as regular army Officers, who received salaries from the Defence Estimates but had their pensions determined by the Central Civil Service (Pension) Rules. But the beginning of their woes of their woes can be traced back to an MoD letter [No. 17(4)/2008(1)D(Pen/Policy] of May 21, 2009 that notified hiking the Minimum Guaranteed Pension (MGP) of Lt Col (Time Scale) and Lt Col (Select Grade). The MGP in itself is determined by the length of service (or Qualifying Service). This MoD letter was forwarded to banks by the PCDA(P) through their circular No. 412.
This is when the banks (also called the Pension Disbursal Authorities) upwardly revised the pension of only those NCC Lt Cols whose original Pension Pay Orders had the Qualifying Service mentioned in them. Those PPOs which did not, continued receiving the pension as per the post 6CPC fitment tables. This pension was substantially lower than the hiked amount under MGP, notified by the May 21, 2009 MoD letter. After the affected NCC Lt Cols began approaching the DGNCC and the PCDA(P), the latter issued a letter on September 24, 2009 (AT/Tech/VI-CPC(P)/VOL II) clarifying to the PDAs (banks) that the MoD letter of May 21, 2009 was applicable to NCC Lt Cols too. The banks instantly revised the pension and also released arrears of the increased pension amount that was not paid to them.
However, six months later on January 27, 2010, for inexplicable reasons best known to itself, the PCDA(P) withdrew the benefit of the MoD’s May 21, 2009 letter, saying it was not applicable to NCC Lt Cols and ordered banks to undertake a recovery. It said that the personnel granted pension under PPOs with a classification of ‘C’ (Civilian) were not eligible for the MGP. Effectively, the PCDA(P) removed the NCC Officers from the category of Commissioned Officers, placing them under ‘Defence Civilians’.
An affected Lt Col, while speaking to ‘Fauji India’, explained that the confusion arose from the PCDA’s practice of placing NCC Lt Cols under ‘Defence Civilians’ for their administrative convenience. “This categorization did not matter during 4th and 5th Pay Commissions. The quantum of pension was the same for both Army Officers and the NCC PCOs as the basic components of Basic Pay, Rank Pay and DA etc were equal and were governed under the same Special Army Instruction. Post the 6CPC, the newly introduced element of Military Service Pay (MSP) created confusion within the PCDA(P),” the Officer said requesting anonymity.
A MoD official, while speaking to ‘Fauji India’ on the condition of anonymity, said that the matter is now being considered between the MoD’s Department of Defence Finance and the Department of Expenditure of the Ministry of Finance (MoF), following representations by several NCC PCOs. “Prevailing rules require the Department of Expenditure’s sanction on matters regarding recovery of pensions, especially when the recovery is to be waived off,” the official said.
As a result, for the past over seven years after the 6CPC, pensions of NCC PCOs with 33 yrs of QS remains at Rs 14 425, lower than that of a pre-2006 retiree Sub (Hon Lt) and Sub Maj (Hon Lt) with 28 and above years of service, whose pension stands at Rs 15, 465. “In some cases, the Subedar’s ACR might have been reviewed by the same NCC PCO. Thus imagine the humiliation of being paid less than him,” Joon added.
This is not to mention that the EC Officers having been denied OROP and benefits under both the 6CPC and the 7CPC. They have a long way to go. And Nirmala Sitharaman certainly has her task cut out. However, this also is one of the relatively easier issues that can be resolved within a matter of days and it is hoped that with the spree of let downs for the Faujis in the country, this might serve as a small relief to the disaffection.