Administrative egotism and mischief must cease
THE new National Litigation Policy has special significance for the defence services, particularly disabled veterans. The policy ordains that frivolous appeals would not be filed by government departments and that appeals on orders of Tribunals shall be an exception rather than the rule. Further, false and misleading pleas or technicalities shall not be espoused.
For long veterans have been at the receiving end of paper violence perpetrated by the government’s legal pundits, who, guided by a strange spirit of sadism, exhaust every single game in the book to ensure benefits do not reach the beneficiaries even when directed by higher judiciary.
To begin with, medical authorities indulge in “literal” rather than “liberal’ interpretation of rules, thereby denying benefits to disabled soldiers. They forget the “spirit” while clinging to the “letter”. When there is a court order granting disability pension, appeals and reviews are filed as a matter of routine even in cases fully covered by earlier judicial rulings.
It is not the higher echelons of governance or the services headquarters that are to blame, but the swarm of section officers, under secretaries and deputy secretaries who rule the roost. The lower-level bureaucracy with its caustic file-notings, unfortunately, runs the government.
That the new policy specially mentions “false” and “misleading” pleas shows the powers that be are aware of the malaise. Appeals are filed not out of legal necessity but because of administrative egotism – How could a petty employee win a case against the mighty officialdom?
Then comes the stage where dubious pleas are presented before the courts, which if not rebutted by a well acquainted legal brain, end in pronouncements which can hardly be termed well-rounded.
This reminds me of some cases with special reference to disabled soldiers. In Secretary MoD Vs Ajit Singh, the defence ministry is on record, stating that disability pension was not released to him since he did not have the minimum required service of 10 years. In reality, there is no minimum service requirement for disability pension and even a recruit is entitled to the same.
In the recent case of Karan Singh Vs UOI, the government espoused that the Army alone provides disability pension to its employees. The truth is that civilian employees are also entitled to exactly the same benefits. In P.K. Kapur Vs UoI the government went hammer and tongs proclaiming it had the right to fix a cut-off date for grant of certain disability benefits that had been refused to pre-1996 retirees. The case went in favour of the government since the Court was never informed that the said benefits through the same master notification had already been extended to similarly placed pre-1996 civilian retirees. The petitioner could not rebut the falsehood since he could not afford a lawyer.
It is not that mischievous elements are playing around only with the judiciary. The higher strata of governance is also not left untouched. In a speech last month, apparently prepared by a similarly inclined officer, the Defence Minster was made to “announce” with pride that the government had introduced an additional amount of Rs 3,000 as constant attendance allowance for disabled soldiers keeping in view their sacrifices. So far so good, but the humble Minister was not in the knowledge that firstly, this allowance is applicable to civilian employees too and hence has nothing to do with valour or sacrifices. Second, the concept is in force since times immemorial and even its enhancement is old news which was announced in March 2008 by the Sixth Pay Commission. Third, it is not applicable to all disabled personnel but only to 100 per cent disabled retirees.
In the past two years there have been other instances where the political executive and the top brass have been misled into announcing beneficial “policy decisions” by hiding from them the fact that the same had actually been necessitated due to Supreme Court decisions.
(Maj Navdeep Singh is a lawyer practicing in the Punjab and Haryana High Court)