A five-member committee of experts for reduction of litigation in the Ministry of Defence and strengthening mechanisms of redressal of grievances on Tuesday submitted its report to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar noting that many appeals in military service matters “are fueled by prestige and official egotism.”
The 509-page report contains 75 recommendations, touching upon various aspects of pension and service matters, discipline, vigilance and promotion issues, military justice reform, issues concerning civil employees and areas of potential disputes. The members of the committee included former Adjutant General Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal (retd), former Military Secretary Lt Gen Richard Khare (retd), former Judge Advocate General Maj Gen T Parshad (retd), Kargil war-disabled Maj DP Singh (retd) and Chandigarh-based advocate on military matters and former Territorial Army officer, Major Navdeep Singh.
The committee has recommended immediate withdrawal of appeals filed by MoD in service and pension cases affecting disabled soldiers and widows which have been interpreted in the favour of employees and have attained judicial finality at High Court or Supreme Court level, but, in which the establishment is still filing appeals. This includes issues related to declaration of in-service disabilities wrongly as “neither Attributable to, nor Aggravated by Military Service” by the system and injuries sustained while on authorized leave.
The committee has taken note of the rising disabilities due to the inherent stress and strain of military service for which due benefits must be released. It also expressed concerns regarding over-reliance on financial departments in decision-making and has stated that at best finance departments can comment upon financial implications but cannot go into the realm of merits or demerits of subjects which fall in the domain of medical or legal knowledge. It has also recommended more role for all ranks in consultative process concerning pensionary policies.
It has recommended initiation of greater personal interaction and opportunity of hearing in the system of formal complaints and petitions by defence personnel so as to give a better role to human interaction. It has also propagated greater constructive usage of social media, including initiation of blogs by senior commanders, to promote an interactive process with the rank and file. The recommendations also include more transparency in the system of promotion boards and matters related to promotions and confidential reports and decentralization of powers from power-centers that may have emerged and also changes in the system of dispensation of military justice.
The recommendations in the chapter of military justice reform include steps that can be taken without any legislative change such as introduction of permanent infrastructure for Courts Martial at specified military stations to reduce command influence in the process of military justice.
Going into other areas of potential disputes including those of disabled cadets, women officers and Short Service Commissioned Officers. For short service officers it has recommended the grant of facilities of Ex-Servicemen Health Scheme (ECHS), reversion to the ‘5 years+5 years+4 years’ system of service tenure with graded grant of benefits and introduction of a contributory pension scheme. It also recommended restoration of outpatient medical facilities withdrawn from short service officers and emergency commissioned officers during late 2000s.