True in mostly all the situations we have been patriotic towards our army men and have showered words of gratitude, respect and loyalty. But, how often have we tried to find out what is their present situation? Have we asked ourselves and cared enough?
With this we come to the unheard voice of the Ex Short Service Commissioned, Ex Emergency Commissioned and Women Special Entry Scheme Officers (non-pensioners SSC/EC/WSES). It has now been years that they have been subjected to indifference and unfair treatment, causing grave injustice and humiliation. And what makes it more unfortunate is the sheer number (10,000 officers including veterans of 1965, 1971 and 1999 wars, including officers who have fought the insurgency in Kashmir and North East India during their tenure in service). They have protested at different nooks and corners of different cities demanding rights such as One Rank One Pension (OROP) on Pro Rata basis for released SSC/WSES / EC Officers, Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) facility for all SSC/WSES/EC officers, reversing 10 years of mandatory period to the original 5 years and also the permanent commission for lady officers. These are demanded to keep the dignity of life as per the Rank/status without any discrimination amongst the same rank holder.
Why indifferent attitude towards soldiers
An NGO ‘Lok Prahari’ has approached the apex court challenging the Allahabad High Court order dismissing its plea which had claimed that pension and other perks being given to Members of Parliament (MPs) even after demitting office were contrary to Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution. The Centre had on March 7, 2015, told the apex court that the entitlement of former MPs to get the pension and other benefits was “justified” as their dignity has to be maintained even after they complete their tenure as parliamentarians which are in conjunction with Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution. The Centre had told the bench about the Finance Bill 2018, which contains provisions regarding salary and pension of MPs and also about the revision of their allowances after every five years starting from April 1, 2018, on the basis of the cost inflation index. The Supreme Court on April 16, 2018, dismissed a PIL challenging the perks, including pension and travel allowances, given to former Parliamentarians. The Centre if so concerned towards maintaining the dignity of the Members of Parliament (MPs) even after completion of their tenure then why this indifferent attitude towards the soldiers who have fought for this nation and have served for 5, 10, 14 years.
Considering the above scenario several concerns arrises “Why is Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution not applicable to the SSC officers? Why does not the SSC Officers of the Indian Army deserve to live with dignity after their release?”
Further, it is demanded to amend Ex-Servicemen definition in order to ensure that every military person is granted Ex-serviceman( ESM) status “any time ” he/she is permitted to retire/release with “Gratuity”, whether on own request or by the Govt. Also, the courts have held “Release in extension period” or on “own request ” cannot be the reason to deny ESM status/benefits.
Commenting in this context Major Randeep Hundal, President, All India Ex Short Service Commission Society (AIESSCOS), said, “The shortage of officers in our country is now a widely known fact. But the MoD appears to be addressing this by extending the duration of Short Service Commissions and lately also considering to increase the intake of SSC officers vis-à-vis regular commission Officers. It is a criminal waste of India’s human resources that young officers, well-trained, qualified, medically fit, and willing to serve, are simply let go because they were hired under one category so-called SSC rather than another.”
Tracing back time and the inclusion of these army men the induction of SSC Officers was to get over the shortage of Officers in the Indian Army was in wake of the Chinese aggression in 1962 and repeated war the country. The instructions that time clearly provided that they will be given pension without enforcing the condition of completion of 20 years of service. In fact, the Pension Regulation had the provision for calculation of pension from the second Lieutenant onward depending upon the number of years of service, which clearly goes on to prove that the SSC Officers were required to be given Pro Rata pension. However, this was later diluted by some shortsighted bureaucrats / Armed Forces personnel sitting in the system.
Capt RK Bhardwaj (Senior Veteran), said, “Armed Forces Tribunal Chandigarh has given the verdict in favour of SSCOs/ECOs for grant of Medical Facilities in respective MHs. Government constituted Expert Committee in 2015 and submitted their recommendations for grant of Medical Facilities to SSCOs besides withdrawal of ongoing litigation.”
Violation of Article 14 & 21
According to the SSC officers, Government/Ministry Of Defence (MoD) has sidetracked above-mentioned AFT decision as well as recommendations of Expert Committee report. Even former Defence Minister Mr Manoher Parikar had agreed in principle for grant of medical facilities which has been duly recorded in files. The officers further believe that the youth for last 50 years has been lured/trapped in joining Army/Navy/Airforce through attractive Ads and misleading statements which states that pension is under consideration. The Officers joining at a young age without knowing the full implications are left to fend for themselves after they have given their prime youth with negligible gratuity and virtually no assistance for the second career as well as denying them even basic medical facility.
Unfortunately the civil bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defence along with the three services Head Quarters brazenly violated Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India by excluding the Short Service Officers from the fold of pension. Even due efforts to pay pension to SSC/EC/WSES Officers or extended OROP have not been taken. What makes the discrepancy all the more apparent and clear that other officers in same ranks are entitled OROP after one day of service. But SSC/EC/WSES Officers are not entitled for the same even after 5-10-14 years of service. Recently the Hon’ble Supreme C has granted a pension to even those judges who were hired on contract for limited periods.
Non-pensioners SSC/EC/WSES Officers have been getting Medicare in military hospitals since 1996 as per the rules but it was arbitrarily stopped in 2009 by blatantly ignoring the rules. The same was restored by AFT, Chandigarh in 2010 which ordered that all non-pensioner Ex-Servicemen(ESM) who had entitlement cards are eligible for the same. Cunningly, DGAFMS / Army / Navy / Air Force stopped issuing entitlement cards to the officers who were released after 2011. They created another discrimination by providing medicare to all released officers until 2011 but refused the same to the officers who were released after 2011 without taking any stay from the court and then went to the Hon’ble Supreme court in 2011, where the case is still pending & the hearing date now is February 11, 2019.