One More Nail…
Bureaucrats have left no stone unturned to undermine the Indian Military
Since the early years of our Independence, especially from the 1950's, the bureaucrats of the Government of India have left no stone unturned to undermine the Indian Military, including by casting aspersions on their loyalty and spooking the elected leaders of the nation, irrespective of the political party they belong to. What good are crocodile tears, Jumlas and meaningless inanities by political leaders when at every opportunity, these File-pushers sneak in one more nail..
The latest reason for my penning this piece relates to the announcement made a few days back that finally, after a long wait of years, the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet has approved the appointments to fill 23 vacancies, comprising 11 as judicial members and12 as Administrative Members in the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT). While it is a much-delayed announcement, it is welcome as the work of the AFT's had nearly come to a standstill, as only one a few Benches of the AFT were working, thus denying justice to the affected personnel.
What is hidden in the announcement is that one of the so-called Administrative Member has nothing to do with the military. Instead, the so-called Administrative Member has crunched pay, allowances, and pension figures during his entire government service, as he belongs to and had retired from the Indian Defence Account Service (IDAS).
This defeats the very purpose of having one Administrative Member from the armed forces in each Bench. The peculiar nature of service in the armed forces needs a person well versed in how the Army, Navy and Air Force operate and the nuances of military laws, to assist the Judicial Members in understanding the peculiar nature of life in the military and how it influences crimes and misdemeanours in the military. In other words, there is no scope of earmarking a non-miliary person as an Administrative Member, as has been done.
The bureaucrats, as is their wont in grabbing appointments post-retirement for themselves, and their kith and kin had tried to dilute the laid down norms for appointing an Administrative Member in any of the AFT's. This was attempted on 01 June 2017. The convoluted definition they had conjured up needs to be read, so that the working of the minds of bureaucrats lies exposed, and perhaps also for a laugh, although this is no laughing matter, as we are talking about providing justice to military persons, both serving and retired!
Let me record what the Ministry of Defence had stated in the amendment they pushed through, possibly without consulting the Service Headquarters.
On 1 June 2017, the government amended the AFT Act, amongst 19 other existing laws, enhancing its powers pertaining to the appointment and removal of members of various tribunals. Amongst the major changes which affect the functioning of the AFTs is the appointment of the Administrative Member.
The earlier rules had stated that the administrative member could be retired major generals and above and their equivalents in the Navy and the Air Force. However, the new rules state "any person of ability, integrity and standing having special knowledge of, and professional experience of not less than 20 years' in multiple fields not connected with the armed forces but 'in the opinion of the government is useful to the AFT' could be appointed."
Thus, knowledge of service conditions and military law is not essential, making such appointments redundant. It opens doors for appointing IAS, other government service members and every 'Amar, Akbar or Anthony', who lack even basic military knowledge.
Seeing the 'darbari' culture now existing in the present government, it does not require a space scientist to select an Administrative Member. For all one knows, in another four years an Agniveer who is close to the 'powers that be' may be appointed, if he is loyal and subservient enough!
The MoD document also stated that such appointments would be filled by a search-cum-selection-committee which would comprise a Supreme Court judge, Chairperson of AFT (appointed by the government), Defence Secretary and another member of the Executive. Thus, majority power would be with the Executive.
As I recall, the three Chiefs had vehemently opposed these biased changes and the Supreme Court had disagreed, stating 'it cannot be tilted towards the executive'.
The new rules also place the AFTs under the MoD, whereas earlier based on Supreme Court directions, they were placed under the Law Ministry. The power to remove members has also been diluted and the MoD can constitute a committee to recommend removal. These powers were earlier with the Supreme Court.
If this is not biased, and ruins the very concept of a Tribunal for the serving and retired armed forces personnel, who need to get justice, I cannot imagine anything worse.
Reverting to the reason for penning this epistle, I can only rue the concerted demise of the most potent; the most loyal; and most loved; instrument of India – the Indian Military, comprising the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
Permit me to end with this Alan Paton quote, which points to where we are heading, if the present political leadership does not take the reins in their hands and stops this 'darbari' culture: "Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much."
Lt General Vijay Oberoi (Retd) is former vice chief of Army Staff.