Sunday, August 20, 2017

Silence in Defence: Defence Ministry is haemorrhaging its own human resources


All specialist and super-specialist human resources are precious, yet internal dynamics seem more precious for the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It has been more than 14-months since the Prime Minister ordered to enhance the superannuation age of Non-teaching, Public Health Specialists and General Duty Medical Officers sub-cadres of Central Health Service (CHS) to 65-years with effect from May 31, 2016, but this has had no effect on the MoD. This is puzzling. The PM’s order issued under Rule 12 of the Transaction of Business Rules, 1961, is rarely invoked as Departure from Rules. The urgency can be seen from the Cabinet Secretariat most immediate ID dated May 31, 2016, which, while conveying enhancement of superannuation age with immediate effect, directed the Department of Health and Family Welfare (DoHFW) to seek ex-post facto approval of the Cabinet. The DoHFW implemented the PM’s directive immediately on May 31, 2016, as did the Ministry of Railways. Among other ministries, Ministry of Home Affairs with a sizeable number of doctors working in the Central police forcesCRPF, BSF, CISF, ITBP, NDRF-India, NSG, and SSBtoo implemented the same from June 30, 2016. Bafflingly, the MoD hasn’t, yet. 

Today Lieutenant Colonels (and equivalent in Air Force/Navy) in the AFMS retire at 56, Colonels (and equivalent) at 58, Brigadiers (and equivalent) at 59, Major Generals (and equivalent) at 60, Lieutenant Generals (and equivalent) at 61 (with 2-year tenure) and the Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) at 62 (with 3-year tenure). Note the pensioning of the Lieutenant Colonels of specialist/super-specialist non-combatant at 56! And 99.5 per cent of AFMS doctors retire at the age of 59 or belowsix years before their civilian counterparts! There is an acute shortage of doctors12–15 per centin the AFMS. The recruitment scenario is gloomy going by recent figures: of 2000 candidates who applied for 675 vacancies, 800 appeared in interviews, 300 were selected, and 175 joinedless than 26 per cent of the vacancies. Such is the dismal picture, yet such is MoD’s burden of silence. 

Doctors are a rare human resource. Youngsters loathe joining medicine due to long gestation period and delayed employment, apart from the hard life it entails. Compare the medical graduates’ tuition fee with engineering and the 4x higher fee for the former over the latter will exemplify why doctors don’t fancy joining the AFMS. Not to speak of specialisation courses (MD/MS) or the super-specialisation courses (DM/MCh), which today costs a bomb, plus the 3+3 years consumed. The AFMS doctors can undertake the PG courses after 4 years of service, the time they serve in field areas. Medical science is stochastic; patients today bid fair to see specialists for their limbic and neural issues. The Internet and smart phones have wizened them. Given their regimented thinking, I can see the services headquarters sensing unease. How doctors serving under them, work beyond theirincluding service chiefs’superannuation age? This is old paradigm, long atrophiedpass√© today. It stems from the hoary perception that taking order from a junior in age, rank notwithstanding is improper. 

The perception is invalid. Today in the services, younger officers of higher ranks supervise elders lower in pecking order, due to differentiated promotional timelines. It is endemic in organisations encompassing multifarious expertise. Levelled field is a mirage. The services’ retirement age had always varied with doctors retiring at a higher age vis-√†-vis others. When services chiefs retired at 56, AFMS doctors retired at 60since 1936. The retirement age of Major/Lieutenant Generals in army and their equivalents in navy/air force has over the past years gone up to 60 with the three chiefs presently retiring at 62. In the AFMS, the retirement age at these two ranks has gone up from 60 to 61 with only the DGAFMS retiring at 62. The issue goes far beyond this disquiet over perception. AFMS is a specialised servicemore healthcare than armed discipline. True, they’re part of the services set-up and important support arms, crucial for the Services wellness. But they belong to a different worldof patient care, empathy, curing, healing. This world demands different competencies/prescriptions, reason why the government has given them an extended run. With similar job profile, what’s applicable to the CHS is applicable to AFMS. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander! There can’tand shouldn’t –be two different standards across ministries. 

To retire AFMS officers at an age that’s lot younger than their civilian counterparts is both discriminatory and a cumulative loss; it inexorably haemorrhages precious resources. During a recent visit to two central universities as member of the UGC-appointed team, I was bemused to learn the vast difference in tuition fee (for all four-and-half-years) of a government-funded MBBS course and a private one. While the government-funded hugely subsidised course was Rs 1.5 lakh, the private institute’s was Rs 80 lakh. No mismatch for any professional course is more glaring than this. Not to say of specialist/super-specialist courses, where the mismatch is equally humongous. 

Transfer to the pension establishment earlier than their counterparts paid from the same kitty is an irreparable loss of government spends for making them graduates/specialists/super-specialists; it tantamount to lateral brain drain of precious taxpayers’ human resources. Walk into corporate hospitals and you’ll likely bump into former AFMS doctors remunerated far higher than what they received in government. Public’s loss is corporate gain, feeding the latter’s billowing profit off taxpayers’ money. 

I recall the lack of appreciation of AFMS doctors’ role even inside MoD conveyed in a letter from Rear Admiral A. A. Pawar, then Commandant, INHS Asvini, Mumbai. This was in 2015 when I was the Controller General of Defence Accounts. The new delegation of power had caused serious disquiet. His tone was one of exasperated injured pride. It was late evening when I read this letter. As a cancer survivor who had spent months in hospitals undergoing surgery after surgeries and associated treatments over an excruciating five-year period, I was scorched. I put myself in the patient’s shoes, visualising his pain and despair, and the rooted helplessness of treating doctors. I’m happy we rid these anomalies in the revised delegation of financial powers, 2016. Today’s issue too has the same ring of similarity: the lack of appreciation of AFMS doctors’ role, typecasting them under the armed forces overarching canopy and their cachet of regimentation. It’s time for course correction. 

The Services must appreciate the changedand ever-changingdynamics of the specialised world we live in today, and introspect to change their perception; and the MoD must mull over the issue in a holistic vein and actto stanch soundless, even relentless, haemorrhaging of rich human resource for the wellness of the armed forces and veterans who look up to the AFMS for medical succour.

(The writer is former Controller General of Defence Accounts and former Financial Advisor to Defence Services in the MoD. Views are strictly personal.)

(Reproduced from Millennium Post)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

When Differential Approach and Differentiated Treatment Converge!


The allegation against Justice Dipak Misra for illegally acquiring lease of land meant for the landless poor through “misrepresentation” and “fraud” has shocked the nation. One fervently hopes that this doesn’t join the endless saga of corruption, but instead acts as a shining beacon of hope that such misdemeanor and fraud shall no more be tolerated in India.

Let me begin with a Whatsapp forward I’ve received recently titled A New Zealander’s view on reason for corruption in India: (Incidentally, New Zealand is one of the least corrupt nations in the world and there are plenty things for us to emulate.)
Indians are Hobbesian (Culture of self interest). Corruption in India is a cultural aspect. Indians seem to think nothing peculiar about corruption. It is everywhere. Indians tolerate corrupt individuals rather than correct them.
To know why Indians are corrupt, look at their patterns and practices.
Firstly: Religion is transactional in India. Indians give God cash and anticipate an out-of-turn reward. Such a plea acknowledges that favours are needed for the undeserving. In the world outside the temple walls, such a transaction is named “bribe”. A wealthy Indian gives not cash to temples, but gold crowns and such baubles. His gifts cannot feed the poor. His pay-off is for God. He thinks it will be wasted if it goes to a needy man. Indians believe that if God accepts money for his favours, then nothing is wrong in doing the same thing. This is why Indians are so easily corruptible. Indian culture accommodates such transaction.
Morally, there is no real stigma. An utterly corrupt Jayalalita can make a comeback, just unthinkable in the West.
Secondly: Indian moral ambiguity towards corruption is visible in its history. Indian history tells of the capture of cities and kingdoms after guards were paid off to open the gates, and commanders paid off to surrender. This is unique to India. Indians’ corrupt nature has meant limited warfare on the subcontinent. It is striking how little Indians have actually fought compared to ancient Greece and modern Europe. The Turk’s battles with Nadir Shah were vicious and fought to the finish. In India fighting wasn’t needed, bribing was enough to see off armies. Any invader willing to spend cash could brush aside India’s kings, no matter how many tens of thousands soldiers were in their infantry. Little resistance was given by the Indians at the “Battle” of Plassey. Clive paid off Mir Jaffar and all of Bengal folded to an army of 3,000. There was always a financial exchange to taking Indian forts. Golconda was captured in 1687 after the secret back door was left open. Mughals vanquished Marathas and Rajputs with nothing but bribes. The Raja of Srinagar gave up Dara Shikoh’s son Sulaiman to Aurangzeb after receiving a bribe. There are many cases where Indians participated on a large scale in treason due to bribery.
Question is: Why Indians have a transactional culture while other ‘civilized’ nations don’t?
Thirdly: Indians do not believe in the theory that they all can rise if each of them behaves morally, because that is not the message of their faith. Their caste system separates them. They don’t believe that all men are equal. This resulted in their division and migration to other religions. Many Hindus started their own faith like Sikh, Jain, Buddha and many converted to Christianity and Islam. The result is that Indians don’t trust one another. There are no Indians in India, there are Hindus, Christians, Muslims and what not. Indians forget that 1400 years ago they all belonged to one faith. This division evolved an unhealthy culture. The inequality has resulted in a corrupt society, in India everyone is thus against everyone else, except God and even he must be bribed.
See the recent issue concerning appointment of the new CJI through the prism of these observations and ask if Differential Approach and Differentiated Treatment aren’t emblematic of all problems concerning our country today. Does it not vindicate the foreigner’s observation that Indians don’t believe that all men are equal? And hasn’t this inequality resulted in a corrupt society in India where everyone is against everyone else, except God and even he must be bribed? Why should one organ of democracy be accorded separate and special treatment? Any overriding justifications? Doubtless none. Differential Approach for judges of the High/Supreme Court, as senior advocate Shanti Bhushan says, owes its origin to the Supreme Court, which while violating the statutory provision in the CrPC gave “direction in its Constitution bench judgement in the Veeraswamy case of 1991 that no FIR would be registered against any judge without the permission of the Chief Justice of India. In not a single case has any such permission ever been granted for the registration of an FIR against any judge after that judgement.”
In effect, it upholds one of the two things: either all members of the higher judiciary were/are squeaky clean or there have been cases deserving of filing of FIRs but the CJI didn’t accord his approval. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or in English: “Who will guard the guards themselves?” The guards themselves? Doesn’t it then give rise to institutional conflict of interest? Does it resemble elements of any modern democratic state based on cardinal principles of separation of power and checks and balances and believes in equality and rule of law?
“The filing of that affidavit by Justice Misra is… a very serious matter” and cries out for an answer. This brings me to my next paradigm that is a besetting narrative of India: Did any Differentiated Treatment spawned off nepotism and venality brooking no rules or unassailable principles for privileged people — well-heeled, well-oiled, and well-connected, well-networked — kick in when antecedent verification and police reports were done before his elevation to the High Court bench? I guess the same check too must have been exercised prior to his elevation as Chief Justice of a High Court and then the Supreme Court. How serious offence of “misrepresentation of facts” and “fraud” detected and indicted upon that led to cancellation of land allotment was overlooked not once but many times over, when the offence antedated every stage of police check? These are disturbing issues for our society and our governance apparatus. They speak volumes of our loose and porous governance ecosystem. Not to speak of the nepotistic spread and sway it commands like a potentate that sadly has reduced public service into one of private service and private interest. The lack of an arm’s length system and culture surely has helped such aberrations.
While it may be presumptuous on my part to draw inferences here in the case of Justice Misra, the ineluctable question that crops up and needs answering is this: How could a person, who, as per information available in public domain, made a false statement in a declaration, “which is by law receivable as evidence, and using as true such declaration knowing it to be false, are serious offences under Section 199 and Section 200 of the IPC, punishable with up to seven years of imprisonment and a fine” could be appointed as a High Court judge? What sort of antecedent check was carried out by the earlier collegiums and by the then government through their statutory investigating agencies when the CBI had recorded its conclusive findings against Justice Misra and the case had attained finality by nullifying allotment of the land leased to him? Of relevance here is the fact that in the recent past, the present government has rightly refused to agree with the recommendations of the SC collegium based on adverse intelligence reports against few of the names proposed by the latter. There obviously cannot be different standards and approaches. Now that adverse information against Justice Misra have come to light and put out in the public domain, the government must take note of these facts and information, and “right” the string of glaring past “wrongs” of (i) blatant shrouding of facts and details post-cancellation of land leased to Justice Misra; (ii) willful non-cognizance of information available on government records/documents against Justice Misra; and (iii) letting a “wrong” getting perpetuated time and time again over the past two decades and more. Agreeing with the CJI’s recommendation on the part of the present government will sadly tantamount to perpetuating the past “wrongs” with yet another egregious “wrong” added to it — only made worse many times over, in the wake of adverse information against the concerned judge already available and assiduously debated about in the public sphere. That will be extremely unfortunate and it shall obscure a chronic malaise that may be timelier to smother now than we would like to think.
The saga of Justice Misra career progression despite grievous wrongs amounting to fraud makes for a perfect case-study in law schools in India and abroad. It is now for the government and the Prime Minister to pluck the high-hanging fruit to “right” the “wrongs” committed thus far for institutions to emulate, so that the fear of an overarching check and balance architecture that’s inviolate bounces across the nation vociferously and unequivocally. Let me wind down by quoting the words of wisdom of Justice (as he then was) Khehar from the NJAC judgment: “The judiciary has to be manned by people of unimpeachable integrity, who can discharge their responsibility without fear or favour.” In his action the CJI may not have lived up to his own words, but as citizens we cannot but emphasize that people of unimpeachable integrity must man the judiciary and without a shadow of doubt the man who helms it — the Chief Justice of India.
(Reproduced from medium.com)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Land and Property as Distillate of Human Conscience




How much land does a man need? Leo Tolstoy’s story of human avarice written more than 131 years ago in 1886 comes back to one’s mind now. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed! Yes, that was exactly the area that Pahom’s servant dug to make a grave for him, as he lay on the hillock dead, blood spouting from his mouth out of sheer exhaustion in trying to acquire as much land as he could before the sun dipped into the horizon. It was our first year in Ravenshaw College in Cuttack we read this, a story told so unobtrusively in sibilant tone, yet said with such unmistakable telling effect that it remains a tinnitus in my head, conveying a universal message: love and greed for land — add buildings/apartments for good measure — have been man’s nemesis, and, I’m afraid, shall always remain that way. That’s human greed — emblematic of man’s epicurean self.
Travel no further back than 2010–11 and recall the Adarsh land scam details. How a housing society meant for Kargil war widows in Colaba, Mumbai was shamelessly appropriated by influential people — politicians, senior armed forces officials and bureaucrats! The Comptroller and Auditor General of India(CAG) in its Report had remarked that “The episode of Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society reveals how a group of select officials, placed in key posts, could subvert rules and regulations in order to grab prime government land — a public property — for personal benefit.” Ashok Chavan, the then Maharashtra chief minister lost his job, some bureaucrats were suspended and jailed for a few months, few service officers were charge-sheeted and proceeded against, but despite all the hullaballoo, the memory and lesson learnt from the scam (as with other scams) has fast faded away from public memory.
Around the same time, recall the events that were brewing around Justice Dinakaran’s case when he almost made it to the Supreme Court. The Chennai-based Forum for Judicial Accountability, in September 2009 had raised its voice against the then Chief Justice Dinakaran of Madras High Court. The issue again was illegal acquisition of land and it remained on the boil for good two years before he finally resigned from the post of chief justice of Sikkim high court on 29 July 2011 after the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha had admitted a motion for his removal. Interestingly, it was only after this that the Supreme Court collegium dropped Justice Dinakaran’s name for elevation.
Little before it was the turn of another judge of Calcutta High Court, Justice Soumitra Sen who quit when he found an impeachment motion staring him in his face. As a court-appointed receiver, he had kept the amount of about Rs 33 lakh in his personal account. With the benefit of hindsight, one can say that Justice Soumitra Sen’s act, unacceptable and unbecoming, was far less serious than what has now come to light concerning Justice Dipak Misra.
Let me briefly recapitulate Justice Misra’s case that dates back to 1979 when he was an advocate in the Orissa High Court. In order to provide succour to the poor and landless, the government of Orissa had come out with a policy of leasing land to them based on certain criteria. In the government notification, a landless person was defined as “…one who and his family members do not hold land more than two acres and who have no profitable means of livelihood other than agriculture…” To make himself eligible as a recipient for the leased land meant for the landless, Justice Dipak Misra in his affidavit tried subverting the rule to subserve his personal interest by testifying that: “…the extent of landed property held by me including all the members of my family is nil.” This Nil landed property was later found to be false; he had in another affidavit to the government of Orissa had sworn that his family owned 10 acres of land. Consequently, the lease granted for a “fodder farm” as reported, was cancelled on February 11, 1985, in proceedings under the Orissa Government Land Settlement Act, 1962 with the additional district magistrate of Cuttack indicting unequivocally that “…I am satisfied that the lessee has obtained lease by misrepresentation and fraud.”
This indeed is serious indictment — because the intent to mislead and circumvent the rule is unmistakable, as can be seen from the CBI’s closure Report of May 30, 2013. Shanti Bhushan, senior advocate and former union law minister, is forthright in his observations: “A false statement made in declaration, which is by law receivable as evidence, and using as true such declaration knowing it to be false, are serious offences under Section 199 and Section 200 of the IPC, punishable with up to seven years of imprisonment and a fine. The filing of that affidavit by Justice Misra is thus a very serious matter.” Despite all this, how he was considered for a judgeship where police verification and antecedent checks are crucial and mandatory speaks volumes of the system we have in place.
Against this background, it would be clear that it was imperative for the CJI to set up an in-house inquiry committee to investigate the case for, paradoxical as it may sound, this is where we enter into an exclusive and sequestered territory. The Supreme Court has directed in its Constitution bench judgment in the Veeraswamy case of 1991 that no FIR would be registered against any judge without the permission of the CJI. In a case as egregious as this, with the CJI not instituting an in-house inquiry and instead recommending him as his successor, coupled with no limitations placed by the Constitution (or any SC judgments) or the Memorandum of Procedures, it’ll naturally be incumbent upon the elected sovereign government to set things right to ensure judicial rectitude, as enjoined upon in the Constitution and its values, which they have been sworn to uphold.
Perhaps it is all the more imperative — and let me say this in parenthesis — because should one look at the issue of false affidavit through a psychologist’s eyes, one will discern that the tendency to mislead with the intent to circumvent the rule/procedures to make personal gains is doubtless a part of a person’s DNA and make-up that shall refuse to go away and always stay with him, surfacing as and when opportunities present themselves. Land and property are indeed the distillate of human conscience. Human beings by nature are obsessive, possessive individualists. The lack of transparency and professionalism in India, coupled with the age-old Indian tradition of promoting sub-national/clan/family loyalty — the sub-culture of biradiri in the larger template of the culture of materialism that’s gotten more pronounced with economic liberalization in today’s globalized world to get-rich-fast — have sadly distorted our priorities. Ethics is at the heart of the issue, more for a judge, still more for a Supreme Court judge — and doubtless many times over for the CJI. Ethics and morality are attributes that can neither be compromised nor wished away in public service, as the Supreme Court itself had rightly observed in the Second Judges case (1993) that “…persons of unimpeachable integrity alone are appointed to these high offices and no doubtful persons gain entry.”
Must then the President, and the council of ministers headed by the Prime Minister to aid and advise him, not scrupulously follow the extant SC order in the Second Judges case (1993) and ensure that the Supreme Court lives up to its own judgment so that its image of being unimpeachably fair and transparent shines through as a exemplar for other democratic institutions in the country to emulate?
(Reproduced from medium.com)