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The One-Man NFU Crusade is Getting Tougher

COL MUKUL DEV is a serving Indian Army officer presently posted as Deputy Judge Advocate General in Bathinda-based 10 Corps. He has been fighting tooth and nail since long through legal means against the injustices meted out to the Defence Services personnel. Currently, he is fighting NFU case) in the Supreme Court for the Defence Services. Though he was due for the rank of Brigadier long back, some internal elements within the JAG Branch seem to have conspired to get a ‘Censure’ issued to Col Mukul Dev to deny him the promotion. In July 2017, the Indian Army issued him a Show Cause Notice for initiation of an Administrative Action against him when he issued a legal notice to the Defence Secretary demanding that the government orders withdrawing free rations to officers posted in peace areas should be immediately cancelled. Sadly, he was then denied his due promotion because of the award of this illegal ‘censure’ although, issuing of any Legal Notice by him under Section 80 of Civil Procedure Code (CPC) cannot be imagined as an offence by any stretch of imagination, the same being the fundamental Constitutional right of every citizen. Colonel Dev had already filed a petition regarding this in the AFT.

by Brig CS Vidyasagar (Retd) (from the April ’19 edition)

Col Mukul Dev, the lone fighter for NFU, called me on 21 March 2019 and spoke to me for a long time. He gave me chronological sequence of events of his legal case pertaining to NFU which I have to explain to you and other members of TSEWA, so that we all are in same grid/wavelength/page.

Col Mukul Dev also spoke to me some time back (may be about two years) and had informed me at that time that he has filed a case for grant of NFU to Armed Forces Officers. I offered him financial support from TSEWA. I visualized at that time itself, that even if he wins the case in AFT Delhi, MoD will drag him to the Supreme Court as per their SOP. But he very politely refused my offer for any financial support. However, I still promised full support of TSEWA to him for a cause he is fighting for all the Armed Forces Officers. Since OROP was sanctioned, I felt all the pre-2013 Officers retired will definitely get benefit in OROP – 2018 (even if we do not get benefit in OROP – 2013).

What Col Mukul Dev told me today is that he alone filed a case in October 2015 in the AFT Delhi praying for grant of NFU to Armed Forces Officers and the same was admitted sometime in early 2016. After he filed the case, slowly, 289 other officers (serving and retired) also filed individual cases in AFT Delhi. That means the cases are not Class Action Suits. Col Mukul Dev was given OA No and so are the other 289 officers. AFT Delhi as per their procedure clubbed all the OAs and delivered on 23 Dec 2016 one common judgment granting NFU not only to those petitioners but to other officers who are not petitioners in AFT Delhi. That means all officers serving and retired will get benefit of NFU from Dec 2013 and they will be paid arrears on account of NFU from 23 Dec 2013 to 23 Dec 2016. You can work out arrears of three years between pay of Lt Col and Maj Gen for three years.

The MoD went on appeal against judgment of AFT Delhi for granting NFU to Col Mukul Dev initially on 20 April 2017. Later on, on January 2018, MoD filed the appeal in rest of the cases also. The Supreme Court then clubbed the 289 other officers with the case of Col Mukul Dev. Arguments are completed on 12 Mar 2019 and judgment is reserved.

Col Mukul Dev has nothing do with those 289 officers out of whom he said few have already passed away. In the remaining, some of them are serving officers and some are retired officers. The Registry of the Supreme Court found that the MoD had not served notices on those 60 out of 289 officers who are Respondents. Col Mukul Dev is also one of the Respondents. The Supreme Court directed that that the MoD, in next two weeks, should serve notices on those 60 officers as per the procedure. Since the MoD is the appellant, it is mandatory to issue notice to 289 + Col Mukul Dev of their intention of appealing against the judgment of AFT Delhi delivered on 23 Dec 2016 granting NFU to Armed Forces Officers.

What I could understand from Col Mukul Dev’s talks, now the responsibility of serving notices on those 60 Respondent officers is that of MoD and Col Mukul Dev is in no way connected with them. However, to ensure that the government of India does not ask for adjournment on some pretext of serving notices to those 60 officers, he has taken upon himself the responsibility of contacting those 60 officers also who were not served the notice by the MoD. I understand all those 289 officers filed individual appeals in AFT Delhi in 2016 and therefore might have employed few advocates to argue their case in AFT Delhi.

I also told him that the TSEWA has also requested its members to approach those 60 officers less those who passed away to submit their Vakalatnamas. Col Mukul Dev informed me that when contacted, some of the respondents out of 60 have said they are not interested in the case and some have flatly refused to pay pittance of Rs 5,000 as legal fees to their respective advocate-on-record. He further assured those officers to submit the Vakalatnamas without any legal fees. Col Mukul Dev informed me that about 30 officers have already submitted their Vakalatnamas.

Now the position is bit clearer to me. Whether others submit Vakalatnamas or not, the case is expected to be finally disposed of either by end of Apr 2019 or middle of May 2019. I also read in WhatsApp, the observations of Justice KM Joseph who heard the arguments of the ASG for not sanctioning NFU. The Justice reported to have told the ASG, “Yesterday you were requesting in very humble way not to order any enquiry against Rafale case due to national security, but today you are arguing forcefully why government of India should not grant NFU to Armed Forces who are defenders of National Security”. This indicates how the winds are blowing.

Therefore, TSEWA members also should try to contact these 60 officers or 58 (as I am told two officers have passed away) to immediately submit their Vakalatnamas to their respective Advocates or to one lady who is advocate on record even without Rs 5,000. I told Col Mukul Dev that I became little aware of what is NFU after going over his table as to when IAS officers get empanelled to Jt Secy and Addl Secy and how Lt Cols to Maj Gens will get pay of Maj Gen and Lt Gen after 19 and 31 years of service respectively and how even retired officers will get benefit of OROP – 2013, benefit of higher pension as on 01 Jan 2016 and how much arrears we all will get.

Again, I offered all support of TSEWA to Col Mukul Dev and told him that we all stand behind him solidly and he just has to ask us to do and it will be done without demur. Hopefully, once  the  judgment of Supreme Court  sanctions NFU to  Armed  Forces Officers, there may not be any need for any agitation for OROP etc.

Brig CS Vidyasagar (Retd) is President of Tri Services Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association (TSEWA). He can be reached at Email: brigvidya.tsewa@gmail.com