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Reservists of Indian Army and Indian Air Force – Recruited and Retrenched Unjustly

The reservists of the Armed Forces in the Independent India came to be treated worse than convicts who underwent imprisonment and were allowed to count Sundays and holidays for early release. The Army Jawans generally work from reveille to retreat viz., from 6 am to 6 pm. They also do night guards and route marches on at least two days a week. Thus, we can say that an Army Jawan has put in twice the number of hours than his civilian counterpart and thus should be considered for regular pension as he has been made to squeeze in service of two years in one year only.

by Gp Capt CRR Sastry (Retd)

Colonisation of one country by another is gross violence against the whole nation. One of the results of colonisation, is compulsory enrolment of male citizens of the colony into the army that fights the wars for the paramount power. The history of India was no different. The male citizens initially were forced to labour at pittance of wages in East India Company factories, tea estates, coffee plantations and indigo farms. Later, they were made to go abroad as indentured labour to Ceylon, Mauritius, Fiji and Caribbean Islands to enrich the coffers of East Indian Company.

When the Colonies of Great Britain were under threat during the first and second world wars, the Colonial power quickly ramped up the strength of its Army and deployed these soldiers on alien shores to fight alien enemies for their alien masters. It is said that India contributed about a million troops during the First World War and close to two and half million troops during the Second World War. The death suffered by Indian soldiers ran into a lakh and about half a million were injured.

The Colonial power was purely mercenary in their thinking and execution. After all, the sole aim of Colonisation is to exploit the resources of the Colony in such a way that maximum wealth is created for the Colonising power with minimum cost. When they fought the First and Second World Wars, it must have been very clear to them that the white men were very few in numbers and their cost to company was exorbitant compared to that of Native from a Colony. Further the white man if he is skilled could be used better in a factory producing munitions and other war like materials. Hence the paramount power forced the natives of their Colonies to join their armies and their wars.

While doing so they ensured that these soldiers were paid the amount that looked “princely” to the native but was actually a “pittance” in reality considering the arduous service conditions that were imposed on them and the sacrifices they were expected to make.

Concept of Colour & Reserve Service

Executing the above philosophy, the British colonial government in India enrolled the Indians into Indian Army for short periods when deployment was foreseen. The natives of British held provinces as well as those from territories ruled by princes owing allegiance to the Crown were preferred. Their loyalty was ensured by promise of post discharge land allotment and service under government. In the initial stages of enrolling of natives in the Army, the embodied service was very short since the skill set required of a native soldier were rudimentary and at that the soldier had to be young to with stand the rigours of service.

Hence, he was retained in the Army for a short period called ‘Colour Service’ – perhaps due to his service that was fighting for the Colours of his Regiment or Crown. Thereafter he returned to his village to receive a small parcel of farm land and established himself as a respectable farmer ever loyal and obedient subject of the Crown. If he was town man with some education with no aptitude for farming, he was given a post in civil or police or railway service as his loyalty was tested and obedience was drilled into him. During the first and second world war the system of enrolling the Indians as soldiers in Army for a short period became more prevalent. Recruits were put to a very short period of training which could be a few weeks or few months and then they were deployed in a far off battle field for a few years. Thereafter they were discharged with an understanding that they would be liable to be called back for service in case the need arises.

Thus, they were held in reserve for future requirement where in the strength of the Army needs ramping up over night with trained soldiers. Therefore, such service was called Reserve Service. During the British Era and in the early decades of Independent India, soldiers with Reserve Service were always employed by the government or a reputed Company. Hence good care of their retired life was taken by the departments that employed them and they did not face any hardship due to their short colour service and long reserve service. (It is said that in those days men were recruited for 6 years of Colour Service and 9 years of service). The tag ‘Reservist’ as such soldiers were called, gave a ring of respectability to them.

Reservists Post 1973

The Indo-Pak Conflict of 1971 was a watershed event in the history of the sub-continent as it led to the birth of Bangladesh. The war entailed a terrible cost on the victorious nation India, which however did not have the political clout to seek and collect reparations from the vanquished nation. The cost of war had to be borne by someone and ironically Indian Armed Forces took the most hit. The pension of all enrolled persons which used to be 70% of their last pay drawn was reduced to 50% of the last pay drawn and to keep the pension bill further down, their pension was made pro rata for number years served as against 33 years required for full pension.

A small weightage of 10 years was given to the soldier who was forced to retire after 15 years of service only to keep the army young. Thus, a civil servant who could serve up to 58 years of age and for well over 35 years will draw his full pension while his military peer would retire with 15 years of service after adding the weightage of 10 years, he would draw three fourth of the pension. So, the pension of a soldier which was 70% of last pay drawn prior to 1973 came down to 37% of his last pay drawn.

Another hit that was taken by the enrolled persons of Armed Forces pertained to Reservists. Before 1973, all soldiers who served for 9 years of Colour Service and 6 years of Reserve Service were granted a reduced pension called Reservist Pension which was 2/3 of Regular Pension. Many of them were discharged with a lump sum grant which deprived them of any further pension. Post 1971 War, the enrolment terms were changed to offer 15 years of Colour Service and the requirement of completing a period of Reserve Service to earn pension was done away. While these changes definitely improved the lot of new entrants, the soldiers who were then serving in Army and Air Force got a very raw deal because of the haphazard way they were dealt with.

All soldiers prior to 1973, were enrolled for 9 years of Colour Service with 6 years of Reserve Service and when they were discharged after Colour Service most of them were discharged without transferring to Reserve Service. In some Discharge Certificate “No Vacancy in Reserve” was written while in some it was endorsed “Not required for Reserve”. The inevitable result of such discharge was that they were denied Pension as they did not have minimum pensionable service. Some of them who had some domestic commitments and realised that as such they are not likely to earn any pension even after putting in 9 years of Colour Service, sought discharge and were promptly discharged with endorsement “Discharged on own Request before completion of Term of Engagement”.

Various Streams of Reservists

The way the separation of Soldiers and Airmen was managed resulted in four types of Reservists each with different level of legal injury and different grievances to be redressed. We can group them as under. Firstly, we have Reservists who were granted pension. These Soldiers and Airmen completed 15 years of pensionable service (9 years of Colour Service and 6 years of Reserve Service) and most of them were discharged before 1973. They were granted Reservist Pension which was 2/3 of Regular Pension by ignoring their Reserve Service entirely. Recently these Pensioners were made ineligible for OROP thus adding insult to their long festering injuries.

Secondly, we have the Reservists who were discharged with a Lump Sum Grant. These Soldiers and Airmen also completed 15 years of pensionable service (9 years of Colour Service and 6 years of Reserve Service) and most of them were discharged before 1973. They were offered a princely (then it seemed so) Lump Sum Grant which they accepted thus foregoing their entire pension. It did not seem to make any difference then in 1973, but post 2003 when ECHS was established, these Veterans became ineligible to join ECHS as they were not drawing any pension. This was an unintended consequence of drawing a lump sum grant.

Thirdly we have soldiers who have completed Colour Service and discharged without any pension. These Soldiers and Airmen having completed their 9 years of Colour Service were discharged without transferring them into Reserve as required by terms of their enrolment. All of them were discharged after 1973 in gross violation of terms of engagement. Since they did not put in minimum service required for grant of pension (actually speaking they were not allowed to do so), they were not granted any pension. The injury of deprived of pension got magnified when they became ineligible for ECHS and thus they were deprived of pension as well as health care. A double whammy they had to bear for no fault of theirs.

Lastly, we have Soldiers and Airmen who were discharged on own request before completing Terms of Engagement. They were not transferred to Reserve (as such the service did not intend to transfer them to reserve even after completion of colour service) and hence not eligible for any kind of terminal benefit.

Case for Regular Pension for Reservists

The reservists of the Armed Forces in the Independent India came to be treated worse than convicts who underwent imprisonment and were allowed to count Sundays and holidays for early release. The Army Jawans generally work from reveille to retreat viz from 6 am to 6 pm. They also do night guards and route marches on at least two days a week. If we count the standard work day as 8 hours and a week as 48 hours, the army Jawan typically puts in a whopping 96 hours a week (12 hours each day for six days and 12 hours each night on guard duties).

Thus, we can say that an Army Jawan has put in twice the number of hours than his civilian counterpart and thus should be considered for regular pension as he has been made to squeeze in service of two years in one year only. Even if we have to go by strict calculations, there can be no doubt that the Reservist Soldiers have put in service of more than 15 years. We know Armed Forces do not pay for over time, but at least they can count the over time for pension. Whether this a justified request or great expectation should be decided with magnanimity and not with the stinginess of an accountant.

Is it too much for a volunteer soldier of Independent India to seek his legitimate due from the government of a professed welfare state? That it took nearly a half century to recognise the sad state of Reservists is a telling commentary on the apathy of our society. We can only hope that it will not take an equal amount time to dispense justice to them.

Relief for Reservists

The legal injury done to each class of Reservists is different, consequently the loss suffered is different and hence the relief that will be sought and due will be varying. Let us consider these aspects for each class of Reservists.

Reservist Pensioners: Their Reserve Service was counted only notionally for making them eligible for pension as they were only granted only 2/3 of regular pension. Thus, their reserve service for which they were paid reserve pay was ignored for fixing the quantum of pension. Counting Reserve Service as actual service makes very good sense as these soldiers were making themselves available for recall any time for defending the nation. Some of these men have actually rendered war service in ‘62, ‘65 and ‘71 on recall from reserve. It is all the more so, when service in civil departments and public sector as well as joint sector undertakings is also counted as pensionable service. As explained above, an Army Jawan squeezes in two days’ work in one day. Thus, all Reservists should be granted regular pension from a date fixed and make them eligible for OROP.

Reservists Discharged with Lump Sum Grant: It appears that these Soldiers and Airmen were made a lucrative offer of Lump Sum Grant in lieu of pension and they chose to receive it. It is quite debatable whether they made an informed choice or were induced to accept what appeared to be lucrative without realising the possible consequences. If we consider the Lump Sum Grant to be 100% commutation of pension, it is liable to be restored after 15 years as it was done in case of Officers who got absorbed in PSUs and received Capital Value of 100% of their pension.

It is quite likely that the Armed Forces Tribunals will agree with this argument and restore their pensions. So, the government should suo moto consider this and make a just policy decision to restore their pension with effect from a prospective date. This will make them eligible for health care in their sunset years as they will be able to join the ECHS.

Soldiers and Airmen discharged without Reserve Service: Enrolment is a contract and both parties to the contract are duty bound to observe the terms and conditions of the contract. Since enrolment is of vital importance to maintaining the numbers in Army etc. this contract entailed subjection to Army etc. Acts which provided for severe punishments like imprisonment for offences like Away Without Leave (AWOL), desertion and disobedience. Further, their position is similar to that of naval personnel who won the case CA 2147/2011 and 8566/2016 wherein the Special Pension was allowed for them.

Like the Navy personnel, the Army and Air Force personnel have been denied Reserve Service and consequently Reserve Pension. Hence it is incumbent on the government to faithfully observe terms of engagement and transfer these Soldiers and Airmen to reserve and grant them pension due to them. Any other course would be an extreme travesty of justice and such a course is not open to Indian government which professes to be a welfare state.

Soldiers and Airmen discharged on Own Request: These men made their requests after observing their seniors being discharged without transfer to reserve and without any pension. The government readily accepted their request and promptly discharged them without any terminal benefits as they were not due for them. It is possible to argue that these soldiers and airmen were driven to request discharge in disgust when they saw the government reneging the terms of enrolment. While strict interpretation of Enrolment Terms might deprive these Soldiers and Airmen any terminal benefit, it behoves the government of a welfare state to take very liberal view of situation and grant at least an Ex-Gratia Pension. In such circumstances, can these men be justly denied their pension and health care in their sunset years?  The government must work out a policy to grant some pension to this category of Soldiers and Airmen possibly on the lines of Special Pension granted to Naval Personnel.

Why did this happen and how many were Affected?

I was unaware of the gravity and sheer enormity of the tragedy worked due to the extremely faulty management of separation process of Reservist Personnel till I started working in ESM community to provide assistance to Veterans. According to the MoD estimates, there are about 6000 reservists alive today. It is possible that about two lakh were affected during three decades when this type of enrolment was in vogue. The terms of enrolment were very iniquitous and no one came up to defend their rights. Almost all institutions of the state failed the ignorant Soldiers and Airmen who offered themselves for enrolment in the fond hope that their own service, government, judiciary will do justice to them.

The government after winning a war with blood and sweat of Soldiers and Airmen, chose to discharge them without even minimum pension. The Service Chiefs failed to protect the interests of the men that gave them the victory in war and it appeared that they could not prevail upon the ministry to do justice in their case. The Parliamentarians did not seem to understand their plight and failed to move the government in the right direction. The courts too did not appreciate the extent of injustice worked out to these reservists and gave only personum judgments in cases filed by Reservists whereas one “rem” judgment in such case would have done justice to all.

Considering the iniquitous Terms of Engagement, wartime service rendered by many of the reservists, and patently illegal violation of the terms of enrolment by the government is it too much to expect grant regular pension of rank held by the reservist at the time of discharge irrespective of the length of service he was allowed to render. Considering the attitude of the civil service and that the political leadership is guided solely by them, there is no hope for reservists from this quarter. I can only hope that this article is treated as an application by the Principal Bench of AFT and appoint an eminent counsel to prepare and file formal OA in the matter.

Gp Capt CRR Sastry (Retd) was commissioned in the Administrative Branch of IAF in December 1977 and held Command, Staff and Instructional appointments. An alumnus of DSSC, Wellington, he specialised in security and legal matters during his service. Post retirement, he serves as a Joint Secretary of Tri-Services Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association (TSEWA) and takes active interest in providing legal aid to Veterans to assert their rights in AFT and other judicial fora. The views expressed in the article are his personal. He can be reached on Email: sastry.crr@gmail.com