Agony of Indian Navy Fleet Reservist Sailors
(Post independence to 3rd August 1976)
Over the last few years, there have been several petitions surging from various parts of the country acting like waves of refrain from the murky pension scheme of the Indian Navy for sailors recruited after independence until 3rd July 1976. In complete sync with the usual scheme of things in our country, the ones adversely affected are the ordinary sailors – “seamen” or “boys” or “artificers’ of the Navy and never commissioned officers. In the current Special Leave Petitions and Civil Appeals pending before the Supreme Court, the sailors had joined the Indian Naval Service by enrolling for 10 years active service and 10 years fleet reserve liability vide statutory certificates of service most of whom are war heroes including most decisive war India has fought after independence Indo-Pak War 1971.
Under pension reg 79, the entire service period including 10 years active and 10 years fleet reserve period shall qualify for pension entitlement. However, on the completion of their tenure, the Navy denied these sailors pension on several grounds. Reasoning resembles tale of “the Lion and the Lamb”. The minimum service required to earn pension as a sailor is 15 years (reg 78). According to the Navy and the Armed Forces Tribunals (“AFT”) Delhi under the chairmanship of a retired Supreme Court Judge A.K. Mathur the 10 years spent in fleet reserve does not count as the sailors were “not required” even though there were no specific endorsement on the certificate of service issued by the Navy. In cases where one was not transferred specific endorsement “Not drafted to fleet reserve as not required” was made. This was brought to the notice of the Tribunal. Nevertheless, Tribunal held that by the virtue of a govt circular dated 3rd July 1976 sailors were not required although sailors were recruited way back in 1966 for a period of 10 years active + 10 years fleet reservist service. Surprisingly, the Tribunal not only failed to read/notice that the circular merely discontinued transferring sailors, on completion of active service, to a Fleet Reserve registry, bi-ennial training and payment of retainer fees ( just to save on costs) and not the Fleet reservist category as such but also totally ignored the well settled principle of promissory estoppel, S. 184A of the Navy Act that protects all accrued rights and benefits of sailors as also Regn 269 (1B)(a).The circular provided that all new recruit sailors be engaged for a minimum of 15 years active service enabling them to earn service pension, which has been increased to 20 years in 1987. The navy claims that the fleet reservist cadre was abolished in 1976, which is false. Even after 20 years service one is kept in fleet reserve for 3 to 5 years but not transferred to Fleet Reserve. It clearly shows that the country cannot afford to have an empty fleet reserve.
If it is true and Navy /Govt still insist that there is no Fleet Reservist since 1976 then all decision makers to be tried for treason because it would be against public policy to expose the country and its people to irreparable security risk for want of a trained and adequate reserve force to protect its 7,500 kms coast line, high seas, off-shore oil fields and natural resources in a national crisis/war.
The judgment of AFT Delhi had a cascading effect. Kochi and Bombay AFTs slavishly followed that judgment without application of mind and realizing devastating effect. Both AFTs have a retired Vice- Admiral as administrative member.
Now back to the petitioners’ case. Apart from regulation 78 which specifies that they are entitled to receiving pension, the initial bond signed by the petitioners also mentions contractual period of engagement which says “to serve for 10 years in active service and 10
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years in fleet reserve from the date of expiry of initial engagement of 10 years active”. In the case of The Secretary to Government v K.G. Radhakrishnan Nair with the same issue, the High Court of Kerala in 2011 held that, “Even apart from the technicalities as to whether the discharge of the respondent from reservist service was at his request or otherwise, it is an admitted fact that the respondent has spent almost 15 prime years of life in the service of the navy as Seaman and as a Reservist in the Indian Fleet Reserve. It is unfortunate that, in spite of all this, the authorities are taking refuge on the technical plea that his reservist service cannot be added to the naval service to deny the legitimate claim of the respondent for pension.” AFT Chennai granted relief to fleet reservists following the principles of promissory estoppel. Navy Challenged that decision before the apex court, Hearing is on 4th July 2014.
The cases also discuss the doctrine of promissory estoppel which prevents one party from withdrawing a promise made to a second party if the latter has reasonably relied on that promise. All sailors relied on and agreed to the contractual promise that was made by the navy. If not agreed or accepted, one cannot be recruited. In another series of very recent petitions revolving around the same issue of denied pensions, the bench in AFT Chandigarh stated that the navy could not change the terms and conditions of the original enrolment unilaterally as they were bound by the promissory estoppels evolved by the Indian court and the Supreme Court of the country.
Another point in question is the differential treatment of pensions under the Indian Air Force and Army and the Navy. While the navy has a 20 year service period, the army and the air force have a total of 15 years (9 active and 6 in reserve). AFT Kolkata recently (13th February 2013 in OA 99 of 2012) granted pension to an airman who was discharged from reserve after utilizing his services during Indo-China war in 1962 before he could complete his 15 years service.
If one wants to work for the navy, the website says that one of the perks of joining the navy is the pension after completion of requisite service, can be seen here – http://www.nausena-bharti.nic.in/pay_perks_sailor.php. As it stands today, the sailors who joined the navy believing that they would have a steady pension after serving in wars look on from one forum to the next in the hope that their pension gets granted.
To conclude, all the three forces are notorious for denying pension to other ranks. They behave as British Lion and other ranks as lambs /slaves. This is a serious national issue. Late Lal Bahadur Sastri, former PM raised a slogan “ Jai Jawan Jai Kishan”. After his demise now its “ Jai General Jai Zamindar”. This attitude needs to change without any further delay and the apex court only can correct this historic blunder, if it wishes to.