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Early retirement fig-leaf on navy exit

New Delhi, March 11: The Centre today decided to treat former navy chief D.K. Joshi’s resignation as “voluntary retirement”.

The government says the move will ensure him full pension benefits but it also effectively alters the official record of his severance from service.

“If we were to treat it as a resignation, he would not be entitled to any benefits,” a defence ministry source claimed.

But this is contested by military-legal experts. “There is a clear difference between resignation and voluntary retirement,” said Maj. Gen. (retired) Nilendra Kumar, who was judge advocate-general, the top military law officer.

“It is too embarrassing for the government that a service chief has resigned because resignation is indicative of some sort of resentment and, to that extent, a protest. Now they want to cover it up and wrap it up as premature retirement.”

Ministry sources said that by treating Joshi’s resignation as voluntary retirement, he would also be able to continue to use his rank (admiral-retired) at official events. The suggestion that the rank could be retained only under such a circumstance also has been challenged by others.

The sources claimed that the ministry had gone out of its way to get him these benefits to honour his 40-year service to the country. It took the permission of the President, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, to grant Joshi the benefits.

Joshi left service on February 26 with 15 months to go till the end of his tenure, hours after learning that two officers were killed in a fire inside the INS Sindhuratna submarine.

In the official history of the government, Joshi’s decision to quit will not reflect the word “resignation” but “voluntary retirement”, ministry sources said.

On the evening of February 26, a defence ministry statement said that the admiral had decided to resign as the chief of naval staff immediately and that the government had accepted his resignation with immediate effect.

All it took, other sources said, was a meeting that lasted less than an hour between Joshi and A.K. Antony in the defence minister’s corner office in South Block. Antony had drawn considerable flak for the quick acceptance and some sources wondered whether the voluntary retirement route has been taken as part of an attempt to redeem the minister’s image.

Kumar, the former judge advocate-general, has said voluntary retirement or premature retirement is granted to officers who are found unfit for service or in a contingency when the officer is required to take up another assignment for the country.

“An explanation at this stage and weeks after the actual incident (of resignation) raises many questions: why wasn’t the mode of separation from service clearly divulged in the first instance? An officer who resigns from the military retains his rank. He is also entitled to various terminal benefits. There are ample precedents,” said Kumar.

He pointed to the resignation of the late general, P.N. Thapar, who quit after India was drubbed in the 1962 war with China.

Kumar also cited the example of Lt Gen. S.K. Sinha, who quit as vice-chief of army staff after he was superseded by Gen. A.S. Vaidya in the 1980s. Lt Gen. Sinha has also been the governor of Assam and of Jammu and Kashmir since leaving service.

Even Admiral (retired) Vishnu Bhagwat, who was removed from service by then defence minister George Fernandes (1998), retains his rank.

“This (the government’s) move raises more questions: in fact, the way it was hastily done — in 40 minutes — do we have to believe that his decision was processed by the defence minister, defence secretary, Prime Minister, the cabinet and the President in that time? Even if a major or a lieutenant colonel wants to resign, it takes three months — were they trying to find a scapegoat?” wondered Kumar.