Major Navdeep Singh
“All’s fair in love and war” was the answer I got from a responsible officer of the Ministry of Defence when I pointed out that his Ministry had recently cited an outdated Naval Pension Regulation before the Supreme Court to get a case decided in its favour. Is it a war that we are waging against our veterans? I cringe at the very thought.
The problem runs deep. While officers from the uniformed services and the IAS come and go, no offence meant but those others permanently ensconced in the Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces Headquarters, on whom we tend to over-rely, rule the roost. There is a feeling amongst key intermediary appointments that defence personnel with their subsidised liquor and free ration are already a pampered lot and that they do not deserve more, and hence every single welfare related attempt by the defence services is firewalled with notings on file which become difficult to counter. In all welfare related spheres, the rules and regulations are diametrically opposed to annals of logic. Pensionary provisions are the worst with so many cut-off dates, irrational stipulations and categories within categories that a count becomes difficult to keep. An Honorary Naib Subedar who retired after 1st January 2006 would get the pension of a regular Naib Subedar but a similarly placed person who retired prior to the said date would get the pension of a Havildar. A 100% disabled General who retired in 2006 would get Rs 27,000 as disability pension while an officer of the same rank with the same disability who retired in 2005 would get less than Rs 6000. In a socially retrograde move, a widow who re-married prior to 2006 would lose her right to ordinary family pension but not the one who re-married after 2006. It seems the government is regressively opposed to re-marriage of widows who unfortunately lost their husbands prior to 2006.
The list is never-ending. The bare fact that the defence services have the highest rate of pension related litigation in the country should have led to some revolutionary changes, but nothing positive seems to be happening on ground and the Pension department of the Defence Ministry continues to be operationalised by a single officer who runs the show and thrusts his decisions on millions of pensioners in stark contrast to the democratic and well oiled Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare on the civil side. An overhaul is also required of how our medical boards are functioning and the rules related to grant of disability benefits. The system of determining whether disabilities are ‘attributable to, or aggravated by military service’ also requires a re-look since our guidelines in this regard are more mathematical and less medical. For example, for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to be declared as service-related, we are still governed by the otiose requirement that a person needs to be posted in a field area for a particular length of time, or for instance the requirement that the symptoms should manifest themselves within 3 months of being denied leave in case of the death of a parent when the individual happens to be the only son whereas modern medical science has now proved that the manifestation of such symptoms has no relation with length of operational service and can even happen instantly due to one solitary incident which may happen in a single day and can at times occur as a case of delayed onset even five years after a stressful event. And cannot a person be affected if he is not the ‘only’ son and would not the problem be service-connected if the symptoms arise say after three & a half months rather than the mathematical guideline of 3 months? While psychiatric disorders need to be examined on a case by case basis, we are still stuck in the primitive times with numerical yardsticks. Leave aside medical science, it is understood even by a layman that psychiatric disorders are commonly aggravated by issues such as education of children, property disputes, family problems back home etc when the person is deployed on military duty, peace or field. For cardiovascular disorders, the charter of duties of last 14 days prior to the problem is considered and service-connection is only granted if any stress and strain is observed in the said period. However it is common knowledge that such diseases manifest on account of stress and strain experienced over a long period of time and a 14 days window has no medical relevance whatsoever. Too much mathematical emphasis is laid on field service forgetting that there can be high pressure appointments in peace stations too which can result in far greater stress than field stations.
The malaise can only be addressed if the defence services start posting upcoming and brilliant officers in the service directorates dealing with manpower and personnel services who constructively provide their inputs to the process of decision-making and act as a counter-balance on elements who harbour an erroneous feeling that faujis are already getting more than they deserve. The element of sadism also needs to be curbed. If the feeling at the decision making level remains ‘why should he / she get what I am not getting’, then it would be an exercise in futility to expect anything productive, and in that event, the war against veterans, especially against disabled soldiers, war-wounded, widows and pensioners, shall continue unabated.