We've discussed it before.
While most of us are busy talking of high-sounding operational and strategic aspects of the military, the threat of the dragon, the cradles of terrorism around us etc, we are conveniently missing out on improving the day to day quality of life of service-members and veterans.
Could we just spare a moment from bothering about our pensions, or disability awards, or allowances, or ACRs or good postings for those who do not have a mouth, or a mouthpiece, or those who are facing the worst war possible initiated by the official establishment, whether bureaucratic or military. It’s easy for me to theoretically say this for I know that one who would risk his or her career for a cause beyond the charter of duties would be a rare breed. The one who is ambitious would not go out of the way or think beyond the box, and the one who has nothing to look forward to would not be adequately rewarded even if it is done, so he or she rather not do it.
The pitfalls of a steep competitive pyramid. It is understandable.
I know that certain issues raised by me in the past stand resolved to a certain degree and others not, the reason is not the lack of intention to resolve but again the noting sheet culture wherein a couple of officers in key appointments would justify their actions on minute sheets and file notings whereas the upper echelons, due to lack of expertise or time, or both, would not be able to see the reality through the reams of paper chase.
Bad decisions do not hurt, sadism does. And it is not hard to find around us. I would quote a few live recent examples how we are making our own suffer and how we are unable to rein in the unruliness in our behaviour. This behaviour makes the future seem rather bleak. With nobody to own up or take up on their behalf, these people suffer in silence.
The Case of Ex-Naik Suraj Bhan of the
Regiment : Invalided out after being
discharged on medical grounds. Extensively served in Counter Insurgency and had
a fall while deployed in OP Prakram after which he developed psychiatric
symptoms. The medical board declared his disability as aggravated by service
but he wasn’t granted disability pension since the CDA declared his disability
as ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service’. He was boarded out
after 9 years of service without any kind of pension. Later he was also forcibly
made to attend an appeal medical board while provisions after the 5th
CPC provide that an appeal medical board can only be held on a person’s own
request and that too cannot go into the question of attributability/aggravation
but only into the extent (percentage) of disability. Though the soldier was
fully covered under the rules for grant of disability pension, the ex Naik had
to fight a long battle in the Court and ultimately the Punjab & Haryana
High Court by way of a detailed judgement granted him disability pension.
Despite the pension, he today lives an unfulfilled life, is in a bad shape,
physically and mentally, mostly remains without clothes the entire day and is kept
locked in a room. He cannot sign, he cannot communicate, he cannot look after
his wife and children. But what hurts is that despite all this, the Punjab
Regimental Records first filed an appeal before the Division Bench of the High
Court, which was again decided in favour of the soldier and now have managed to
process the case for filing of an SLP in the Supreme Court. The family of the
soldier has now received a notice from the Hon’ble Supreme Court to appear
before it to defend his case. Where does the family go, isn’t all this
devastating for them, can they afford legal help in the SC? Ten years after his
invalidation and three years after he won his case in the High Court, here we
are, the official establishment taking the most extreme course and directing
its sadism onto a man who cannot even sign his own vakalatnama.
The case of Hav Rakesh Kumar : An ace shooter of the Amy Marksmanship Unit (AMU), he won three national awards. One day in Mhow, he went with another member of the AMU to get his new uniform from a tailor which he was to wear for an interview the next day. They met with a hit and run accident. He was on duty and not on leave and he was not doing anything which was inconsistent with his military profile. Still the Court of Inquiry declared his disability as ‘neither attributable nor aggravated by service’ without going into proper circumstances. The most disturbing part was that the CoI was conducted at his back while he was lying in a hospital bed in another city and that it carried his perfect signatures on his statement on a date when he was not even present where the CoI had supposedly taken place and when his right hand was in a state of disuse. He was boarded out when the Army thought he was not longer useful in shooting because of his head and right arm injury. Refused disability pension, he approached the Armed Forces Tribunal which also rejected his case on the ground of the conclusion by the CoI and that he was riding a ‘private motorcycle’ at the time of disability. Now imagine if this man had been a civilian employee. Not only he would have served till the age of 60 with full pension, but his entire family, expenditure etc would have been taken care of. Whom do you blame? The person for fortuitously meeting with an accident? or the system? or the Presiding officer who conducted the CoI? or the Formation Commander who signed it? Please do not blame Subedar Vijay Kumar if he leaves the Army soon, notwithstanding the accolades.
Brig TS Sekhon’s case : The retired officer had a cardiac emergency while visiting
and had to undergo an
emergency procedure. It was certified by Indian, military as well as German
doctors that the case was an emergent procedure. The cost incurred was also not
very high and was in fact lower than what would have cost here in Germany . ECHS medical
reimbursement as an emergency case was refused to him on the pretext that the
policy did not cover emergencies outside India . This statement itself was
false since there is no such prohibition in the policy, the policy merely
states that emergent procedures can be reimbursed at govt rates. The Armed
Forces Tribunal in 2010 directed the govt to release the amount at govt
approved rates. Today, we are in 2012, the amount has still not been reimbursed
and the officer has been informed that an appeal is being filed in the SC
against the AFT verdict. What astounds is the fact that the cost of appeal
would ultimately be more than the cost to be reimbursed, and moreover, the SC
itself has already held in a number of cases that a medical emergency knows no
national boundaries and is to be reimbursed at Indian rates even if it happens
in foreign shores. Meanwhile, the veteran waits! India
Non-grant of attributability/aggravation by medical boards : It has been discussed on this blog before as to how our system of assessing disabilities is less medical and more mechanical. Lesser said the better. Having been associated with similar cases for more than a decade now, I can safely say that the actions of the military medical establishment are less than desirable. They do not understand that simply by writing ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service’ blindly and mathematically, they are taking away not only the service from a person but also his right to receive pension, the right of livelihood of his family, the service facilities and benefits from him & his family and the right to live a life of dignity. Why should then a person join the services? Why not join any other service on the civil side? The establishment needs to make its procedures more humane and oriented towards humanity. It may be just a stroke of a pen for a military doctor but it makes a whole world of a difference to a disabled soldier and his family for all times to come. Most of disabled soldiers are denied pension when disabilities are labelled constitutional, idiopathic or with an ‘unknown cause’ whereas rules provide that the benefit of doubt must go to service-members in such cases. The M-Block is not ready to relent, but it should wake up since times are changing, and it is these small little things which make us a laughing stock and military service one of the most unattractive services in the whole damn country.
I’ve said it before. Wake up before it’s too late. Be a little less selfish. Especially for those in uniform, you are not powerless, think of the difference you can make, think of what you can do for your peers in your own little ways. Think beyond the next rank and the next ACR, think of life beyond service when you would join the teeming ranks of those you call ‘cribbers’ or ‘burden on the system’ today.