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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The travails of being a soldier in India!

If the soldier must thank an entity, in the first order the gratitude must move towards not our society but our Constitutional Courts, especially the Delhi and the Punjab & Haryana High Courts, for historically upholding what is due to the soldier and for fiercely standing behind the rights of the ones who guard our borders.

What does one gain by becoming a soldier in this country today? Endless rounds of litigation? Red-tape? Continually fighting against the system, including against the ones tasked with protecting his or her rights?

Hear the story of Maj Arvind Suhag, an officer who had to fight the odds to get what should have logically and effortlessly flown towards him. And none came to his rescue, except our Constitutional Courts.

Maj Suhag is a 100% disabled officer who while undertaking a proper operational move in an operational area (general area Kargil) in a notified operation suffered a disability when his vehicle fell down a gorge. The disability not only resulted in loss of memory and brain damage but also resulted in the officer being rendered bedridden for a very long period. The disability was correctly notified as ‘Battle Casualty’ as per existing rules by the Army.

Litigation with Haryana Government: The Haryana Government provides an ex-gratia amount from the State for disabilities suffered in operational areas which have been declared ‘battle casualties’. The said ex-gratia was refused to him on the pretext that his disability was a result of a ‘vehicle accident’ only. A simplistic and sadistic view to say the least. The officer had to approach the Hon’ble Punjab & Haryana High Court, which in 2010, ruled in favour of the officer and with the following remarks:-

“…Ex-gratia payment is not always, paradoxically, an act of charity….The act of heroism which the statement claims that the petitioner's act did not evoke, is in some sense a wrongly exaggerated expression. I do not see from the terms of the policy that the person must have been there actually placing his fingers on the trigger of a gun or hurling a bomb in military action to be entitled to the promised payment. A person, who is in the place of action at the Army and who suffers an injury in the manner contemplated in the policy, which includes an accident in an operational area that is not due to negligence of the person, could well make a successful claim. If we must give the expression battle casualty any meaning, I would understand it to mean to a situation where a person while actively involved in the military service in an area, which is a battle zone suffers an injury, then it shall be a battle casualty. If there is, therefore, a certificate that the petitioner has suffered a battle casualty (see para 1 above), to take a different view and stonewall the claim of the petitioner from obtaining a benefit of the policy will make meaningless the beneficient and lofty objective which the policy proffers. A State cannot drive a person, who claims a benefit under the policy for a full-fledged adjudication in a Civil Court to ascertain the nature of injury, so long as the policy statement itself does not require any specific mode of proof…”

The amount was paid to the officer by the Haryana Government but the interest awarded by the High Court was not. Thereafter the interest was partially paid when the officer was forced to file a contempt petition in a second round of litigation. The officer still awaits full implementation of the interest part of the judgement rendered by the High Court.

Litigation with Union of India: As would be known to most, operational disabilities in notified operations are eligible for grant of ‘war-injury’ pension rather than regular ‘disability pension’. Though the officer’s case squarely fell within policy and even the Army had declared the disability as ‘battle casualty’, the admissible war injury pension was not released to him forcing him to knock the doors of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT). The Principal Bench of the AFT however dismissed his petition agreeing with the government. Challenging the orders of the AFT, the officer approached the Delhi High Court which has not only granted him the applicable war injury pension but has awarded him 12% interest on the same alongwith costs of Rs 50,000. The following observations of the High Court merit reproduction:-

“…such a narrow interpretation of what is otherwise a widely phrased condition, is unwarranted. This would necessarily imply that those who are on the way – like the petitioner, in an operation-notified area and are intrinsically connected with the success of such operations cannot ever receive war-injury pension even though their aid and assistance is essential and perhaps crucial for its success. The classification of the residual head, i.e. “operations specially notified by the government from time to time” has to be read along with the broad objective of the policy, i.e. - those who imperil themselves – either directly or indirectly – and are in the line of fire during the operations, would be covered if the injuries occur in that area or in the notified area of operation. This is also apparent from the situations covered in Clause (g) and (h) which nowhere deal with battle or war. In fact, clause (h) even covers injuries and death which occurs while personnel are “employed” in the aid of civil power in quelling agitation, riots or revolt by demonstrators” This means that if someone is travelling in the thick of such unrest and the accident results in death or injury, his next of kin would be entitled to war-pension whereas those who actually suffer similar injuries in an area where operations are notified, would not be entitled to such war injury pension…It seems that the military bureaucracy in this case or someone within it felt that since injuries were described more specifically as “accidents” while travelling on duty in government vehicles” – in category (C) of the letter/policy dated 31.01.2011, the petitioner was disentitled to war injury pension. The Tribunal’s bland acceptance of these decisions has regrettably resulted in denial of justice to the petitioner. This Court is, therefore, of the opinion that the impugned order of the Tribunal cannot be sustained. The petitioner’s claim for grant of war injury pension in terms of Clause 4.1(E)(i) has to succeed…In parting, this Court cannot resist observing that when individuals place their lives on peril in the line of duty, the sacrifices that they are called upon to make cannot ever be lost sight of through a process of abstract rationalisation as appears to have prevailed with the respondents and with the Tribunal…He, like any other personnel, operated under extremely trying circumstances unimaginable to those not acquainted with such situations. The cavalier manner in which his claim for war injury pension was rejected by the respondents, who failed to give any explanation except adopt a textual interpretation of Clauses (C) and (E), is deplorable. In these circumstances, the petitioner deserves to succeed…”

Four rounds of litigation and the officer succeeded, would a jawan or his family afford such litigation? Isn't it ironical that the State or the organizations which are to care and comfort our men and women in uniform assume an adversarial role by embracing literal interpretation and sticking to the letter and not to the spirit of beneficial provisions? It is yet another matter that the Supreme Court in UOI Vs Harjinder Singh’s case has already upheld that even natural illnesses in operational areas would entitle a person to ‘war injury pension’, but then the textual interpretations of the officialdom seem to have more sanctity than judicial pronouncements in our country.

Who shall cry for the Indian soldier? 


Anonymous said...

What people and what country to serve for and lay down ones life for ????? We have been under Mughal and British rule for centuries because as a nation we do not honour,respect and care adequately for the soldiers.

ramanan said...

Thank you, Maj Navdeep Singh Saab, for having brought this timely article. Really this type of attitude of the Govt. very well discourage young ones to keep aloof from joining the forces. Their mind will set for a lucrative vocation apart from Govt jobs even looting,robbery, cheating etc., unbecoming of a normal citizen. God only has to save us.

Anonymous said...

The condition of the lower rank personnel, particularly of the ORs can be easily improved without compromising service or national interest and without Govt's or politician's extra approval if and only if authorities within the armed forces have any interest to do so. However, in maximum cases it is observed that misery of the personnel started due to implementation of different HR policies as experiment on the ORs. Now if the 7th pay commission is done by the military bosses, where the ORs will stand after that!!!

Wg Cdr DK Bhardwaj said...

Maj Navdeep;

You have been silently raising and fighting the issues of defence forces personnel, retired or serving. Kudos to you.

I am not surprised at the attitude of State Govt. Supreme Court should have penalised the officers and staff who caused pain to the officer and made the State Govt publish an at least 1/2 page advertisement in vernacular and English dailies with an apology.

The print media and visual media too should have been directed to expose the officials by name and Minister in charge asked for explanation.


I think, this case as well as other cases of similar nature need to be sent to three service chiefs with request to bring these to the notice of the Govt to sort them out once for all.When ever cases take place all Chiefs should intervene and sort out such cases with the Govt.At least now all ranks suffering from such cases,should be brought to the notice of three service Chiefs to sort out with the Govt.Service chiefs have take active roll as all rank are laying their life under their Command.I think it his primary duty to look after their command failing which their command may fail to achieve the objectives which they want for Govt/Nation,which may be disastrous for the Govt/Nation as well as for him.THIS IS VERY VERY SERIOUS FOR THE CHIEFS/MOD/GOVT.

Anonymous said...

Very sad story. There is some introspect need to be done by higher echelons of the defence forces. Most of the injustice cases (90%)could be attributed to service HQs. The service HQs have to sit and update the current rules and regulations and streamline in-line with 'Law of the Land (judgement of supreme court)'. May be then these type of injustice cases would come down. I think service HQrs are expecting a 'messiah' in MOD to do these work.

Sreenivasa S said...

If every one in up stream even think like most COs think solves half problem, unfortunate part is once you are out of CO's chair you stop thinking the same way!!

Need to make people understand the need of magnanimity to improve people's interest in OUR ARMED FORCES.
Hopes it comes true

Anonymous said...

The pathetic state of the Indian Fauji is ....well ...quite pathetic.
The nation cares neither for its living nor dead soldiers, the Govt is worried more about reactions from the Paki establishment regarding general issues than from its own citizenry.
Our military bosses lack the basic spine and will to do the harder right. Sycophancy is encouraged and instilled in our system thro the steep heirarchy. When only one in five Lt Cols make it to the red tabs, how can u expect truthful representations of events and situations. Fear of reprisals thro bad ACRs, transfers to remote areas etc make the Fauji a scared man. And to top it all we have a Useless MoD which has paper tigers
who have all the power vested in them.
I feel, fear and pray for the common soldier and officer upto Lt Col rank.

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt that the entire backlog of MoD cases can be resolved in 6 months by mutual discussions with the victims, if only there was a will to do so.

We cant even beat the civilians, how can we hope for a victory over the Chinese or Paki

Library for Retired Defence Personnel said...

I feel that though it is late, it is not too late for all the Political parties in the State to consider the Welfare of Retired Armed Forces Personnel and for Special Attention of Legal Heirs of Deceased Armed Forces personnel.

Today the man power with quality and efficiency is satisfactory. I am afraid this level may not remain the same after 10 years or so as I predict that young TALENTED and EFFICIENT personnel may not join Armed Forces. A young man who joins the Armed Forces in the age of 18 years, retires almost in the age of 40 years after sacrificing his BLOSSOM OF YOUTH for the cause of protecting the country from intruders and warfare.

I suggest, that all the Political parties to re-think and implement the needful change by taking immediate attention and action.

Ex-JWO Edward Michael

rajat said...

I think the real problem lies within the establishment who themselves are not well read and know the rules and regulations. When people taken on the role of self styled protectors of the organisation and find only ways and means to kerb rightful dues to show their power that these things take place. It is important that the officer and jawans be educated on the rightful financial dues as given by the Govt. of India to them. It is sad that a large majority of funds in various code heads or either not asked for or returned without utilisation due to poor knowledge level and an attitude to prevent others masses from benefiting from it. till the time the house within is not sorted out less can be expected from outsiders who have no personal stake in the cases of the forces.

PBOR said...

मैं बोलूँगा तो बोलोगे कि बोलता है

BC said...

Dear All,

I am also a BC, when I fws my case for Ex-gratia claim from J&K Govt. Army did not progress my case. In fact the case was rejected stating the injury I sustained was not in direct enemy action.
Eight years have passed, fortunately I have all the documents with me, please advice me from which channel I should restart the case. Can this instant order of HC sufficient for Army to act?
Please advice.

Anonymous said...

It is always the officer, not the State, who thinks of the soldier. - Sir John Fortescue, History of the British Army

Library for Retired Defence Personnel said...

At present the qualification required to be a member of the state Legislative and member of Parliament is:
(i) Should be a citizen of India (ii) not less than 25 yrs of age to be a MLA and not less than 30 yrs as per Article 173 of Indian Constitution to be member of the Legislative council (iii) should be he himself is a voter from any constituency of the state.

Now what I suggest is to include a new clause (iv) One of his/her kin either father, brother, son or daughter must be a serving or retired Armed Force Person.

Such MPs and MLAs are bound to have good knowledge regarding Pros and Cons of our Armed Forces and serving/retired defence personnel. This in-turn in long run will produce very good result for our country with population of about 121 crore

Ex-JWO Edward Michael.

arvind patil said...

as has been rightly brought out by maj navdeep, imagine the plight of PBORs similiarly affected. in fact, i would certainly be interested to know about the MT vehicle's driver and other occupants, if any.
rules are interpreted by MOD's babus sitting on plush chairs in AC offices, hardly aware of situation in op areas or the pers manning them.

Anonymous said...

It is rightfully said, " God and soldiers are remembered in war and forgotten in peace". By the way whose army is it anyway? The org top brass, politicians and bureaucrats should wake up before its too late!!

Anonymous said...

We are a Fauj which has been easily defeated by the civilians in all battles:
The MES gives us shabby accomodation with shabbier maintenance, long waiting periods for Housing, months to repair a geyser, tap or a fan.
The CDA is manned by (unaccountable) officers and vengeful / jealous clerks and accounts officers. The main aim seems to be to bring a Service Officer running to them...and our brethren oblige by calling a clerk 'Saab' and an ACDA as Sir just to clear a claim or an audit observation. Can this accounts officer run an Army with his vast knowledge of how to deny a service person his due benefits.
Each MoD civilian behaves as though they are the ones running an operational Brigade or AHQ.
The senior lot havent got the guts nor knowledge to resolve any issue created by the civilians; in fact they cosy up to the Babus for some favour that they may need in future.
How can these Top brass be respected by a soldier or JCO?


Press Information Bureau
Government of India
Ministry of Defence
20-March-2013 16:35 IST
Acute Shortage of Jawans

There is no significant shortage of Personnel Below Officers Rank (PBORs) and Airmen in Army and Air Force respectively. However, there is a more significant shortage of such personnel in Navy.

The needs of security are being met by the optimum utilization of the available strength by prioritization of activities, use of technology and reliance on the high motivation of the personnel.

Recruitment has been increased to address the shortage of sailors in Navy. Induction plans in respect of all Branches/Trades of sailors have been made taking into consideration the training capacity of ab-initio and downstream training institutions.

This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Kaptan Singh Solanki in Rajya Sabha today.