On this blog, and elsewhere, I have been repeatedly pointing out the unfairness of the system towards our disabled soldiers.
Shocking it is that while a civilian employee cannot even be discharged on account of disability, some soldiers are not only discharged but also denied their disability pension by mechanically declaring their disabilities as neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service. It is yet another issue that most disabilities actually fall within the four corners of attributability/aggravation as per rules but are not considered as so by the establishment due to a literal and perfunctory interpretation of the applicable rules. Of course, when there is a positive finding returned to the effect by judicial bodies, the system is quick to challenge such findings out of egotism rather than accepting such decisions with grace, empathy and sympathy.
In line with the judgement of the Supreme Court last year in Dharamvir Singh vs Union of India, which was also followed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in its landmark and detailed judgement titled Umed Singh vs Union of India, the Supreme Court has now rendered another detailed judgement on the subject which should wake up the establishment. The strong words of the highest Court of the land again go to show that more than any other entity, it is our Constitutional Courts that are more concerned for the dignity, livelihood and morale of our soldiers.
In this case, a soldier recruited in 2000 was released on medical grounds in 2002 without disability pension since his disability was considered as neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service by a military medical board. Needless to state, the rules clearly stipulate that a member is presumed to be in sound health when he or she joins service and any deterioration in health is presumed to be due to service. Further, the rules also provide that soldiers would not be called upon to prove their entitlement and shall receive the benefit of any reasonable doubt.
Granting the soldier his due disability pension, the Supreme Court had this to opine on the issue:
....We are not a little surprised that although the Rules or Regulations (Chapter VII of the Regulations for the Medical Services of the Armed Forces, 1983) specifically postulate the formation of Invalidation Medical Boards, they do not set out the medical parameters justifying or requiring serviceman/officer to be removed from service. This feature renders decisions taken by such Boards pregnable to assaults on the grounds of capriciousness or arbitrariness, and this is especially so where the extent of the disability is below twenty per cent. Can the Authorities be permitted to portray that whilst a person has so minor a disability as to disentitle him for compensation, yet suffers from a disability that is major or serious enough to snatch away his employment?
We, just as every other citizen of India, would be extremely disturbed if the Authorities are perceived as being impervious or unsympathetic towards members of the Armed Forces who have suffered disabilities, without receiving any form of recompense or source of sustenance, since these are inextricably germane to their source of livelihood.
We are of the persuasion, therefore, that firstly, any disability not recorded at the time of recruitment must be presumed to have been caused subsequently and unless proved to the contrary to be a consequence of military service. The benefit of doubt is rightly extended in favour of the member of the Armed Forces; any other conclusion would be tantamount to granting a premium to the Recruitment Medical Board for their own negligence. Secondly, the morale of the Armed Forces requires absolute and undiluted protection and if an injury leads to loss of service without any recompense, this morale would be severely undermined...
Salute to our Constitutional Courts! Jai Hind.