Close on the heels of a similar issue raised by Ms Smriti Irani in the Parliament last year, Mr Derek O’Brien (TMC) has raised the subject of irresponsible litigation by the Ministry of Defence against its own disabled soldiers.
The Defence fraternity should be thankful to both Ms Irani and Mr O’Brien for taking a stand for our soldiers.
It is a cause for alarm that 90% of the Ministry of Defence’s cases pending in Courts are against pension claims of its own disabled soldiers. The Ministry has been denying pension claims of soldiers on shallow pretexts like the disability occurred in peaceful conditions and not in an active war zone. Military boards have also been rejecting diseases such as neurosis and schizophrenia for being ‘constitutional’ in nature and not aggravated by service conditions. In contrast, pension claims for such diseases are routinely allowed by medical boards of Central Armed Police Forces under the Home Ministry.
Even though the Supreme Court has rendered a series of judgments in favour of the soldiers’ claims, the Ministry of Defence has continued to files appeals against claims at all stages. While the Income Tax Department does not go to the Supreme Court till the amount involved is more than Rs 25 lakhs, the Ministry of Defence has been dragging wounded soldiers to the Supreme Court for amounts as small as a few thousand rupees. Most soldiers cannot afford the costs of protracted litigation and are forced to abandon their claims.
It is shameful that tax payers’ money is being used to field top lawyers and pay exorbitant legal fees in an attempt to deny our soldiers their rightful dues. I strongly urge the Government to ensure that bureaucratic hurdles in the release of pensions are removed at the earliest. The Ministry must cease filing frivolous appeals and grant our soldiers the respect they deserve.
Though the rules of granting disability pension are inherently very liberal and also endorsed as such by the Supreme Court in the recent judgement of Dharamvir Singh Vs Union of India, yet many cases of disabilities arising during military service are restrictively and hyper-technically declared ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service’ by the MoD leading to denial of disability pension to disabled soldiers. Also military personnel with non-service related disabilities discharged with less than 10 years of service are not entitled to any form of pension leading to denial of the right to live a life of dignity, whereas the employment of civilian employees on being disabled is protected under Section 47 of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 enabling them to earn full pension. Majority of appeals and SLPs filed by MoD before the Supreme Court are against their own disabled soldiers on the specious ground that Courts and Tribunals have granted relief against Defence Ministry’s policy.
More than one lac retired defence personnel have been affected.
Ironically, far from safeguarding the welfare of retired soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of them disabled from battle injuries or the bleak conditions of service, the DESW stonewalls and holds off payment until an ex-serviceman claimant is either dead or broke
In view of the above, I urge the Government to intervene in the matter to resolve the issue and ensure that soldiers who made sacrifices for the Nation get their rightful and respectful due.
The Prime Minister must also take immediate steps to rein in the staff of the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW), which till date, has been able to misguide and mislead the political executive on this very important subject.