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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Supreme Court overturns decision of Armed Forces Tribunal whereby disability pension was denied to a soldier and endorses the link between domestic commitments vis-a-vis military service leading to aggravation of psychiatric disorders

Readers of this blog would be aware that umpteen number of times the connection between domestic factors and military service leading to an effect on the psychological health of soldiers has been raised by me to which our system seems oblivious. Besides other posts, the issue has been discussed threadbare in this post dated 30 May 2013 and more recently in this op-ed on StratPost dated 15 May 2014, the following lines of which address the issue:

Rules promulgated by the Government state that if the cause of the disability cannot be identified, then disability pension is to be granted to the individual by taking the disability as attributable to service, but in practice, in such cases disability pension admissibility is rejected by stating that pension cannot be awarded since the ‘cause is unknown’ or that the disease is a ‘constitutional disease’. Psychiatric disabilities, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even worrying trends of suicides and fratricide are being ignored and mostly being wrongly linked to ‘domestic reasons’ thereby obliterating a connection with military service so as to keep negative propaganda at bay, rather than looking within. But this approach is not only a disservice to our soldiers but also cowardly whereby eyes are closed to an issue which should engage us and which has a direct link with military life.

A soldier spends most of his service life in his unit and away from his family, blaming such occurrences on ‘domestic reasons’ may be the easy way out to escape responsibility but hardly moral, ethical or legal. And then there are certain provisions that our commanders, doctors and even those deciding entitlements sitting in tall towers in Delhi are unaware of. A succinct example would be, that as per rules, even suicides are to be declared as ‘attributable to military service’ if the occurrence is in a high altitude or isolated area, and this has been the rule position since 1937 when the British codified this aspect. But why would anybody want to go deep and study such issues, scratching the surface is much easier, even if it leads to deleterious consequences to the entitlements of our soldiers and their widows.

To deny benefits, at times it is remarked that such disabilities may also have arisen had the particular person not been in the Army. Very well. Here is a person who is 24 hours and 365 days on call under a stern disciplinary code, mostly away from family, in a strictly regimented routine, retires in his 30s, and can he be simplistically compared with say a civilian employee who goes to office at 9 in the morning to return at 5, five days a week, lives with his family in his hometown, enjoys holidays, retires at 60?. It shouldn’t take an expert to reply in the negative.

While a solider is away on military duty, wouldn’t common ailments such as hypertension or heart diseases or seizures or psychiatric disabilities or psychosomatic disorders get aggravated by even seemingly insignificant incidents at the home-front like admissions or non-performance of children in educational institutions, minor property disputes, lack of care of aged parents and family back home, insensitivity of civil administration and the like?


Thankfully, this reality has found favour with the Supreme Court in a recently pronounced decision in a case where a schizophrenic solider, K Srinivasa Reddy, had challenged the verdict of the Chennai Bench of Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) which had rejected his plea for disability pension on the pretext that the disability had been declared ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service’ by a military medical board. Most importantly, while setting aside the order of the AFT, the Supreme Court has in effect observed in its decision that aggravation is bound to occur in such situations since soldiers are torn between their domestic commitments and call of duty. The Supreme Court has once again reiterated that a disability is to be presumed as having been caused due to service conditions as also provided under the rules unless the medical board assigns reasons as to how the disability was such that it could not be detected at the time of acceptance into service. Of course, our medical boards or the locally and crudely produced Guide to Medical Officers (Military Pensions) which takes no notice of what medical research has gone into its publication, cannot override what is provided under the rules promulgated by the Government of India which duly favour such disabled soldiers.

This brings me to yet another aspect. Forget about negative findings, even when medical boards return a positive finding of attributability or aggravation favouring our soldiers, the Services HQ are administratively terming many disabilities as ‘neither attributable/nor aggravated’. Of course, this is contemptuous since the Supreme Court had way back in 1993 held that once a medical board was in favour of an individual, the declaration of attributability/aggravation could not be overturned by administrative authorities. The reason being put across by the Services HQ is that officers of the Defence Accounts Department (DAD) do not agree to grant of disability pension in many cases even if the medical board is in favour of an officer/soldier. This attitude however is highly objectionable since most of the committees and bodies handling the grant of disability pension are headed by senior service officers and officers of the DAD are merely individual members of such committees. In case, if it is the DAD which is to prevail, then the question arises that what is the use of having such multi-member committees at all? or what is the purpose of having senior serving military officers as the heads of such committees? Instead we can then just have a single member committee consisting of one officer of the DAD who can deal with the futures of our thousands of disabled troops with the nameplate ‘GOD’ placed outside his or her office! 

What is more valuable or binding on us? Rules and decisions of our Apex Court and the agony of our soldiers OR the personal opinion of one junior member of a sarkari committee who can illegally dictate his or her terms to the seniormost uniformed officers who blindly fall in line?


Think. Introspect. Look within.

14 comments:

Ajit Singh said...

Intention of SC that disability be presumed attributable to military service unless medical board assign reasons that such disability could not be detected at time of joining the service. Affected paras of AFMSF Form need change keeping in view SC latest judgments on the subject or otherwise stereo type "Y/N/Could be" will continue and result there of.Thanks Maj Navdeep Singh for updating the subject matter.

A. Sunder Rajan said...

Dear Navdeep,
Well said. I agree our medical boards, administrative committees and the DAD have to be humane and compassionate while dealing with, soldiers disabilities , both physical and mental.
Kudos to the Supreme Court for their judgement in over turning the Chennai AFT. Many thanks to you too for relentlessly following sch cases.God Bless You and your Family for the noble work that you are doing.
Best Wishes,
Col A. Sunder Rajan

Ashish Prakash Sharma said...

Dear Maj Singh. Your article is an eye opener and you have very aptly brought out the agony of the soldiers. A lot needs to be done as in India the armed forces are remembered only in times of need and calamity. The Civil Services rule and generally in their view the defence personal has not emotions, problems or genuine needs. - AP Sharma, Lucknow.

Lt Col G K Mohan Rao said...

This is a land mark judgement by apex court. When any body taken into defence forces one is taken as cat aye or cat SHAPE-1(officers)it means they are fit in all respects with out any inherent diseases/traits. So where is the question of inherent disease/trait which has cropped up in later service. If at all it is cropped up later then it is due to stress and strain of service conditions and is attributable.The phrase aggravated should be deleted in the medical boards as is quite often used by them

ParvezJ said...

BRAVO ! BRAVO ! OBVIOUS SUPREME COURT IS THE ONLY, ONLY; ALLIE OF THE FAUJIS ! ALL OTHERS ARE FRAUDS & FALSE PROMISES PURVEYORS !

Anonymous said...

Thanks Navdeep for for elaborating all aspects.it is educative and will help veterans.i am one of the suffreras I was denied disability pension initially but granted later on when I fought the case

Anonymous said...

SIR, I have been a regular follower of your post. My only prayer to god is that somehow your posts should reach and be read in letter and spirit by those who are at the top and creating winds of change and also Civil staff who Intentionally or otherwise undo the years of hardship faced by military community.
Kudos to you for fighting for this noble cause and for Brave hearts who are battling our own.

Anonymous said...

Why our soldiers are required to fight for everything even after retirement or disability? Why we don't broaden our view and think about our families whp are ultimate sufferers .I served in IAF.I had some psychiatric problems in my early service just after my marriage. I am very thankful to my superior officers and psy . officer who made alright but I can tell
you psychological problems arises with impact of many reasons. It is high time we should realise the fact and do mot let our family and whole community to suffer.

Pokar Ram said...

Dear Major Navdeep, Sir

Kudos to you for bringing up such issues to the public domain.

Your crushade for the uniformed services is commendable.

Anonymous said...

AFTs have a senior retd. military officer to guide the tribunal on the dispensation of justice, about the life in the military and advise the other members where necessary a compassionate view needs to be taken. It seems in this function our military veterans have out of apathy or out of lack of diligence failed to live up to expectations and let juniors suffer.

Anonymous said...

Navdeep, Thanx for sharing an important information The copy of the Judgement is not available. Is it possible to get the link regards
Col K B Marwaha (Retd)

Maj Lalit Kant Baghel said...

Dear Navdeep Sir,

Please guide me as I am a short service commissioned, Infantry Officer, commissioned on "04 Mar 2000" and suffered a accident is a Military organised Training, within the first month of commission, I served in Army for contractaul 05 Yrs plus 01 Year & 03 months during my 05 years of extended tenure. All thru the service I was a Permanent Medical Category, and while leaving Army in total of 06 yrs & 03 months of Army service, in the Release Medical Board, I was given 30% disability, "Attributable to Military Service". However in the Release letter issued to me by MS 7(B) in the reasons of release is is written that, " On own request during extended tenure of Short Service Commission Service, after completion of initial contratual period". I have recently represented my claim for Disability Pension, as the same was rejected in the month of "Sep 2008" by AG MP-6(d) without assining any reason. Please Guide Sir.

Major Lalit Kant Baghel (retd.)

Lt Col Bharat Chevur said...

The present day Armed Forces are literally being run by Accountants.....not Soldiers.
It does not bode well for the Armed Forces.
Hope our senior commanders do something to reverse this trend.
An IFA of DCDA / JCDA rank tells the Army Cdr what is possible and not possible to be done / procured.
Wake up, Generals / Admirals / Marshals

SREEKUMAR said...

I am Ex-Naik retired after 16 years of service from Corps of signals. I took retirement by opting Unwilling on Suitability Cum Retention Certificate on Permanent Low Medical Category with 40% disability.
The disability was due to a road accident while I was on Part of Annual Leave.
Two appeal for disability pension rejected by appellate committee saying not attributable / aggravated to mil services.
Is the Supreme court order help me to get my disability pension ? what I need to do for that ?
Thanks

SK Nambiar