ON THE OCCASION OF THE ARMED FORCES FLAG DAY
7th DEC 2014
When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today
A REQUEST BY CONCERNED CITIZENS TO THE HON’BLE PRIME MINISTER AND THE DEFENCE MINISTER (RAKSHA MANTRI) CALLING FOR INCULCATION OF SENSITIVITY WITHIN THE SYSTEM TOWARDS THE NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS OF MILITARY VETERANS AND FURTHER FOR WITHDRAWING LITIGATION INITIATED BY THE GOVERNMENT IN THE LAST FEW YEARS AGAINST DISABLED SOLDIERS AND MILITARY WIDOWS
1. At the outset, we would like to emphasize that this request of ours is politically neutral and without any political connotations and we are making this effort on the Armed Forces Flag Day with an optimism stemming out of your known concern for men and women in uniform.
2. In the last few years, the country has witnessed humongous amount of litigation initiated by the Government against its own disabled soldiers, old military pensioners and military widows. In fact, it is well known that most of the Civil Appeals/SLPs filed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and pending in the Hon’ble Supreme Court are against the disability benefits awarded by Courts and Tribunals to disabled soldiers- an actuality which is stark and alarming enough to make the entire citizenry hang its head in shame.
3. Most of these appeals are filed in the Hon’ble Supreme Court by the MoD on the pretext that court decisions favouring disabled soldiers are against “Government policy” and some officers seem to suggest that irrespective of the arbitrariness or the illogical nature of some policies, it is their sacred duty to defend them till the Apex Court rather than undertake an honest exercise to resolve anomalies in such policies or making them humane or realizing that there must be something amiss in such policies if the same are being repeatedly commented upon adversely by judicial bodies. Moreover, many decisions rendered by Courts and Tribunals in favour of soldiers are not implemented by the MoD without even obtaining a ‘stay’ from a higher judicial forum.
4. It is also observed with concern that appeals on similar legal issues are repeatedly filed by the MoD citing artificial distinctions even when a particular matter has already been settled by the Hon’ble Supreme Court or a High Court. It is further a matter of concern that some of such appeals involve a pittance, to take an example, there are appeals filed by the MoD against the enhancement of disability element of pension granted to Sepoys by High Courts/Armed Forces Tribunals @50% disability rates in lieu of 40% rates- a total basic pension amount of Rs 310/- (Rupees Three Hundred and Ten) per month. There are other appeals challenging the award of 20% disability element amounting to Rs 702/- (Rupees Seven Hundred and Two). Comparing it with the litigation threshold of other Ministries again paints a grim picture since establishments such as the Income Tax Department do not approach the Hon’ble Supreme Court unless the amount involved is more than Rs 25,00,000/- (Rupees Twenty Five Lac).
5. It is also unethical that in the course of such moves by the MoD, the lower level staff has drilled into the minds of the higher bureaucracy and the political executive that soldiers are being ‘greedy’ with their demands. These are one-sided decisions obtained from the political executive by painting a unilateral picture since poor soldiers and military veterans and other stakeholders do not have the ear of the higher echelons of governance and are unable to rebut incorrect facts ultimately leading to skewed decisions. As per media reports, the Government has recently (probably rightly) decided not to appeal to the Hon’ble Supreme Court against a decision of the Hon’ble Bombay High Court involving an amount of Rs 35,000 Crores, in order to support the morale of business houses investing in India and also the overall business sentiment, but we would like to point out here that the morale of our men and women in uniform is also of utmost importance to us as a nation, and we, the citizens, and the Government, are expected to stand behind them rather than stand against them in an adversarial role. It is painful to even imagine the agony caused to poor soldiers and their families who, from far off places, are forced to litigate by the MoD till the Hon’ble Supreme Court with meagre resources.
6. Disability benefits are granted quite liberally in all democracies but in India these are made subject to many Ifs and Buts leading to a hyper-technical and literal approach rather than a liberal approach as is intended by the rules. For example, many disabilities such as psychiatric and cardiovascular disorders are termed as “Neither Attributable to, Nor Aggravated to military service” resulting in denial of disability benefits not realizing that irrespective of whether a person in deployed in field or peace, there is inherent stress and strain in military service coupled with the fact that a person operates away from family during most of his/her service in a regimented lifestyle under a strict disciplinary code. Within the system, there is denial of benefits at many stages starting from military medical boards to administrative authorities, who, at times even easily blame ‘domestic reasons’ for stress related disorders again not realizing that a person remaining away from family due to the very nature of military service is torn between domestic requirements that he cannot attend to (as other common citizens can) on one hand and the call of duty on the other. Such issues have already been favourably emphasized by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the two recent decisions of Dharamvir Singh Vs UOI (Civil Appeal 4949/2013) decided on 02 July 2013 and K Srinivasa Reddy Vs UOI (Civil Appeal No 5140/2011) decided on 09 Oct 2014 and by the Hon’ble Punjab & Haryana High Court in Umed Singh Vs UOI (CWP 7277/2013) decided on 14 May 2014 and Barkat Masih Vs UOI (CWP 1792/2013) decided on 23 May 2014. In fact, in most operationally active armies, any disability arising in a person while in military service or during authorized leave is deemed and presumed to be related to service unless caused due to gross negligence or substance abuse.
7. It would also be appropriate to recall that appreciably many MPs cutting across party lines have taken up this issue in the past, including Ms Smriti Z Irani, who did so in August 2013, in the following terms:
“...though the rules of granting disability pension are inherently very liberal and also endorsed as such by the Supreme Court in the recent judgment 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 lakh 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...”
8. For the defence community, the ruling majority party had also kindly included “minimizing of appeals” as one of the points in the defence section of its manifesto and even You Sir (the Hon’ble Prime Minister) had objected to litigation involving disabled soldiers in your first campaign in Rewari in Haryana. It is hence legitimate to expect that both of you, that is, the Hon’ble PM and the Raksha Mantri, would be forceful enough to make the MoD realize the morbidity and the anti-veteran character of their attitude in making disabled, war disabled, maimed, handicapped and infirm soldiers the target of such sadistic ego-fuelled litigation which emerges not out of genuine legal points but out of administrative egotism when mere common soldiers, especially of the lower ranks, manage to get relief in Courts against the mighty system, the MoD.
9. With this sanguine hope, all of us hence appeal to you Hon’ble PM and Raksha Mantri ji, to initiate the following steps:
A. Direct Ministry of Defence to withdraw litigation initiated against our disabled soldiers & military widows related to the subject of their disability and pensionary benefits at the earliest.
B. Constitute a committee, with stakeholders and independent experts as members, to resolve all other policy anomalies which have given rise to litigation in issues concerning military veterans and widows.
C. Ensure that officers serving in the Ministry of Defence in general, and Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare in particular, are sensitized towards the needs and requirements of the military community and realize that it is their first pious obligation to serve soldiers, veterans and their families, giving them due respect and dignity which they deserve.
Thanking you in anticipation
CITIZENS FOR SOLDIERS
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Member of Parliament
211, North Avenue
New Delhi – 110011
(The above address may be used for communication related to the subject)
2. Kabir Bedi, International Actor, Cavaliere Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana
3. Brig Kuldip Singh Chandpuri (Retd), MVC, VSM, War Hero, Battle of Laungewala 1971 Indo-Pak War
4. Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM, Former Chief of the Naval Staff
5. Justice Ghanshyam Prasad, Former Judge, Patna High Court, Former Member, Armed Forces Tribunal
6. Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, Former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, Former Member, Armed Forces Tribunal
7. Vijay Gore, IAS (Retd), Former Additional Chief Secretary Govt of Karnataka
8. Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd) PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC, Former DGIS, Indian Army
9. Chinmayi Sripaada, Award Winning Singer, CEO Blue Elephant, Former RJ & TV Host
10. Lt Gen Milan Naidu (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, YSM, Former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, Former Member, Armed Forces Tribunal
11. Sucheta Dalal, Managing Editor Moneylife, Founder Trustee Moneylife Foundation, Padma Shree Awardee
12. Nitin Gokhale, Journalist, Author, Defence Analyst
13. Maj DP Singh (Retd), 100% Disabled Kargil War survivor, First amputee marathon runner from India, Triple Limca Record holder, Inspirational Speaker
14. JP Singh, IAS (Retd), Former Member Public Service Commission
15. Rahul Ravindran, Actor
16. Jaskirat Singh Nagra, Vice President Continental Device India Limited
17. Navdeep Singh, Lawyer, Author