Again coming to the rescue of disabled soldiers denied disability pension, the Supreme Court has yesterday rendered a detailed landmark decision holding that any disability that arises during service is to be deemed to have been caused by military service unless reasons are recorded as to how the disability was such which could not have been detected at the time of entering into service.
Before I proceed with more details, I must put it on record that the present times are the best for military veterans. The political leadership, that is, the current Defence Minister, is inclined to resolve all such issues, especially related to disabled veterans, and the military brass dealing with the subject seems to have a pragmatic leader in the new Adjutant General. They need to now implement their vision and enforce the law of the land without being bothered about the personal opinion of their staff. I have, in the past, discussed in detail the issue how the establishment (more specifically the medical set-up) is being unfair to our disabled soldiers by its hyper-technical and mathematical approach.
The decision, while dismissing 26 appeals filed by Ministry of Defence against disability pension granted by High Courts and Armed Forces Tribunal to physically and psychiatrically disabled soldiers, again reiterates what had been held by the Supreme Court in 2013 in Dharamvir’s case, in 2014 in Sukhwinder’s case and also by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in its landmark judgement in Umed Singh’s case again in 2014. The following is notable from the dicta of the Supreme Court:
A. The opinion of the medical board stating that a disability is “neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service” is not sufficient to deny disability pension to disabled soldiers.
B. As per rules, a presumption of fitness operates when a person joins service and it is also presumed under the rules that any deterioration that has taken place in the health of a soldier is due to military service.
C. Claimant is not to be called upon to prove entitlement and he/she shall receive the benefit of doubt.
D. If the medical board holds that the disability could not have been detected on medical examination at the time of acceptance in service, reasons for the same shall be stated.
E. Provision for payment of disability pension is a beneficial provision which ought to be interpreted liberally so as to benefit those who have been sent home with a disability at times even before they completed their tenure in the armed forces
F. The burden to establish non-connection of disability with service would lie heavily upon the employer since the rules raise a presumption that deterioration in the health of soldiers is on account of military service or aggravated by it. A soldier cannot be asked to prove that the disease was contracted by him on account of military service or was aggravated by the same.
Thanks to the Supreme Court and the Delhi and Punjab & Haryana High Courts for ensuring a life of dignity to our disabled soldiers.