New Delhi: Ja Supreme Court a rejected the disability pension claim of a former military member who was injured while on casual leave – a decision that adds to the debate over giving special treatment to military members with service-acquired medical conditions .
A panel comprising Judges L. Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta delivered judgment on September 20 while hearing the case of Dharambir Singh, who was discharged from the Territorial Army in December 1999.
The Territorial Army is the second line of defense after the regular Indian Army.
Singh had suffered injuries in an accident after he lost control of his scooter on his way to buy electrical appliances for his sister.
The Supreme Court ruled that Singh would not be entitled to a disability pension because his injury”even remotely has no causal connection to military service”.
“Given that the accident occurred while the respondent was shopping for household items, a causal connection between the injury and military service cannot be said to exist,” the court observed.
The Armed Forces Court accepted the claim for invalidity pension
While replacing Singh, the Army Medical Board denied his application for a disability pension, ruling that his disability was “neither attributable to nor aggravated by military service”.
The Chandigarh Armed Forces Court, however, overturned the medical board’s decision and ruled that Singh was entitled to a disability pension. The court relied on a 1999 Supreme Court judgment in Madan Singh Shekhawat vs Union of India and Ors case in which it had allowed the granting of a disability pension to an army officer who had suffered an accident on his way to his hometown from which he was posted, while he was on occasional leave.
This order was challenged by the central government in the Supreme Court. The government argued that while the officer would be treated as on duty even if he was on casual or annual leave, the injuries he sustained must have “causal link attributable to or aggravated by military service”.
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Injury must be related to military service, says SC
The Supreme Court ruled last week that armed forces personnel must be treated on duty when taking casual or annual leave, but added that the injury or death must be related to military service, regardless of distance .
Rejecting Singh’s disability pension claim, the SC said: “The injury or death must be an action of the armed service and not an accident that could be attributed to a risk common to human beings. When a person travels by scooter to buy household items, this activity, even remotely, has no causal connection with military service.”
The court also clarified that the judgment in Madan Singh Shekhawat and other similar cases was different, due to the fact that the injuries or deaths in these cases occurred on return from leave or on the occasion of leave. This, the SC said, was causally linked to military service, unlike Singh’s case.
SC refused to accept the decision of the Court of Inquiry
A senior army officer, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that whenever a military member is injured, a court of inquiry (CoI) determines whether the injury is attributable to military service.
“The decision of the CoI in this regard is final. The CoI investigates the circumstances in which a service member suffered injuries or disabilities and bases its judgment report on that,” the officer said.
In Singh’s case, the CoI said his injury was attributable to military service. Corn the Supreme Court refused to accept the CoI’s conclusion.
“The percentage of invalidity as well as the question of whether the invalidity is attributed to or aggravated by military service must be assessed by the medical commission. The purpose of the CoI is to examine the conduct of armed forces personnel, while the medical board examines the causation of the injury to the military services as well as the extent of the disability. Thus, both the CoI and the opinion of the medical commission have different objectives and goals to achieve,” observed SC.
Another senior military officer told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that the Supreme Court ruling is welcome as it could reduce the number of claims for disability benefits, which are not attributable to military service.
“However, it can also increase the number of disputes because personnel suffering from some sort of disability while on leave may later report it or suggest that military service has aggravated such a disability,” the officer said.
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Disability Pension Policy Recommendations
The army has proposed several changes disability pension policy, citing instances of misuse of the existing policy. In its latest set of recommendations, army headquarters suggested that the disability pension should be taxed for all service members except those who have been wounded in action.
The recommendation came after a circular issued by the Central Commission for Direct Taxes on June 24 declared that the invalidity pension would be taxed, which outrage within the armed forcesespecially among veterans.
The Army General Staff has also reportedly proposed that the Contributory Veterans Health Scheme (ECHS) premium be calculated on the soldier’s percentage of disability.
It further proposed to minimize the distinction between “field” and “peace” postings of personnel when calculating disability pension, and to reduce the disparity in disability pension between officers and staff below the rank of officer (PBOR).
The recommendations have been submitted to the Ministry of Defense and are currently under review.