The Supreme Court on Monday asked the army to benignly examine a demobilized soldier receiving a disability pension due to alcohol addiction, observing that the man served in extremely difficult terrain at the Glacier de Siachen and deserved exceptional consideration because of his record of service.
“These are soldiers who served on the border and they served the nation. We also understand the military’s point of view but try not to take away something that has already been given to them. They have families to take care of…sometimes we have to look at the human side of justice,” observed a bench of judges Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Sudhanshu Dhulia.
Headquarters was hearing an appeal by the military against a 2020 order by the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) awarding a disability pension to a sepoy, who was removed from his ‘undesirable soldier’ service in 2014 for poor military discipline, resulting from his alcoholism.
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Representing the military, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Madhvi Divan argued before the Supreme Court that alcohol addiction cannot be treated as any form of disability in a disciplinary force, and therefore he was decided to send him back as an “undesirable soldier”. Since the release was not based on any medical grounds, the ASG said, the soldier was not entitled to a disability pension.
The bench, however, noted that the soldier had served more than 10 years in the force, most of his postings being in Jammu and Kashmir, including one at the Siachen Glacier.
According to the soldier, it was during his assignment in Siachen that he started drinking alcohol on the advice of the unit doctor to protect himself from the extreme weather conditions.
“We understand the army’s point of view. But, after all, judges are also human…they have feelings. We are also moved when we see our soldiers carried in coffins and grief all around. We saw the visuals of two Air Force officials over the weekend… You see their spouses, their families, and it just shakes you,” the bench noted.
The court was referring to the tragic incident on Thursday evening when two pilots were killed after an Indian Air Force MiG-21 plane crashed during a training sortie at Barmer, in Rajasthan.
“Consider making an exception for this man. We understand the army’s concerns, and we don’t want to create any sort of precedent either. If this petition had been his call, we might have taken a different view. But now he and his family are receiving the disability pension and we don’t want to take it away,” the bench said.
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Thereupon, ASG Divan agreed to consult with Army authorities on the handling of this case as an exception. The court then adjourned the hearing for a week.
In its 2020 order, the AFT had ruled that the soldier’s indiscipline resulted from intoxication, which resulted from his addiction to alcohol, which should be considered as grounds for awarding him a disability pension.
He had further noted that an “undesirable soldier” had all his rights intact as a soldier even after his release, in terms of pension and other benefits such as invalidity pension.