Government fighting its own disabled soldiers over pension claims

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After a long wait of over four decades, the pension of Vasa Veera Bhadrudu, who served the Madras Engineers, was released by the Ministry of Defence earlier this month.This was possible only after the direct intervention of the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman herself. But there are more than a thousand similar cases of soldiers pending in different courts who are still fighting their own government for the disability pension.A recent RTI revelation has added an insult to injury. The government is spending crores on fighting legal battles. In 2014, the BJP in its manifesto had promised to minimize appeals against Armed Forces Tribunal verdicts. A promise it never kept.Read carefully the tales of struggle of these disabled soldiers who gave precious years of their lives to guard borders of our country against the enemy, their ordeal will leave you shocked.Soldier Madhusudan Bagri of Birbhum in West Bengal became 100 per cent disabled and wheelchair-bound when he met with an accident while proceeding to get his reservation done from the railway station for going back to his unit from leave. He was released by the Army without any pension due to his disability.The disability was declared “attributable to service” by the statutory Court of Inquiry but the defence accounts department rejected the claim. The soldier is currently without disability pension since he was invalided out of the Army and is living a life of extreme penury, wheelchair-bound.Strangely, the service and pension of civilian employees are protected if they incur any such disability while in service whereas the same benefit is not available to members of the Armed Forces.Madhusudan told India Today, “I am 100 per cent disabled, my body cannot move without a wheelchair, my old parents and wife are dependent on me. I have no land, no other source of income, without disability pension, we cannot survive.”Soldier Lila Singh of Sangrur district in Punjab was badly injured in 1994 when he was proceeding from his regiment to his village on night pass.The disability was declared ‘attributable to military service’ by the statutory Court of Inquiry and the Army but the Defence Accounts Department refused to release his disability pension. He won his case in the Armed Forces Tribunal way back in 2012 but the amount was still not released by the MoD.The MoD filed an appeal in the Supreme Court which was dismissed in the year 2015. The pension was still not released. The government’s sanction order was only recently issued when he filed a contempt petition (three years after the SC order). The amount has still not been disbursed to him. He told India Today, “I have been fighting since 2004 and now after 14 years, I have been told that I will get 40 per cent disability pension. I served in the army for 20 years, I appeal to the government that my due disability pensions should be released.”Major Navdeep Singh (retired), an advocate in Punjab and Haryana High Court has been fighting several such cases in which disabled soldiers were made to run from one court to another for their pensions.He said, “It is not the top political executive or the top hierarchy that is to be directly blamed in such matters, the mid-level establishment is known to obfuscate such subjects by putting up confusing file notings leading to injection of some kind of a fear psychosis and policy paralysis in the higher echelons.”In 2015, the then Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar had set up a committee of experts to look address long pending issues related to retired soldiers.The Committee had recommended that all appeals pending against disabled soldiers filed in the Supreme Court be withdrawn immediately. Even after over three years, Modi Government continues to sit on most of the recommendations.In a reply to MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, the Defence Ministry accepted that out of 75 recommendations, only 16 were accepted till early this year.This despite the ruling BJP in its manifesto for 2014 General Elections had promised to implement measures to improve the efficiency of Armed Forces Tribunals and minimize appeals by the government.But records suggested otherwise.Between 2014 to 2017, about 800 appeals of the Ministry of Defence were dismissed in three years by the Supreme Court. A large number of cases are still pending.Lt Gen Vinod Vinod Bhatia, former director general military operations told India Today, “For commanders like us who have get the best out of our soldiers in the battle field, such cases become a sorry affair.’ ‘We are not heard in such matters, Govt should think that soldiers work in tough conditions, disability pension is there for other central Govt services but in case of soldiers they have fight court cases,” he added.A recent data obtained through RTI says that government of India spent Rs 48 crores on fighting cases in the Supreme Court.Veterans allege a large chunk of this money is spent by the government on fighting legal cases against its own soldiers. Major DP Singh, India’s first blade runner lost his leg during Kargil war. He had to fight a war in courts for 7 years to get the disability pension.Major Singh said, “After fighting enemy on the border, the soldier has to fight another enemy which is the ministry of defence for pension, in think the enemy on the border is still better, those in the ministry are far worse, they try best to squeeze us, there is some kind of nexus here.”Read | Rs 250 a month? Assam CM thinks that’s enough for a senior citizen
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