In a letter which would affect lakhs of disabled soldiers, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is implementing the broad banding of disability percentage from January 2015, even as the Supreme Court upheld that it be implemented from January 1996.
The apex court had come out with that order on December 10, 2014. The ministry letter issued on January 27 by ex-servicemen's welfare department undersecretary RK Arora, however, states: "The matter regarding the implementation of the judgment was placed before Raksha Mantri (defence minister), who has approved it prospectively from January 1, 2015, excepting the PMR/VR (pre-mature retirement/voluntary retirement) cases." The Supreme Court verdict, however, had stated that the benefit of broad banding be given to all.
The fifth pay commission had introduced the broad-banding formula to minimise medical subjectivity medical board mistakes by providing that those with below 50% disability would get a disability element by treating it as 50%, those with 50 to 75% disability would be granted the benefit of 75%, and the above-76% cases would be considered as 100%. Rounding off the disability percentage would mean higher pension for disabled soldiers.
The government had implemented it from January 1, 1996, for only those invalided out of the army. There was a series of litigation, in which various benches of the Armed Forces Tribunal, high courts, and then the Supreme Court held in a detailed decision that the personnel disabled before 1996 and those released on completion of terms or superannuation could not be deprived of broad-banding benefit.
One of the cases was of former army vice-chief lieutenant general Gen Vijay Oberoi (retd) of Panchkula, who lost his leg in the 1965 war with Pakistan. In 2011, In spite of a decision of the-then chief of the army staff, general VK Singh, of refusing to file appeals against judgments in favour of disabled soldiers, the MoD insisted on filing appeals in all matters, stating that the decisions were against "government policy" and instructing government lawyers to file appeals in thousands of these cases; this when the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of all disabled soldiers on December 10, 2014.
Chandigarh-based All-India Ex-servicemen Welfare Association now has issued a contempt notice to the defence ministry. "RK Arora in the MoD department of ex-servicemen's welfare has committed contempt on two counts. First, he has asked the concerned branches vaguely to issue sanction letters not from the date upheld by the Supreme Court, and then mentioned that benefits may not be released to voluntary retirement cases," association chairman Bhimsen Sehgal stated in the contempt notice.