In an order that will benefit lakhs of disabled soldiers, the Supreme Court has dismissed more than 800 multiple appeals that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had filed against broad banding of their disability percentage.
The fifth pay commission had introduced the concept of broad-banding to minimise medical subjectivity and rationalise the mistakes of medical boards by providing that those with below 50% disability would be granted a disability element by treating it as 50%; those with 50 to 75% disability would be granted the benefit of 75%; and above-76% cases would be considered as that of 100% disability.
By rounding off, the disability percentage enhances, which means higher pension. However while implementing the concept, the MoD granted it only to the personnel who were invalided out on medical grounds post 1996. The rounding-off benefit was not given to pre-1996 cases or those released with disability pension on superannuation or completion of terms, though all categories were afflicted equally with the problem of medical subjectivity.
Military pension rules, however, provided that defence personnel released in a low medical category were deemed invalided out of service for purposes of disability pension.
In a series of litigation later, various benches of Armed Forces Tribunal, high courts and the Supreme Court held that pre-1996 disability cases and those released on completion of terms or superannuation could not be deprived of broad banding. One of the lead cases was of Panchkula resident and former army vice-chief lieutenant general Vijay Oberoi, who had lost a 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, to refuse 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 the government policy” and instructing the government lawyers to file appeals in thousands of these cases in the Supreme Court. On Wednesday, a three-judge bench of the apex court head more than 800 clubbed cases and dismissed all appeals, bringing relief to the disabled and war-disabled soldiers.
All-India Ex-servicemen Welfare Association (AIEWA) chairman Bhim Sen Sehgal, welcomed the decision, saying that disabled soldiers had suffered for long. “Rather than resolving pension anomalies, the MoD forces disabled and war-disabled soldiers to litigate unnecessarily till the Supreme Court, causing unnecessary heartburn and burden on taxpayers’ money,” said high court lawyer major Navdeep Singh. He added that the lower bureaucracy was working against the spirit of the directions of the current government.
Public figures, including actor Kabir Bedi, parliamentarian Rajeev Chandrasekhar, former defence services chiefs, and 1971-war hero brigadier Kuldip Singh Chandpuri (retd), had written to the Prime Minister on Armed Forces Flag Day that most of MoD appeals in the Supreme Court against disabled soldiers were “alarming enough to make the entire citizenry hang its head in shame”.