“Is he still alive?” asked Lt Gen HS Panag (retd), administrative member of the Armed Forces Tribunal, to which the counsel replied, “He is alive for this case only.”
They were referring to INA veteran Sepoy Harbans Singh, whose case for service pension was approved 55 years after his retirement on Wednesday.
Ordering the revival of his pension within five months, the Chandigarh bench of the Tribunal comprising Lt Gen HS Panag (retd) and Justice Ghanshyam Prasad allowed him service pension from 1982 onwards, but the arrears were restricted to three years from the date he filed a civil writ petition in the High Court.
A resident of Sector 20, Chandigarh, Harbans had served in the Royal Indian Army, Indian National Army and Indian Army. He did not get pension all these years because of an error in his date of enrolment in the records.
According to Harbans' case file, he was enrolled in the Royal Indian Army on September 5, 1940. He revolted against the British rule and joined the INA, for which he was dismissed on March 25, 1946, and imprisoned for eight months.
“Our court-martial was held near Delhi,” he recalled.
After a break in service, he was enrolled in the Indian Army on August 21, 1951, and retired on March 23, 1955.
“The Central government issued a notification in 1982 that the break in service period in case of veterans of the INA and the Indian Army would be counted for pension. Going by the notification, Harbans has served for more than 14 years and six months and is thus eligible for pension after condoning the deficiency in service,” said Harbans' counsel Arun Singla.
It transpired that Harbans was denied pension by the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pension) because his date of enrolment was wrongly mentioned as January 24, 1941. Harbans made many representations to the higher authorities in the Ministry of Defence and the Army Headquarters from 1982 to 1997, but in vain. Finally, he filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on October 14, 1998. The case was transferred to the Tribunal.
Remembering INA founder Subhas Chandra Bose, Harbans said, “Such a man is born only once in 400 years. While making us join the INA, he told us, 'mujhe pakke aadmi chahiye' (I need people with firm determination).”
Harbans lives with his postmaster son Dawinder Singh, but remains confined to home owing to poor health. Asked how he would celebrate the verdict, he said, “I will celebrate only when I actually get the money.”
The INA veteran, who used to get a monthly salary of Rs 16 in 1940, will get a pension of around Rs 4,600 a month, 70 years later.