As soon as a member of the armed forces is discharged from service on medical grounds he is entitled to claim disability pension, unless the employer proves that his disability was neither attributable nor aggravated by military service, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The verdict affecting thousands of personnel in the armed forces came from a bench headed by Justice TS Thakur, which said, “A soldier cannot be asked to prove that the disease was contracted by him on account of military service or was aggravated by the same.”
Explaining the rationale behind the Pension Regulations, the Entitlement Rules and Guidelines issued to medical officers, the bench said, “The provision for payment of disability pension is a beneficial provision which ought to be interpreted liberally so as to benefit those who have been sent home with a disability at times even before they completed their tenure in the armed forces.”
The court dismissed a batch of appeals filed by the government against the verdict of the Armed Forces Tribunal that had allowed disability benefits to 27 Army personnel.
“A member of the armed forces is presumed to be of sound physical and mental condition at the time of his entry into service if there is no note or record to the contrary made at the time of such entry....in the event of his subsequent discharge from service on medical grounds, any deterioration in his health is presumed to be due to military service,” it said.
The bench added that if medical opinion stated that the disease or disability suffered by the member of the armed forces could not have been detected before the person was accepted for service, then the reasons must be stated very clearly.
Noting that there may be cases where the disease was unrelated to military service, the bench said denial of disability pension can be justified only if it was “affirmatively proved that the disease had nothing to do with service.”
The SC made it clear that the onus of establishing this disconnect lay with the employer.
The top court added that the rules provided for the presumption that the armed forces personnel was disease-free at the time of his entry into service and the “presumption continues till it is proved by the employer that the disease was neither attributable to nor aggravated by military service.”