The Chandigarh bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has come down heavily on defence authorities for not amending a policy to grant disability element to pre-2006 prematurely retired officers, junior commissioned officers and other ranks, who are otherwise eligible, as the same is admitted to post-2006 prematurely retired personnel.
Taking a suo motu cognisance of the case, the AFT bench headed by justice Surinder Singh Thakur questioned why an individual had to approach the court for relief when the apex court has already settled the matter.
The Supreme Court had pronounced its decision in the case of Mahavir Singh Narwal on January 4, 2008, and the administrative decision to grant disability element to personnel below officer’s rank (PBOR), proceedings on premature retirement was taken on January 2010 after two years, but it was limited to only those who file court cases. The AFT said it was against the ratio of ‘Mahavir Singh Narwal’ decided by the apex court.
“Moreover, an administrative decision cannot replace or place any limitation on a court order, which in this case has been done by introducing the clause relief to be given only to those who file court cases. This too is not being complied with by the respondents (defence authorities),” said the judgment.
It added: “If each ministry resorts to such action, there will be chaos and the sanctity and supremacy of the apex court provided by the constitution would be questioned by those who do not have the power to do so creating an analogous condition and the rule of law would be the casualty, which should not happen in a democratic set up like India.”
The bench observed that from 2012 to 2015, the file remained with the defence ministry. “During this period of 40 months, why was the matter nor raised to the level of the raksha mantri (defence minister)?...It is incomprehensible that to implement a Supreme Court decision, the file moves within the same ministry for 40 months and the issue is not raised to the level of the minister concerned, in this case the hon’ble raksha mantri.”
The AFT commented: “Armed forces veterans in the twilight of their lives, cannot be made to wait indefinitely and illegally for their benefits under the pretext of procedure and inter-departmental consultation…This attitude is not acceptable and the department of ESW (ex-servicemen) has to change its attitude with respect to processing of veteran’s cases, which in this case are based on the judgment of the Supreme Court.”
The bench directed the Secretary, ministry of defence, to issue instructions to all concerned not to raise any objection for denying the relief to the eligible person by quoting the non-existent clause. “In case they would do so, they shall be liable for contempt and cost, which shall be recoverable from the individual who illegally denies the legitimate dues by quoting a non-existent clause of the policy. These instructions shall also be put in the public domain with instructions for affected personnel to apply for such relief to the competent authority instead of directly approaching the courts/AFTs,” the bench observed.