After criticism in ex-servicemen circles, defence minister AK Antony has withdrawn the letter issued by the department of ex-servicemen welfare (DESW) of the ministry of defence (MoD), which had directed to file appeals in pensionary matters of defence veterans, especially disabled soldiers, without seeking fresh advice on individual cases.
The letter had also clearly mentioned, "The MoD has filed appeals in almost all types of cases as per the advice earlier tendered by law officers through LA (legal adviser)." HT had reported on January 18 when the letter was removed from the DESW's website following criticism.
Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar from Karnataka had written to Antony over the issue on January 28 that the action smacked of callousness and high-handedness by the MoD against its soldiers.
On February 8, Antony replied, "The matter has been examined and it is informed that the department's intention was only to simplify the process of decision-making regarding filing of appeals in the indentified categories of cases, in order to avoid delays. However, in view of the concerns expressed as well as the procedural complications, it has been decided to revert to status quo ante and withdraw the earlier instructions."
The letter, dated January 2, asked the Judge Advocate General branches of the Army, Air Force and Navy to file appeal in hundreds of cases falling in six different types of cases before the Supreme Court.
The categories included extending benefit of broad banding of disability meant for invalided out armed forces personnel for pre- and post-1996 cases, granting disability pension to armed forces personnel whose disability is assessed and graded by medical board as neither attributable nor aggravated by military service and the fourth category is of granting benefit of trade realisation to the pre-96 retirees from January 1, 1996.
The fifth category is of granting parity of pension to soldiers vis-a-vis Viceroy Commissioned Officers and the sixth category is of grant of reservist pension to ineligible armed forces personnel who have not rendered required length of nine years of active service plus six years of reserve service for which ASG PP Malhotra have advised for appeal.
The letter, sent by under secretary (pension/legal) RK Verma, instructed that to avoid paper work such cases need not be routed to the department for processing for appeal and service headquarters may straightaway file appeals.
"Even in cases already settled by the Supreme Court and high courts, the MoD keeps on filing appeals in similar cases to defeat claims of military veterans and also refuses to implement favourable judicial verdicts on the pretext that the ministry 'intends' to file appeals. It is said that thousands of cases of disability and pensionary benefits have not been implemented by the MoD leading to heartburn among military veterans. The latest is the Capt Buttar's case," said Major Navdeep Singh, a high court lawyer and former president of the AFT Bar Association.