The Chandigarh bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) in a full-bench judgment has directed Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) to expeditiously amend and incorporate the medical board forms and procedures to enable reasonable opinion on their findings.
The bench comprising justice Rajesh Chandra, justice Vinod Kumar Ahuja and Lt Gen NS Brar (retd) ordered, "The nature of disease must be amplified (by the medical board) so as to make it comprehensible by the executive and appellate authorities. Where a disease is opined to exist before enrolment, adequate reasons must be stated to as to why it was not or could not be detected at the time of enrolment.
The reasons must be stated in arriving at its opinion as to why the disease or disability (of a soldier) is not attributable to or aggravated by military service in conjunction with the accompanying medical record/specialist opinion."
The judgment added, "Medical boards when recording their opinion as to causation, degree of disability and fitness for service will be careful not to allow their decisions to be influenced by the proceedings of the previous medical boards." It further said final medical board if reaching different conclusion should elaborate reasons for arriving at their findings.
The matter was referred to the full bench as there was a difference of opinion among different benches of AFTs on sanctity of medical board proceedings in determining the attributability or aggravation of a disability to military service.
The full bench says, "Mere absence of entry of a disease at the time of enrolment does not confer attributability or aggravation to military service. If a disease is accepted to have arisen in service, it must also be established that the conditions of military service determined or contributed to the onset of the disease and that the conditions were due to the circumstances of duty in medical service."
It further says, "The courts and tribunals can and if required must go into the medical evidence, literature and the material on record to adjudicate on the findings and opinion of medical boards to ascertain their legality and validity. Conversely, when the evidence on record and the opinion of the medical boards is well considered and reasoned, it must be respected as an opinion of experts."
The judgment added that the onus of proof was not on the soldier and he "has a right to derive benefit of any reasonable doubt and is entitled for pensionary benefit more liberally".
It says, "A clear distinction needs to be made between a disease or death arising or occurring while in service and it being because of or due to service."