Row after Army says disability pension to be taxed to stop exploitation
The row over the army’s decision to impose tax on disability pension drawn by soldiers has deepened, with the force insisting that the move is necessary to check misuse and several retired officers and experts objecting to the benefit being withdrawn.
The army’s main argument is that the force is witnessing a worrying trend of more soldiers seeking disability pension for monetary benefits even when their medical condition is an outcome of their lifestyle. But those opposed to the move are demanding that it be reversed as genuine disability cases should not be made to suffer due to the actions of a few unscrupulous people.
A medical downgrade entitles a soldier to better retirement benefits. On average for the same rank, a disability pension can be 20 to 50% more than a normal one, plus tax exemption.
As the controversy over disability pension peaked, the army on Tuesday wrote a series of tweets along with an explanatory note on the issue highlighting why the move was necessary.
“Over the years, broad-banding and compensation awarded for disability with income tax exemption has led to rise in personnel seeking disability, even for life style diseases. The trend is worrisome that too when the security challenges to the Nation are on the rise,” the army tweeted, drawing angry reactions from veterans on the micro-blogging website.
The army’s tweets came after finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted the disability pension note with the heading ‘Response of the Armed Forces on the issue of taxability of disability pension.”
It is not an impulsive move but a well-thought out decision to curb misuse after a detailed internal study, two senior officials said on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity. “Alarmed over the rising number of soldiers seeking disability, the army conducted a study on how to disincentivize disability pensions,” said one of the officials cited above.
Cases of soldiers with lifestyle diseases seeking disability pension have come to light in recent years and this is not the same as getting wounded or disabled in the line of duty, said the second official.
“The army is concerned for all personnel who are invalidated out of service in combat conditions or otherwise, and need additional support and discourages those who seek financial gains through their disabilities,” the army tweeted on Tuesday.
Some experts said the move was unwarranted and the problem, exaggerated.
“More than the exemption part of it, I am worried how disabilities in the military are being demonised to justify the action. Disabilities such as heart disease etc are covered under rules as affected by stress and strain of service and we should rather take steps to care for such personnel and improve the health profile of the army. Instances of manipulation are also grossly exaggerated,” said Major Navdeep Singh (retd), a lawyer who was on the expert committee set up by the defence ministry in 2015 to reduce military litigation.
Former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal (retd) said some people may have misused the provisions of disability pension but that should not result in genuine cases losing out on benefits. “People who are abusing the provisions have to be held accountable. This trend of soldiers claiming disability pension towards the fag-end of their careers needs to be curbed. But the nation needs to take care of soldiers disabled in the line of duty and they should be entitled to tax benefits,” said Jaswal.
Army officials said claims for disability pensions have risen significantly following the implementation of the sixth pay commission report in 2006 that enhanced benefits.
Lieutenant General BK Chopra (retd), who headed the armed forces medical services during 2014-16, said a scrutiny of records during his tenure showed that before 2006 hardly any of the top officers claimed disability pension but by 2015, almost 21% of them were claiming benefits.
“A distinction has to drawn between disability attributed or aggravated by military service and lifestyle diseases that are manageable,” he said on Wednesday.