Army chief Rawat fights misuse of disability pension
Months away from hanging his boots, Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat is fighting what may well be his last battle for reforms in the army — to ensure that none of his officers or men misuse the disability pension even while making sure that those with a genuine physical disability get their due.
As a young company commander in the Uri sector, Gen Rawat had his ankle smashed by a huge boulder while returning from an active mining operation near the Line of Control (LoC).
Then, as Commander of III Corps, the biggest formation in the Indian Army, he dislocated his vertebra when his helicopter went down due to engine failure during take-off.
He wears a wound medal on his chest, but has no intention of either taking disability pension or the accompanying tax benefits.
Since he took over, Gen Rawat has caused ripples within the 1.1 million strong force by first doing away with the sahayak (attendant) concept, disallowing golf in active forward areas of Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland, and finally put in place stringent measures to prevent his officers and men being honey-trapped through social media platforms.
The entrapment was used by India’s adversaries to get the officers or men to leak information about army formations, weapons and movements.
After observing the Indian Army’s pension bill rise, accompanied by a gradual rise in disabilities to service personnel year after year, Gen Rawat ordered an analysis to understand the reason for the rise in disabilities, particularly those suffered in non-combat situations.
For battle casualties, the disability benefit apart from free medical treatment and free education for children is 60% of the last pay drawn for 51 -100 % disability and 30% of last pay drawn for 20-50% disability.
For non-battle casualties, the benefits apart from free treatment, was 30% of the last pay drawn for 51 -100% disability and 15% of last pay drawn for 20-50% disability. The entire service pension and disability in both the cases is exempt from income tax.
The analysis, by Army HQ, revealed that a large number of officers including generals and those in the medical corps had claimed disabilities for non-physical injuries such as hypertension, diabetes, hearing loss, obesity-linked diseases, and other ailments.
It was found that a service person with a pension of Rs 1 lakh with 100% disability as a battle casualty is entitled to Rs 1.6 of lakh tax-free emoluments per month. Similarly, an officer with 100% disability due to non-battle conditions is entitled to Rs 1.3 lakh tax-free emoluments.
According to Controller of Defence Accounts (personnel), some officers were drawing total disability emoluments to the tune of Rs 2.3 lakh per month – all tax-free.
The biggest beneficiaries of this disabilities pension granted by the 7th Pay Commission were officers in sharp contrast to troopers.
Prior to this, there was a difference of only Rs 1,100 per month between the pensions of officers and men having 100% disability.
In comparison, the army chief gets a pension of around Rs 80,000 per month after paying taxes.
Figures reviewed by the Hindustan Times shows that 11.2% of Indian Army officers including generals and 8% of troopers are drawing disability benefits.
This means that 20% of the Indian Army is disabled and the numbers are growing by the day.
General Rawat has already briefed Union defence minister Rajnath Singh, and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has given a statement in Parliament on not allowing tax exemption on disability pension.
The army chief is for full tax relief on disability allowance, but not pension as there is a discontentment over disparity among men.
The last time, during a function in Maharashtra, a jawan who lost his leg in battle pointed to the missing limb and asked Gen Rawat whether the cost of losing a leg in war was different for an officer and a trooper. The Indian Army chief thinks it shouldn’t be.