Sadly again, this is not how the Ministry of Defense treats its soldiers. It has a vexatious policy of contesting almost every award of disability benefit granted by the Armed Forces Tribunal.
Maj Navdeep Singh, who litigates on behalf of veterans and has a blog says the disability pension varies between Rs 700 to Rs 4,000 a month for jawans. Officers are paid more but there are not too many of them. Opposing appeals are made as a matter of routine by - and this is the irony - the Department of Ex-servicemenâs Welfare! Can it get more perverse than this?
Contrast this with how Cory Remsburg was given a standing ovation by both Republican and Democrat lawmakers during President Barack Obamaâs State of the Union address on 29 January. Sergeant Remsburg was left in a coma in 2009 after a roadside bomb hit his convoy outside Kandahar in Afghanistan. Obama held him up as an example of American fortitude. "âCory is here tonight, and like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up.â "
But India often gives up on its veterans. At least it excruciatingly tires them out. On CNN-IBNâs Citizen Journalist show, Vijay Oberoi narrated just how mean the defense bureaucracy, and how indifferent the political leadership, can get. Oberoi, a captain in the Maratha Light Infantry, was shot in the thigh in the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict. His life was saved but his leg had to be amputated. In 2001, he retired as the Vice Chief of the Army. He had soldiered on for three decades with an artificial leg. The Military Board said he was entitled to 70 percent of the war disability benefit. The 5th Pay Commission raised this to 75 percent. The Ministry of Defense refused to pay the extra 5 percent!! In 2010, the Armed Forces Tribunal ordered the enhanced amount to be paid. But the Ministry went in appeal. âIf this happens to an officer, imagine what happens at the lower ranks,â Oberoi says. According to him 90 percent of disability awards are contested. âIt erodes the trust and confidence of the soldier.â
Col Anil Kaul was in combat in Sri Lanka as part of the Sikh Light Infantry. He says he saved 250 lives, for which he was awarded the Vir Chakra, but lost his right eye and most of his left hand. He re-learnt how to drive a vehicle, fire a weapon and play golf. He also took part in Operation Parakram following the terrorist attack on Parliament.
When Kaul retired, he was not given full disability allowance. The Blue Book says if a finger is lost, one is entitled to 10 percent of the compensation; if two fingers are lost, the entitlement is 20 percent; if one eye is lost one gets half the amount - as if limbs are âFMCG products to be served at a discount.â Col Kaul moved the Delhi High Court and won after ten years.
The denial of disability allowances and one pension for one rank are sore points with veterans. There are three million of them. If we want the armed forces to be apolitical, we will have to treat soldiers - serving, retired and disabled - with the respect they deserve. more