THE ESM CORNER

DISABILITY PENSION CASE : MOD FACES CONTEMPT THREAT FROM HIGH COURT

ESM-CORNER-DISABILITY-PENSION

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been warned by the Punjab and Haryana High Court that it may face contempt of court action for filing appeals against the orders of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) granting disability pensions to retired officers and jawans. The High Court has also asked the MoD to explain why it should not be fined ₹10 lakh for filing such petitions.

The High Court’s warning came after it noticed that the MoD was challenging the disability pension cases despite the Supreme Court’s decisions in Dharambir Singh and Rajbir Singh cases, which had settled the issue. The Supreme Court had held that any disability or death resulting from disease must be presumed to be attributable to or aggravated by military service, regardless of whether it occurred in a field service or a normal peace area.

The MoD had decided to contest hundreds of cases of disability pension awarded to retired officers and jawans in court after it tightened the rules of eligibility for disability pension in September 2022. The MoD had claimed that 40% of the officers were claiming disabilities to get higher pensionary benefits and that the revised rules would save ₹4,000 crore for the public exchequer.

Disability pension is a financial assistance given to ex-servicemen and their dependents who suffer from any disability due to or aggravated by military service. It has two parts: service element and disability element. Service element is equal to the retiring pension, while disability element depends on the degree of disability. Disability pension is also exempt from income tax.

The MoD had prepared a list of officers and soldiers who had been granted disability pensions under different categories and had instructed the legal cells of all Army commands to file writ petitions in the high courts against the AFT judgments. The MoD had also sought a stay on the judgments and wanted to club similar petitions.

The High Court, however, was not impressed by the MoD’s move and asked the Additional Solicitor General, who was to argue the case, to assist the court on why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against the MoD. The High Court also asked a senior officer from the MoD to be present in the court on the next date of hearing.

The MoD’s decision to challenge the disability pension cases in court has sparked a debate among the defence community and civil society. Some argue that the move is unfair and disrespectful to the defence veterans and their families, who have sacrificed their health and well-being for the nation. They say that the MoD is violating the fundamental right to life and dignity of the defence veterans and their dependents by denying them the disability pension that they deserve. They also accuse the MoD of being insensitive and indifferent to the plight and suffering of the defence veterans and their dependents.

Others contend that the move is justified and necessary to prevent misuse and abuse of the disability pension scheme, which puts a burden on the public exchequer. They say that the MoD is acting in the public interest and accordance with the law by challenging the disability pension cases that are not in conformity with the prescribed guidelines and criteria. They also assert that the MoD is responsible and accountable to the taxpayers by saving the public money that would otherwise be wasted on undeserving and fraudulent claims.

The outcome of the court cases will have a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of the defence veterans and their dependents, who depend on the disability pension for their sustenance and dignity. The court cases will also test the legal and moral validity of the MoD’s revised rules for disability pensions, which have been widely criticized as arbitrary and discriminatory. The court cases will also determine the extent and scope of the judicial review of the MoD’s decisions and actions regarding the disability pension scheme.

The disability pension issue is not only a legal and financial matter but also a social and emotional one. It affects the welfare and well-being of the defence veterans and their dependents, who have served the nation with honor and valour. It also reflects the gratitude and respect that the nation owes to its defense heroes. It is hoped that the court cases will be resolved in a fair and just manner, keeping in mind the rights and interests of all the stakeholders involved.

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