The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has come to the rescue of a soldier who was denied the status of ‘battle casualty’ by his unit despite the fact that he had lost his leg in a landmine blast in an operational area on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.
In a significant decision, the Principal Bench of the AFT has ruled that Sepoy Rajesh Kumar is entitled to benefits as a ‘battle casualty’, with an assessed disability of 60 per cent, due to his leg getting amputated and has dismissed the assertion of his unit that he entered the mine field in disregard of orders and was, therefore, not entitled to benefits.
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The AFT bench dismissed the findings of the Army court of inquiry and stated that “while protestations of the unit related to all safety aspects of a minefield marking, having been taken care of, it defeats all logic and imagination, why and how a rational person would willingly traverse into a well marked and defined minefield, knowing it fully well that he would risk severe damage to life or limb”
Sepoy Rajesh was enrolled in the Army in 1999 and was posted to 6 Rajput in 2001 after completion of his training. His battalion was deployed on the line of control in Poonch in J &K. Within two days of joining, he suffered an anti-personnel mine blast, in which his right leg was blown off which led to full amputation of his leg below the knee.
The injured Sepoy was declared a battle casualty by medical authorities and his disability was assessed as 60 per cent. The Sepoy’s unit conducted a court of inquiry which blamed the Sepoy for the incident and said that the mine field had been clearly demarcated and had been set up with warning boards. The inquiry blamed the Sepoy for infringing discipline and recommended that suitable action be taken against him besides making him non-eligible for being declared a ‘battle casualty’.
It had been argued that, being a raw soldier, he was not specifically acquainted with the topography of the area in which he was assigned his duty. When he went early in the morning to use the toilet, he found that all the toilets were already occupied. Consequently, to ease himself, he went to a nearby jungle area, and in that act, he stepped on an anti-personnel mine resulting in the injuries.
The judgment passed by the AFT bench states that the court of inquiry having been convened and conducted by the unit “defies logic and smacks of disingenuity” because the statement of the Sepoy was never recorded.
“In the circumstances under which an individual sustained injuries in a minefield, being investigated, the individual himself was never given an opportunity to record at least his statement, if not the larger issue of questioning and cross-questioning of the persons, who are accusing him of violating the instructions,” the judgment noted.
The Army contended that the Sepoy’s statement was not recorded because he was admitted in a hospital. However, the AFT bench noted that in the several years that have elapsed from the event, no further attempt was made to obtain a statement from the Sepoy and as such the court of inquiry cannot be held as admissible and is considered illegal.
“This Court is convinced that indeed the individual suffered a mine-blast injury of an accidental nature on duty, in an operational area, along the LOC in J & K during OP Rakshak, as a consequence, the benefit of him being classified as a “battle casualty”, cannot be denied to him,” the AFT opined.