PROVIDING RESPITE to the widow of a deceased disabled soldier, the Supreme Court has overturned an order of the Jaipur Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) which had denied disability pension to a soldier, who died in the course of litigation. Gunner Laxman Ram Poonia was enrolled in the Army in 2005 and became invalid in 2009 with schizophrenia. The military medical board declared his disability as “neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service”, thereby denying him any kind of pension or disability pension. His petition for disability pension was also dismissed by the AFT.
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The SC, however, ruled that when a person joins the armed forces in a fit condition, then any deterioration of his health is presumed to be related to his service conditions unless a note is made that the disability was such which could not have been detected at the time of joining the Army.
The SC has also directed the grant of pension to the late soldier’s wife. Even earlier, many decisions of the Army and AFT, denying similar benefits to disabled veterans, were set aside by high courts as well as the apex court. Non-grant of disability pension has long been a sore point for disabled soldiers. Despite multiple favourable decisions by the SC in recent times, pension continues to be refused to such soldiers with verdicts in favour of disabled soldiers being challenged by the defence ministry.
Sources said appeals in such cases were continuing despite a committee of experts, constituted by the defence minister, coming down heavily on the Army and the Ministry of Defence for causing agony to disabled soldiers. The committee had called such actions contemptuous and recommended withdrawal of all appeals filed by the government against disabled soldiers and gracefully conceding such cases covered by the SC and HC verdicts. Recommendations similar to the expert committee were also made by the 7th Pay Commission, later accepted by the Centre.
Sources added that despite recommendations of the expert committee, the Pay Commission and directions of the defence minister and number of verdicts of the HCs and SC, government lawyers have not yet conceded such cases. On the contrary, they continue to press appeals, opposing benefits to disabled soldiers. Even the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare has not issued instructions to withdraw the appeals.