A bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal has come down heavily upon government authorities for keeping a disabled retired Colonel without pension for about three years even though he had been sanctioned disability pension.
The AFT bench headed by Justice Surinder Singh Thakur has held that such an act resulted in denying soldiers a right of dignity.
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Col Mahesh Kumar retired from the Army Medical Corps (AMC) in December 2013 with two disabilities which were declared attributable to military service. Accordingly, the Army Headquarters had sanctioned his disability pension and sent the sanction order to the office of Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (PCDA) at Allahabad for issuance of the Pension Payment Order (PPO). However, despite several letters by the officer to the military and accounts authorities, the PPO was not issued. In fact, the PPO even for the service element part of pension and the gratuity was not issued.
The officer had then approached the AFT bench in Chandigarh seeking directions for release of his pension. The officer had pointed out in his petition that in view of the laxity of the government in issuing him his PPO, the question arose as to who would compensate him and his family for denial of pension from 2013 onwards. The petition had also pointed out that he and his family remained without military healthcare cover ever since his retirement because ex-servicemen contributory health scheme (ECHS) cards were only issued after issuance of PPO.
In its reply before the bench, the PCDA, however, took the plea that the Army HQ had not sent them the complete documents required to release pension while the Army HQ claimed that there was no such lapse on its part.
Observing that the petitioner could not be penalized for lack of coordination between the Army and the PCDA, the AFT has held that denying pension amounted to denying dignity of life to disabled officers and has directed the payment of 12 per cent interest on the total amount from the date it fell due till the date of its payment to the officer.
In a similar matter earlier, the same Bench of the AFT had castigated military authorities for keeping their soldiers without pension for long periods due to red tape at their end.
An advocate practising in AFT, familiar with such issues, said that the processes for release of disability pensionary benefits at times are held back for inordinate periods and even the appellate processes in case of rejection of pension claims which should be completed within two to three months are kept pending for years together.
In another case decided last year, a disabled officer invalided out of the Army in 2002 was paid his service and disability pension in 2016 after running from pillar to post finally on judicial intervention. The Army had stated that it had failed to process his claim for pension due to an ‘oversight’.