A large number of Army officers belonging to the non-fighting corps have been getting disability medical grading in the period between 2006 to 2014, including a substantial number of medical officers who have been retiring with disability pension.
This was revealed in a letter from Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) to Chief of Army Staff in September 2015 and the contents of which the Army is learnt to have hotly contested in the ongoing debate over disability pension benefits being given to officers. This letter was written after the then Director General Armed Forces Medical Services, Lt Gen BK Chopra wrote to the then Defence Secretary in December 2014 highlighting that large number of Major Generals and Lt Generals were being granted disability pension upon retirement.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that the CGDA letter pointed out that an unusually large number of cases of disability in 2016-2014 were of officers of ‘non-fighting corps’ and an equally large number are from medical corps. The letter also recommended that lifestyle diseases should not be connected to military service conditions and should be kept out of the ambit of disability. It also highlighted post of Medical Advisor (Pensions) at Principal Controller Defence Accounts (PCDA) in Allahabad has been discontinued.
Another key issue raised by the CGDA is that the PCDA Allahabad, being the pension sanctioning authority, additional documents should be furnished to establish casual relationship between service conditions and disability. It also raises the issue of conducting medical boards by non-military medical authorities, ie. civilian doctors.
Sources say the Army has forcefully rebutted the CGDA point-by-point. It brought out that the “hard life” led by military personnel resulted in manifestation of disability leading upto retirement. Sources say the Army has brought out that the increase in disability claims was due to increased awareness among defence personnel about government rules and regulations. It has also been explained that the number of officers being disabled is more because the service period of officers is much more than that of a jawan, who retires much early. The suggestion that civilian doctors conduct medical boards for disability was rejected on the grounds that such doctors did not possess any greater knowledge.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Maj Navdeep Singh, an advocate in Punjab and Haryana High Court who has been a member of he Ministry of Defence experts panel, said the (CGDA’s) letter amounted to unnecessary interference in functioning of executive and medical authorities. “It is also contemptuous since the Supreme Court and High Courts have repeatedly held the Defence Accounts Department cannot intervene in such matters and its duty is restricted to ensuring correctness of amounts disbursed,” he said.
Meanwhile, sources say data pertaining to number of defence personnel getting disability pension between 2006-2014 may have been statistically tweaked before the 7th Pay Commission to suit a particular pattern. While the CGDA provided a percentage decrease of disabled personnel from about 19 per cent to 7 per cent in case of personnel other than officers, an increase from 13 per cent to 19 per cent was shown for officers during the period 2007-2014. However, officers concerned with the subject say that the actual percentage in 2014 is approximately 16 per cent for officers and 12.5 per cent for personnel other than officers and the variation is due to a difference in age profile with officers retiring with 15 to 20 years more service than jawans thereby increasing the probability of in-service diseases.
Maj Navdeep Singh said that CGDA’s data is not honest since all old cases who were granted disability pension due to change in policy or on judicial orders during the period 2007 to 2014 were incorrectly included in current data. He adds that many disabled personnel were earlier illegally denied disability benefits due to incorrect policies which were set aside by tribunals and courts thereby leading to an artificial spurt during the period, which is also not unusual, adding that in countries like the US, 22.5 per cent of total soldiers were released with a disability in 2014.