A panel on defence reforms has frowned upon the rejection of compensation claims of service personnel and has recommended that the officials of defence accounts department should be made to serve in tough forward areas to have a first-hand experience of problems faced by soldiers.
The panel, which recently submitted its report to the Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, has recommended the immediate release of all held-up benefits of disabled soldiers noting that a short-term deployment of finance officials will help them understand the hardships faced by troops in forward areas.
The Committee, comprising former Adjutant General Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal (retd), former Military Secretary, Lt Gen Richard Khare, defence matters advocate Maj Navdeep Singh, Maj DP Singh and former Judge Advocate General Maj Gen T Parshad has recorded that “it must be appreciated that those posted in operational areas are performing cardinal functions for the nation’s defence and are facing the vagaries of nature and also many other dreadful eventualities which cannot be measured or predicted with a straightjacket formula. All such individuals are integral to the success and sustenance of such operations”.
The Panel has further noted that financial authorities “are bent upon overriding law and decisions, taken by executive authorities and constitutional courts, and even statements made before parliamentary committees”. The panel has provided examples of benefits refused by financial authorities on objections such as death occurred on “line of actual control” and not on “line of control” or by stating that a soldier killed by a leopard while on duty in a jungle area was just a ‘carpenter’ by trade or refusing benefits to those dying due to falls or cardiac arrests in Counter Insurgency operations even in one of the coldest places on earth.
Noting that it was “at a loss to comprehend why negative energy and multiple reams of papers should be wasted on such matters concerning benefits of soldiers and deceased soldiers” the panel has urged immediate reforms.
In the last ten years, benefits to more than 400 deaths and disabilities in operational areas have been rejected or not processed by financial authorities or the defence accounts departments. Defence sources say that the same continues despite the Supreme Court and High Courts having repeatedly ruled that restrictive and perverse interpretation of rules was not warranted and such personnel and families were entitled to higher pensionary and disability benefits.
According to applicable rules, disabilities arising in notified operations, even if due to climatic causes or accidents, qualify for war injury pension while deaths qualify for liberalized family pension. However, the financial authorities have been rejecting all such claims even when approved by executive authorities by illogical interpretation of policies. Officers in the know of such cases say that while no major problem was faced earlier, the tirade of rejections started in 2009 and continues till date.