Ending the 24-year-long ordeal of a Nepal-based widow of a missing Gorkha soldier, who went missing in Himachal Pradesh in 1994, the Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal has directed the authorities concerned to release family pension due to her.
The Bench comprising Justice MS Chauhan (retd) and Lt Gen Munish Sibal (retd) has also imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 on the respondents, Ministry of Defence, Records Officer of 14 Gorkha Training Centre and Principal Controller Defence Accounts (Pensions).
Rifleman Bir Bahadur Gurung went missing from Dharampur Railway Station in Himachal Pradesh in 1994 when he was detailed on an escort duty to accompany a mentally sick patient to Command Hospital. Despite attempts to locate him, his whereabouts remained unknown. Police later certified that he had remained missing and had not even reached his home in Nepal.
His widow Phul Maya Gurung kept writing to the Army for grant of family pension by treating him as ‘dead’ but the Gorkha Rifles Record Office rejected her claim stating they had declared him a ‘deserter’.
Legal experts familiar with the matter point out that in the past, even the Chief of the Army Staff had taken the lapse of various record offices in not releasing pension to families of ‘missing’ soldiers very seriously. In a strongly worded letter, conveying the directions of the then Army Chief, the Army Headquarters had directed Record Offices not to declare missing soldiers as deserters unless there was conclusive evidence to the effect. However, many Record Offices continue to persist with the tag of ‘desertion’ even when the person is not found or located by the family or the Police and even after lapse of seven years, which is the period after which a presumption of death is raised under law.
In the year 2013, in an exactly similar case of rejection by the same Records Office, another widow from Nepal, Khusi Maya Gurung, whose husband had remained missing, was granted family pension and other benefits by the Armed Forces Tribunal but despite similar judicial orders passed against the same Regimental Records Office, the case of Phul Maya Gurung was not processed for release of benefits.