A former General Officer Commander-in-Chief of Western Command, Lt Gen Surinder Singh (retd), has defended the withdrawal of income tax exemption to recipients of disability pension saying that all Army Commanders, of whom he was a part at the time, had been of unanimous opinion that certain harsh measures were required to stem the increasing number of disability claims in the Army.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Lt Gen Surinder Singh who retired in July 2019 and is presently serving as the Chairman Punjab Public Service Commission, said that there was a consensus among the Army Commanders and formation commanders that some urgent steps needed to be taken to stop the rush to get disability pension due to income tax benefits attached with it.
The issue has been a hot topic of discussion in military circles especially after many disabled pensioners received a meagre sum of Rs 100 or less as pension for the month of February, after the State Bank of India deducted income tax with arrears.
This was done after the Principal Controller Defence Accounts (Pensions) issued a circular for on February 20 for “necessary action” on the government orders of July 2019 regarding withdrawal of income tax exemption on pensions of disabled pensioners who had retired from service and not been invalided out due to disability.
“It would be wrong to blame only one individual as is being done in many forums for this move. The issue came up on more than one Army Commanders Conference and it was deliberated thoroughly. There was discontent among the fit officers in the Army who were seeing that certain officers were claiming disability pension of various pretexts while they were fit for many adventure activities. Letters were written to Army Commanders, I also got some and the Chief of Army Army Staff, also got these letters where officers questioned the rationale for staying fit,” said Lt Gen Surinder Singh.
The former Army Commander also took to Twitter to amplify his views. He wrote a series of tweets the first of which said, “ The withdrawal of income tax relief to soldiers who superannuated with disability pension is a correct step by Army to check the uncontrolled lure for disability by army personnel leading to substantial part becoming unfit for war”.
He went on to tweet that, “The affected people will make it an emotive issue. For every disability pensioner demanding a roll back, there are three others who support the move. The policy had full support of all Army Commanders. Operational casualties will always be cared for by the Army in many ways”.
Finally, he wrote, “Army personnel raising a hue and cry must first make a full disclosure whether they are claiming disability pension before opposing Army. This issue was widely decided by the army. Some action needed to be taken”.
The General told The Indian Express that the data pertaining to disability pension which had been put up to the Army Commanders showed that the availability of personnel in units would be severely affected if some urgent action was not taken.
“I know that my remarks will raise a lot of hue and cry but someone has to set the record state. Things were so serious that we had to court martial a General for falsely claiming disability benefits,” he said.
MOD says no IT recoveries to be made
In view of the IT deductions made in the pensions for the month of February 2019, the Ministry of Defence (Finance) Pensions wing has written to the Controller General Defence Accounts (Pensions) that the PCDA Pensions may be advised to to issue a circular to the pension disbursing agencies not to make any recoveries of mincome tax on disability pension. The MoD direction refers to a litigation regarding the issue pending in the Supreme Court in which the apex court had directed in its order on August 30 that status quo should be maintained by all parties. The MoD order further states that no recoveries should be made till a final decision is taken by the Supreme Court.
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