Three years after his son, Capt Nitin Gautam, died during active service in Jammu and Kashmir, the soldier’s father has finally won the battle for enhanced pensionary benefits, which the Army had denied to him on the grounds that Capt Gautam’s death could not be classified as ‘Battle Casualty’.
A Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), comprising Justice Prakash Krishna and Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra (retd), has now directed the Centre to release the benefits to the soldier’s father, Kameshwar Gautam, in the form of liberalised family pension. It also set aside orders of the Army HQs which had denied the late Captain the status of ‘Battle Casualty’.
Capt Nitin Gautam, from Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh, had been commissioned in the 9 Garhwal Rifles in 2010 after having undergone training at the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, and the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. The 25-year-old officer died of a cardiac arrest while on active operational duty with his ‘Ghatak Platoon’ at the Drass Sector in J&K during Operation Rakshak in .
His was declared a “Battle Casualty” by his battalion and by a statutory Court of Inquiry approved by the Brigade Commander. The categorisation, however, was later cancelled by the Army HQs on the grounds that his death did not fall under government instructions for benefits entitled for deaths in operational areas. His father was thereafter refused liberalised dependent family pension.
The father then approached the AFT seeking his due benefits stating the term “Battle Casualty” not only refers to injuries, disabilities and death during battle or proper war but also covers various other kinds of injuries, disabilities and deaths which may happen in operational circumstances.
The father contended that under the rules, the concept of “Battle Casualty” also includes many other circumstances such as natural illnesses while operating near the border or line of control, casualties during flood relief and earthquakes and death from friendly fire among others.
The father also pointed out, in his petition, that government instructions, in any case, cover deaths and disabilities in all notified operations thereby entitling families to pension in case of death and war injury pension in case of disability.
Agreeing with the father’s contention, the AFT has directed the grant of liberalised dependent family pension to him and has also set aside the order of the Army HQ wherein the “Battle Casualty” status awarded for the death of the officer was cancelled.