The principal bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has ruled that the second wife of a Muslim military personnel, who marries for the second time while maintaining his first wife, is eligible to receive benefits of the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) and can also be given family pension benefits.
Hering a petition filed by Lt Col Sardar Ahmed Khan (retd), the New Delhi bench of the AFT comprising Justice SS Satheesachandran and Air Marshal JN Burma has ruled that the second wife of the officer was entitled to be considered as a dependent of the officer and would be eligible to receive benefits of the health scheme as well as to be nominated in the Pension Payment Order (PPO) to receive her share of family pension once the officer is deceased.
The petitioner retired in the rank of Lt Col and thereafter he married again while maintaining the matrimonial relationship with his first wife. While he was in service, his first wife had been nominated as his dependent for the purposes of PPO to be issued and for being eligible for medical benefits under ECHS. Being a Muslim he could legally marry a second time and therefore he applied to the authorities to include his second wife’s name also for her share in family pension, in case of death of the pensioner,and also to make her a member of ECHS.
However, his request for an ECHS card for his second wife was turned down with the observation that only one spouse was eligible to receive the benefit of the scheme. He also approached the Principal Controller Defence Accounts (PCDA), Allahabad, for getting benefits for his second wife but these were also of no avail. Even the Army Headquarters clarified to the ECHS and PCDA, after receiving advice from the Judge Advocate General’s Department, that the second marriage was absolutely legal and that the second wife was also eligible for sharing family pension in the event of widowhood. However, despite this advice, the PCDA did not issue the necessary orders forcing the officer to approach the AFT.
In its detailed order, the AFT bench has noted that the authorities took a stand that the second wife could not receive the ECHS membership card till her name was included in the PPO. On the other hand, the PCDA took a stand that the name of the second wife could not be included in the PPO till the husband dies. The bench dismissed this stance of the PCDA and observed that it was patently incorrect. “The applicant has a valid right to seek for her to be including her as his dependent and issue of ECHS card and for modification/correction of the PPO for including her along with the first wife for claiming pension”.