Disability Pension In a landmark oral judgment earlier this year on March 6, 2023, the Chandigarh Regional Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) delivered a remarkable decision in the case of Navneet Singh Sindhu vs. Union of India and others (OA 802 of 2022). Recently published on July 12, 2023, this decision, with its commendable, courageous, and convincing reasoning, granted disability pension to a former Short Services Commissioned Officer by rightfully dismissing a legally and factually unsustainable medical board report. This ruling holds significant importance.
Judicial members in this case on disability pension
The Judicial Member Hon’ble Mr. Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary and Administrative Member Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ranbir Singh rightfully criticized the medical report for neglecting the undeniable fact that the officer, released from service in 1988, had no detectable disease or disability at the time of his commission. The AFT firmly stated that attributing the officer’s disability to military service based on the location of the injury (peace area) was absurd. Quite rightly!
The AFT held that in military service, soldiers endure stress and strain due to various factors, such as climate, geography, and separation from family. Therefore, the origin of the disability, whether in a peace area or a field area, is of little consequence, as per the existing rules.
How much disability pension was Granted
The former officer was granted a disability pension at 50 percent of basic pay, effective from May 2008 for life. The AFT directed the Central Government to calculate and release the outstanding amount within three months, with an added interest of 8 percent per annum if not paid on time. The AFT justified its decision by citing several Apex Court precedents that found rejecting disability claims baseless when it was beyond doubt that the applicant had no medical issues upon joining the Army. Thus, the AFT rightly disposed of the application in favor of the officer.
In the opening paragraph, the Chandigarh Regional Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal, through a brief, brilliant, bold, and balanced oral judgment, sets forth the relief sought by the applicant. These include granting disability pension from May 2, 2008, setting aside the part of the Medical Board proceedings that deemed the disability non-attributable to military service, and extending the disability benefits to 50 percent instead of the initial 20 percent for life.
Fact of the Case with respect to disability pension
The facts of the case revealed that Capt. Navneet Singh (Retd), commissioned as a Short Service Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army on August 26, 1982, was released from service on April 17, 1988. His medical category was classified as “low” for the disability “LABILE HYPERTENSION.” Despite this, no Release Medical Board assessed the extent of his disability before his discharge. Only upon the tribunal’s intervention was a proper board conducted, determining a 20 percent disability for life, but deeming it non-attributable to military service, leading to the rejection of his disability pension claim. The subsequent appeals were also denied, prompting the applicant’s second round of litigation.
During his service, the applicant served extensively in the field and operational areas of Ladakh region in J&K and Punjab during the peak of terrorism. This fact is supported by documentation issued by the Respondents themselves.
The Respondents contested the applicant’s claim, arguing that the disability was neither attributable to nor aggravated by military service, despite their own record (Annexure A-11) stating otherwise.
The applicant’s counsel cited several decisions from the Hon’ble Supreme Court, including Dharamvir Singh Vs. Union of India (2013) 7 SCC 316, Union of India Vs. Chander Pal (2013) 9 SCC 603, and other cases, to support the claim.
After careful consideration of the arguments and the legal precedents, the Bench concluded that the disability did not exist at the time of the applicant’s commission in the Army. Thus, the disability was deemed attributable to, or at least aggravated by, military service, as per the law established by the Hon’ble Apex Court.
Court on the dismissal of appeal
The Bench found the rejection of the applicant’s claim for disability pension to be legally and factually unsustainable. Consequently, the applicant was entitled to a disability pension of 50 percent, rounded off as per policy and the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Civil Appeal No. 418/2012 titled Union of India Vs. Ram Avtar, with effect from May 2, 2008.
The AFT mandated the Central Government to calculate and release the due and admissible monetary benefits within three months from the receipt of the order. Failure to comply would result in an 8 percent interest per annum until the entire amount is realized.
In conclusion, the AFT’s judgment is well-grounded in deeming peace-posting disability as attributable to military service. The officer’s career profile, with service in Ladakh and Punjab during sensitive times, further supports this decision. The AFT’s recognition of the impact of stress and strain on soldiers’ health and its adherence to established rules and legal interpretations make this judgment fair and justifiable.
This judgment will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the rights and well-being of soldiers across the nation. As we celebrate this victory for justice, let us renew our commitment to supporting those who safeguard our freedoms with unwavering dedication