There is an unwritten policy followed at AFT – one needs to first get the judgment and then file the case for its implementation. In my case, it took me about 4 years to get the judgment and 3 years to get the implementation orders. Imagine, this is a scenario in case of an officer, who is educated enough, with adequate IQ level to understand the nuisances, staying in NCR, earning sufficient to fight his case; what could be the state of poor widows, disabled soldiers from rural India or their old parents?
by Maj DP Singh (Retd)
While I was lying on hospital bed looking at my injuries, which I am proud to say were sustained in war, I never knew that I will have to one day fight to prove in a court of law that I got all these wounds and the shrapnel injuries during ‘Op Vijay’ in the Kargil theatre, and that I am a war casualty. I never knew how my future benefits will get altered depending upon the permanent address I had filled as a Gentleman Cadet (GC) in Indian Military Academy during my commissioning.
All GCs undergo documentation before passing out of Academy. Unfortunately, my father did not have a house of his own, and thus my parents were staying on rent in Delhi. So, I had given the address of my grandfather, which was in Roorkee. As a GC, no one contemplate that in times to come, this may be a game changer.
Later, post my injuries when the state government was approached by my father, he was made to juggle between Delhi, UP and UK. Delhi government refused to help as my documented address was of Roorkee, which was a part of UP in 1999, but by the time the UP government was approached by us, Uttarakhand (UK ) was already divided out of UP and Roorkee became part of UK. So, Delhi and UP washed their hands off my case and UK claimed lack of funds, as the State was new. So, finally, nothing was granted by any state government.
Ironically, my ancestral village is in Haryana and had I written that as my address, I would have also got huge financial assistance. A soldier fights for nation, but on getting injured or becoming a martyr, he becomes the subject of state and states support the family as per their own whims and fancies.
Wait a minute. What am I writing all this? Am I cribbing about the system? Rarely, I think on these lines as I believe in moving ahead to make the best of whatever I have, than to keep sulking about what I do not have. May be that is why, I am what I am today. Then why am I writing all this?
Well, I guess it is important to highlight some of the unwanted painful policies, which leaves a disabled soldier or family of martyr in tears, even though they get injured or killed in the line of duty and for the sake of country. By doing so, where on one side, I am conveying that I got affected no less than many of my brothers and their families, on the other hand I could still move ahead in life and make best out of what I have. Further to that, as trained, could do my bit to make my beloved country even better. The choice of living the way I wish to is still in my hand and none can dare break me to the extent to not to enjoy my life.
It was in 2007, I hung my uniform. While, I was granted pension but by the time I got my PPO I realised that the published PPO does not speak about War Injury Pension (WIP) but disability pension (DP). As a war casualty I was supposed to be getting War Injury Pension (WIP) but perhaps, the PCDA got confused with my name and gave DP to DP!
Even after taking up my case in writing with PCDA, when nothing had worked out, I had to take the legal route and file a case in AFT. It took me 7 years to get justice. I felt there is an unwritten policy followed at AFT. One needs to first get the judgment and then file the case for its implementation. In my case it took me about 4 years to get the judgment and 3 years to get the implementation orders.
The final hearing was like any Bollywood scene. A representative (or ‘rep’) of PS4 Directorate of AHQ, in uniform, stood in front of court and openly challenged me. He turns towards me and loudly says, “Let me see, till I am here, who will give you WIP.” I was taken aback as the quorum was sitting but both the judges were little busy among themselves in a discussion. Immediately, after this judge asked the rep a question. “How do you justify the shrapnel injuries as non-Battle Casualty and from where so many shrapnel have come inside his body? And if this is a war injury, why WIP is not granted?”
To this, the gentleman did not have any answer. And the provocative statement made by him just 5 minutes back, fell on his face. And then he admitted the fault of not implementing the WIP orders. What a mockery he had made of himself! Imagine, if this is a scenario in the case of an officer, who is educated enough, with adequate IQ level to understand the nuances, staying in NCR, earning enough to fight his case, what could be the state of poor widows, disabled soldiers from villages or their old parents.
And all this is not done on any logic but the ego of those who are placed to help with the welfare of soldiers. Ego is of how anyone can anyone go against the state? Ego of, if a case is filed, despite the merit or not it is supposed to be won as a war. I wonder, who is worse, the enemy in war or those responsible for our welfare?
It is very unfortunate, that crores are spent to feed the lawyers to fight the cases, when it will perhaps cost less if our dues are granted, with justified pensionary benefits. A simple calculation can give you an idea. Each hearing costs no less than Rs 10,000 and a case which went on for 7 years, could have given few lakh for a government councillor. There is huge saving for not only the exchequer, but also the goodwill and the morale it will boost. Its impact cannot be imagined by those who deny a soldier his dues, if the justified dues were passed on to the warriors honourably.
There are approximately 16000 cases pending in courts, 50% of which are related to pension anomalies. This makes MoD topping the chart of being the biggest litigant among government departments. Incidentally, the present PM is in favour of government being a responsible litigant and National Litigation policy speaks about it.
There are only 8 AFTs across the country, and next step to the AFT is the Supreme Court, as tribunal rules does not allow filling of appeals in HC but directly in SC, which is the only one in country. So, firstly, a wounded soldier or their widows and parents are often unaware of their correct dues. By any chance, even if one is aware, one needs to travel to these 8 AFTs, or to Delhi for filling an appeal. To add to this pain, is to deal with the persons, like I had to face in my case.
Keeping all above in mind, Maj Navdeep took up a petition in 2014 and wrote to the then RM, Manohar Parrikar. Aim was to convert the various judgments given by top courts into a policy to avoid repetition of cases being filed for a similar type of case, in which event the SC has passed judgments. Any sensible person could do so without being told to save time of court, embarrassing state and dignity of warriors of country.
I was one of the 20 signatories of the petition. Further to that, I wrote a personal mail to the then RM, stating that I am 100% war disabled but through my NGO, ‘The Challenging Ones’, I am still trying to do my bit to change the perspective of society towards disability and there is lot of shift I could make over the last few years by action on the ground and leading by example as taught by the Armed Forces.
So, if I as a Veteran, a normal citizen, can do so much for my country and disabled, you being a RM can do lot of good for disabled and martyrs of the Armed Forces. Mr Parrikar is a man of big heart and principles. On a Sunday morning, just about a few days after my mail, I get a call from private number. It was he, who called me after reading my mail. That is what started the journey of my meeting him in person and explaining him the whole scenario.
This ended with a setting up of a committee of experts on 15th July 2015, which was tasked to look into all the matters leading to court cases, grievances, and give recommendations and solutions to avoid this in future. The ambit of the committee was expanded from just being army centric to all three Armed Forces, all departments of MoD including civilian staff, ordnance factories, DRDO etc. The committee was headed by Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal and Lt Gen Khare, Maj Gen Prasad. Maj Navdeep Singh and myself were members.
We were given 2 months’ time, from the date of first sitting, to submit the report, which we did and submitted the report on 24th November 2015. It was an exhaustive report of 500 pages in which 75 recommendations were given covering all major areas, which leads to such issues.
Out of 75, 16 matters were agreed upon, 16 were agreed in principle and remaining 43 were to be examined by various departments before taking the decision.
Mr Parrikar also issued instructions to implement the report within 45 days. Later, when he found things are getting delayed, he had set up an implementation team under his own chairmanship with an instruction of meeting every week to check the progress. Unfortunately, Goa took away him and we were left in a lurch again. In November 2016, I got the chance of meeting the present RM. I briefed her about the committee in detail with a hope that the implementation will be speeded up now.
I am continuing with my humble efforts to bring confidence in persons with disabilities and change the mindset of public by action on ground. My NGO, The Challenging Ones, has grown from 1000 members in 2015 to 1700 at present. With support of corporate house, JK Cement Ltd, where another Veteran, Col Rajnish Kapur connected me, I took the initiative to bring change in tier 2 and 3 cities of India through my drive, SwachhAbility Run, in which we could touch around 30,000 people, 3000 persons with disability and 200 schools.
Injured or otherwise, we Veterans, are still working to bring change in our beloved country by doing our bit. But the powerful ministers could not bring change in the state of misery of the families of disabled and martyrs undergoing.
I sometimes really wonder, who is actually ‘disabled’?
Major DP Singh is a 1999 Kargil War Hero. He survived the multiple shrapnel injuries and had one leg amputated. He retired from the Indian Army in 2007, after serving for 10 years. He is India’s first Blade Runner using a prosthetic limb and has ran in 26 marathons. A youth icon today, he recently became part of ‘Fauji Foundation of India’ and is devoted to work for War Disabled Soldiers.
He can be reached on Email: firstname.lastname@example.org