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Opinion

MoD continues to drag its feet on the issue of Disabled Officer Trainees

The Punjab and Haryana High Court in its order dated 20 August 2020 had directed the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of the Army Staff, and the Adjutant General to consider all points raised in the petition filed by Mrs Jaya Shubhey Madan, the widow of Late Gentleman Cadet Sandeep Madan within two months. Even after almost five months, Mrs. Madan has not received any response.

The officer-trainees of the defence services (Gentlemen/Lady Cadets) are not paid proper disability pension in case they are invalided out from various military training institutions with disabilities caused during the course of their military service/training. For reasons which remain unexplained, their disability pension is called “monthly ex-gratia award/disability award” instead of “disability pension”. On the subsequent death of such officer-trainees for causes which are not related to the said disability for which they were boarded out, their widows are also not released family pensionary benefits due to a grey- area in the policy.

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Faced with the long-standing anomaly and non-resolution of the pending issue for the past many years, Mrs Jaya Shubhey Madan, the widow of Late GC T/5907 Sandeep Madan, who passed away on 26 February 2019 and was not released her family pension on the death of her husband due to this grey area in the policy had approached the Hon’ble Punjab & Haryana High Court through Civil Writ Petition 12302 of 2020. She had prayed that the Government may be directed to resolve this long subsisting anomaly in a time-bound manner. The Hon’ble High Court had directed the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of the Army Staff and the Adjutant General to consider all points raised in the petition within two months. The Bench also expressed hope that “unnecessary litigation” on the issue would be avoided. 

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Despite the court directive the Ministry of Defence continues to drag its feet on the matter. Sources privy to the case have revealed that the Army has forwarded its favourable response, but the file is stuck in the bureaucratic labyrinth. This is not the first time that the Army has proposed a change in policy to grant Disability pension to Officer Trainees. Earlier proposals have repeatedly faced resistance from lower bureaucracy. This matter had engaged the attention of the Defence Services and the Ministry of Defence since long. In fact, the then Raksha Mantri, Late Manohar Parrikar, had expressed his deep anguish on the subject on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, despite the in-principal assent of all stakeholders, and the stark anomaly visible on the face of it, the file continues to shuttle amongst various departments in face of obdurate attitude of the lower levels of the Ministry of Defence.

They have been inserting file noting’s not exactly reflecting the correct legal or factual position. This has made the decision of the competent authority difficult. In fact, all the objections ever raised were considered by the Raksha Mantri’s Committee of Experts set up by Late Manohar Parrikar and had still recommended the resolution of this anomaly way back in 2015. But despite that, the same objections continue to be raised again and again by officials at lower levels. On file, they have asked the concerned quarters to take up the matter for inclusion of the training period of Officer-Cadets as ‘service’ by granting them a commission when they join the training academy, fully knowing that this aspect has not been accepted in the past and has no connection with disability benefits whatsoever.

The terming of the disability awards with different nomenclature and at lower rates than others, and all the related anomalies are just the result of letters of the Ministry of Defence issued from time to time in which they have nomenclatured the said pension differently than normal disability pension and hence the matter is internal to the Ministry of Defence. Rather than suggesting complicated solutions or pressing complexities on file, the only action that needed to be taken was to simply state that the said disability award shall be known as disability pension and regulated at notional pay as admissible to an officer. This has remained pending despite the fact that the number of persons affected is minuscule. 

Another reason for denial recorded on file was that trainee officers are in receipt of ‘stipend’ instead of ‘pay’. This is faulty since the said ‘stipend’ itself is notionally based upon proper pay and forms a part of the various Pay Instructions issued from time to time for the defence services, including the latest statutory “Army Officers’ Pay Rules” published in the year 2017. Moreover, even the same term (‘stipend’) is used for Jawan-trainees/recruits under the “Army Pay Rules” but they are entitled to proper disability pension and consequently family pension to widows on their deaths. Regulation 181 of the Pension Regulations, 1961, even makes ‘boys’ eligible for disability pension at the rates applicable to a Sepoy. It indeed comes out as a sad state of affairs that despite the top political executive and the higher echelons of the bureaucracy and military leadership wanting to effectively resolve the matter, unnecessarily pessimistic and hyper-technical impediments are put by lower echelons, making every such genuine grievance a difficult task to be resolved and uphill proposition to be achieved.

Since the Ministry continues to drag its feet and has not responded It is quite likely that the petitioner would be left with no option but to file a contempt petition.

Written By

Aritra Banerjee

Aritra Banerjee is the Co-Founder and publisher of the Military Features and Opinion portal 'Mission Victory India (MVI)' and has worked as a Defence Journalist in both Online and Print media. He has also covered Crime and Civic issues at the hyper-local level for various Powai based news publications. He is a voracious reader and an amatuer ultra-distance runner. Twitter: @Aritrabanned. Views are personal.

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