'Army & Air Force Liable' : Supreme Court Awards Rs 1.5 Crore Compensation To Air Veteran Who Contracted HIV During Blood Transfusion
In a significant judgment that reaffirms the principles of upholding the dignity, rights, and well-being of armed forces personnel, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a retired Air Veteran, holding the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army jointly and vicariously liable for medical negligence. The appellant, who contracted HIV during a blood transfusion at a military hospital...
In a significant judgment that reaffirms the principles of upholding the dignity, rights, and well-being of armed forces personnel, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a retired Air Veteran, holding the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army jointly and vicariously liable for medical negligence. The appellant, who contracted HIV during a blood transfusion at a military hospital while falling sick on duty during Operation Parakram, has been awarded compensation amounting to 1 crore 54 lakhs 73,000.
The Court ordered : “The appellant is entitled to compensation calculated at 1,54,73,000 rupees on account of medical negligence of the respondents who are held liable for injuries suffered by him. Since individual liability cannot be assigned, the respondent organizations IAF, and the Indian Army are held vicariously liable jointly and severally. The amount shall be paid by the IAF(his employer) within 6 weeks. It is open to the IAF to seek reimbursement to the extent of half the amount from the Army. All arrears related to disability pension shall be disbursed within 6 weeks.”
The Supreme Court, in its comprehensive judgment, not only addressed the specific case but also laid down significant directives for the government, courts, and quasi-judicial bodies under the framework of the HIV Act, 2017
“We’ve issued directions to the government in tune with the HIV Act, 2017, and also every court, quasi-judicial body including all tribunals, commissions, forums etc. discharging judicial functions set under central and state enactment shall take active measures to comply with the provision of section 34. Section 34 prioritizes the cases of all these persons suffering from AIDS. Chief Justice of all High Court shall compile information and devise methods of collecting information anonymizing the identity of persons affected appropriately and also complying with section 34(2)", Justice Ravindra Bhat said while pronouncing the judgment.
The bench comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Dipankar Datta was hearing an appeal against a judgment of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission(NCDRC) which denied the compensation claimed by the appellant on account of medical negligence by the respondents due to which he contracted HIV.
The case centered around allegations of negligence by the respondents, which led to the appellant contracting HIV. While on duty under “Operation Parakram”, in Jammu & Kashmir, he fell sick and was admitted to 171 Military Hospital, Samba, in July 2002, where one unit of blood was transfused into his body, during treatment. In 2014 he fell ill and HIV was diagnosed.
He sought information about the Personal Occurrence Report (POR) action of hospitalization during July 2002 and his Medical Case Sheet was supplied. Thereafter, Medical Boards were held in 2014 and 2015 in which his disability was found as attributable to service due to the transfusion of one unit of blood in July 2002.
The appellant was discharged from service on 31.05.2016, denying him extension of the service. The appellant also moved a letter for the supply of a disability certificate, which was denied on the ground that there was no provision for the same
Aggrieved by the same, he approached the NCDRC claiming compensation for 95 crores.
The NCDRC dismissed his petition by stating, “In the present case, there is no Expert Opinion to the effect that at the time of blood transfusion in the body of the complainant, the staff of 171 Military Hospital had committed any negligence. As such the complaint is liable to be dismissed on this short ground alone.”
Against this decision, the air veteran(appellant) approached the Supreme Court.
Duty to protect the lives of armed forces personnel
The Court emphasized the paramount importance of upholding the dignity and well-being of armed forces personnel.
The Court observed :
"People sign up to join the armed forces with considerable enthusiasm and a sense of patriotic duty. This entails a conscious decision to put their lives on the line and be prepared for the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.
A corresponding duty is cast upon all state functionaries, including echelons of power within the armed forces to ensure that the highest standards of safety (physical/mental wellbeing, medical fitness as well as wellness) are maintained.
Any flagging from these standards – as the multiple instances in the present case have established, only entails a loss of confidence in the personnel, undermines their morale and injects a sense of bitterness and despair not only to the individual concerned but to the entire force, leaving a sense of injustice. When a young person, from either sex (as is now a days the case) enrols or joins any armed forces, at all times, their expectation is to be treated with dignity and honour.When a young person from either sex as is nowadays case enrolls/joins any armed forces, at all times their expectation is to be treated with dignity and honor.”
Court slams response of IAF towards the appellant
Regrettably, the Court noted that the fundamental principles of dignity, honor, and compassion were glaringly absent in the respondents' behavior. It opined :
“The present case has demonstrated again and again how dignity, honor, and compassion towards the appellant were completely lacking in behavior by the respondents. Repeatedly, the record displays a sense of disdain, and discrimination, even a hint of stigma, attached to the appellant, in the attitude of the respondent employer"
The judgment concluded by acknowledging that no amount of compensation can fully heal the wounds inflicted by such behavior. It observed, “Although this court has attempted to give tangible relief at the end of the day, it realizes that no amount of compensation and monetary terms can undo the harm caused by such behavior which has shaken the foundation of the appellant’s dignity, robbed him of honor and rendered him not only desperate but cynical".
Appellant argued the case himself
The appellant argued his case before the Court as a party-in-person. The Court had appointed Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora and Advocate-on-Record Vanshaja Shukla as amici curiae in the case.
In the judgment, the Court recorded its gratitude to the the amici for their assistance and Additional Solicitor General Vikramjeet Banerjee.
The Court also acknowledged the appellant’s perseverance diligent research and scholarship put in by him in the relentless quest for justice.
Finally, the court also imposed a cost of 5 lakhs on respondents and the appeal was allowed. The Court further directed the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee to pay Rs 50,000 to Advocate Vanshaja Shukla as honorarium for her efforts.
Case Number : C.A. No. 7175/2021
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 826