Hearing an appeal filed by the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) against a judgment of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), the Supreme Court had to decide the question of benefits of an extra amount in pensions on account of disability due to service conditions of the ex-servicemen of the Army.
The matter came to the Supreme Court as the former Vice-Chief Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, had approached the AFT after 5th Pay Commission enhanced disability benefit to 75 percent. Oberoi, who had lost his leg in 1965 war, had continued to be in service and had retired as Vice Chief in 2001. He was in service without any financial benefit and at the time of retirement had a disability of 70 percent. After the 5th Pay Commission, the Ministry of Defence refused to pay the disability benefits to the former Vice Chief, and as a result he approached the AFT.
The Armed Forces Tribunal then allowed “broad-banding” benefits to all disabled personnel irrespective of when they left service. Under the new system of slabs, the disability percentage was segregated, with less than 50 percent falling under a category, 51-75 % coming in a category and more than 75 percent in another category. Each category had different benefits, which were 50, 75 and 100 percent respectively.
However, the Ministry of Defence agreed on the new system but said that it will be extended to those who were removed from service on medical grounds and not to persons who completed their full term. As a result, the matter reached the Apex Court.
The Bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu then said, “They are in the line of fire. They sacrifice their life for you and for us. This is the least you could do for them.” However, the Government did contend that if the benefits are extended to every retired disabled soldier, it will have a huge burden of Rs. 1500 crore on the exchequer.
Reportedly, the Court said, “So what? The government can have at least this much of budget for its soldiers who are dying for the people of this country everyday. What is the point of having these memorials and placards saluting our defence personnel if you litigate against the disabled soldiers till the Supreme Court. You should pay them,”
The Government then did not press the matter further and agreed to comply with the order. The Supreme Court then dismissed the matter, as a result disposing 880 appeals on the issue. It has also been reported that around 15,000 retired soldiers will be benefited due to the order.