Sunday, September 21, 2014

Victors who battled their own Army


CHANDIGARH: On August 15, 2009, as the nation celebrated its Independence, Sepoy Lakshman Kumar of the Dogra Regiment died after suffering head injuries in Ladakh. But his wife, Daxina Devi from Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh, had little time to grieve as the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (PCDA) in Allahabad denied her widow's compensation, because Kumar had died in an accident on the way to the toilet. They said he was "not on duty". 


Daxina Devi challenged the denial of compensation in an Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), saying, "It seems strange that the office of the PCDA is suggesting that a person should not even go out to attend to nature's call and if he does, he shall not be considered on duty during those particular moments". In 2013, her persistence paid off and the AFT ordered she be paid Rs 10 lakh with 10% interest. They also reiterated that a soldier taking a lavatory break during work hours is still on duty for the nation. 



Battles like those fought by Daxina Devi in military and civil courts are the subject of a new book by Chandigarh-based lawyer Major Navdeep Singh. Titled Maimed by the System, the book is a collection of 19 real-life stories of defence personnel, military veterans, disabled soldiers and their families who have been wronged by the system, but fought to successfully claim their basic rights and dues post disability, battle and in some cases, even posthumously. 



Of the 19 cases in the book, 15 have been handled by Singh. He says the idea behind the book was not to focus on his work alone. "I wanted to highlight the uniqueness of the cases, lack of sensitivity shown by authorities and loopholes in the system," says Singh, a volunteer-reservist with the territorial army. 



Pension anomalies are the most common complaint, which can take years to resolve. In many instances, soldiers and widows are taken to Supreme Court by the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) for an amount involving their basic pension of Rs 350 to 700. Singh claims currently there are over 10,000 cases pending on various issues in the AFT and other courts. If those who haven't approached the courts with their grievances are added, the number could go higher. 



The book focuses on those who successfully fought back. Take the case of late Captain Manjinder Singh Bhinder, who saved over 150 lives in Delhi's Uphar Cinema blaze in 1997. Bhinder, from the 61st Cavalry Regiment, himself perished in the fire along with his wife and young son. But while the army declared his death "attributable to military service", the accounts branch disagreed and changed the verdict. After seven years of litigation in Delhi high court, Captain Bhinder's father was given benefits and other dues. 



Late Sepoy Santokh Singh of the Punjab Regiment was discharged from the army on medical grounds in 1951 after 10 years service. The villager from Sehjo Majra near Ludhiana received disability pension for a bullet wound till 1959, when it was abruptly stopped without any reason being communicated to him. 



As the bullet remained embedded in his upper back, he sent numerous letters to the defence accounts department, which went unanswered until 1995, when he was told that his pension was stopped because his disability was assessed as less than 20%, which made him ineligible for benefits on medical grounds. In 2001, central government officials asked for a medical certificate from a civilian doctor to confirm the bullet remained embedded in his body. Following that, his disability pension was restored but he was denied arrears 42 years. His fight continued till 2006, when he passed away. Ironically, his five sons too are in the army. 



Paramjit Kaur's husband Sepoy Rup Singh posted in counter insurgency operations in J&K died in a bus accident en route home in 2007. Kaur, a resident of Moga district, Punjab, filed a claim that was rejected on the grounds of her late husband being on leave, not on duty, at the time of his death. She moved the Chandigarh bench of AFT, which ordered the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to pay her Rs 10 lakh ex-gratia. AFT also held that death of a soldier in an accident while travelling in military convoy, after proceeding on leave from his unit to home, should be deemed to be on performance of duty. 



"The ironically titled DESW functioning under the MoD has always received flak for imbibing a negative anti-military veteran ethos. A crude example of this is the fact that 90% of litigation initiated by the MoD in the SC is against its own disabled soldiers," says Singh, concluding, "It is hope and triumph that the book embodies, not despair. Rather than evoke disdain for the system, the book should act as a lesson and a mirror for all of us towards a foundation of positivity and compassion." 

(Source- Times of India)

2 comments: