The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the disability pension claim of a veteran who had served in the Indian Army for 15 years and was discharged in 1987 after he experienced cardiac discomfort. The Court noted that as per the medical Board’s opinion there was no negligence on the part of the individual, and his records were exemplary. The only factor that went against him was his unwillingness to undergo surgery.
The Court was perplexed to see how the Tribunal had confined the disability pension to 1 year only when the rules of Pension regulation for the Army clearly stated that the disability pension should be granted for 10 years in such cases.
The Court observed, “It appears that the Medical Board which assessed the appellant clearly was of the opinion that there was no negligence on the part of the individual and the record was shown to the exemplary. The only prejudicial factor that weighed with the Board, in forming the opinion that the disability was not attributable to service was his unwillingness to undergo surgery. At the same time, the record also speaks of the fact that the appellant’s permanent disablement was the cause of his discharge. Given all these factors, the Armed Forces Appellate Tribunal’s decision to confine the disability benefit to one year does not appear logical.”
The bench comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar was hearing an appeal against a judgment of the Armed Forces Appellate Tribunal(AFT) which had held that the appellant was entitled to a disability pension but confined it to one year only.
The present case pertained to the appellant whose military service was exemplary but in 1987, he experienced cardiac discomfort and was placed under the permanent low medical category classification that qualified for treatment as a hundred percent disability. An order was passed in 1998 after he claimed a re-assessment of the disability element of his pension. Later, he underwent surgery during which a pacemaker was implanted. He again made a request which was in 2018. Then, he approached the AFT which upheld his claim but confined his disability pension to only 1 year. Aggrieved by the same, he approached the Supreme Court.
Reference was made to the judgment pronounced by the Apex Court in Dharamvir Singh v. Union of India & Ors. (2013) which made a comprehensive analysis of the Pension Regulations for the Army, 1961 and Appendix-II- ‘Entitlement Rules for Casualty Pensionary Awards, 1982 concluding that-
Presumption of Sound Health Upon Entry: When a military member enters service, they are to be presumed to be in sound physical and mental condition, provided there is no note or record at the time of entry. If the individual is subsequently discharged on medical grounds, any deterioration in their health is to be presumed as due to service.
Onus of Proof: The onus of proof is not on the claimant (employee); instead, it lies with the employer to establish the conditions for non-entitlement. A claimant has the right to benefit from any reasonable doubt and is entitled to pensionary benefits more liberally.
In the present case, the court cited Rule 185 of the Pension Regulations for the Army-1961, which governed the disability pension.
Rule 185(a) stipulated “that if a disability, as certified by a medical board, was incapable of improvement, disability pension should be granted for a period of ten years in the first instance, with the pensioner having the right to claim reassessment based on aggravation during this period.”
The Court was of the view that the tribunal was either not aware of this rule or did not give any reasons for not following this mandate.
The Court ordered, “In the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case, the disability pension shall be disbursed to the appellant in terms of Rule 185 for the period of 10 years after which re-assessment may be appropriately conducted in accordance with the rules”.
Furthermore, the court specified that the calculation of disability pension and payments based on this judgment would be limited to three years before the time the appellant approached the Tribunal till the present date and for the relevant future period.
Case title: Ex L/NK Rajput Ajit Singh v. Union of India
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 831
For Appellant: AOR Ms. Liz Mathew
For Respondent: Mrs. Aishwarya Bhati, A.S.G. (Live Law)