By Ayaskant Das
New Delhi, Nov 6 (IANS) A debate has erupted over the disability criteria for availing the ‘disability pension’ by armed forces personnel due to comments by Adjutant General of the Army Lt Gen Ashwani Kumar, who retired on October 31.
According to Lt Gen (rtd) Kumar, ‘lifestyle diseases’ should not be treated as disability and thus the disability pension be denied to such men in uniform.
Speaking to IANS, he said all claims couldn’t be treated under the same parameters and provisions that govern disability pensions. It required review, he added.
Disability pension should not be allowed to those who take no remedial measures despite suffering from certain diseases caused by the lifestyle, according to Kumar.
“If a soldier suffers from a disease on account of service conditions, like being posted for a substantial period in a high-altitude region, he should be eligible. But if a soldier is given to excessive drinking or smoking and takes no remedial measures when the first symptoms of the disease appear, he should not be considered,” he said.
Citicising Lt Gen Kumar’s comments, veterans have accused him of pushing forth a case that would deny disability pension to soldiers across the board who sustain lifestyle diseases during the service owing to untenable working conditions in most, if not all, cases.
On Wednesday, Lt Col (rtd) Niraj Bakshi, himself a disabled, issued a legal notice to Lt Gen Kumar for his alleged defamatory remarks on disabilities.
“A soldier who doesn’t alter his lifestyle, despite suffering from diseases on account of his habits, and yet claims compensation can’t be compared with the one who claims compensation on account of disability sustained due to untenable working conditions,” he said.
Veterans also criticised Lt Gen Kumar for having taken no action whatsoever against “shady” disability pension claim cases during his tenure as the Adjutant General of Indian Army from July 2017 to October 2019.
Lt Gen (rtd) Prakash Katoch, a former Brigade Commander of Siachen and Corps Commander of the Ladakh region, told IANS, the army had been lackadaisical in its approach to fix wrongful cases of disability pensions. “If a few officials have been wrongfully claiming disability pension, why no action was taken against them,” he said.
Disability pensions are granted in accordance with provisions of the Indian Army. “These provisions need a review. At this juncture, the provisions are such that the moment a soldier comes up with a medical certificate claiming disability, he is immediately entitled to a pension. There should be a mechanism for review,” he said.
However, even before the ex-Adjutant General flagged the issue, retired armed forces personnel have been upset over taxing of disability pension. According to a Finance Ministry circular in June, the income tax exemption on disability pension would be available only for those personnel who have been ‘invalidated’ from the Service due to disability.
“The three Service chiefs should jointly plan how to prohibit wrongful cases of disability pensions. No medical boards should be allowed to be set up from one’s own service for those claiming disability pensions within their last three years of retirement. Inter-service boards should be set up to examine these cases,” said Lt Gen Katoch.
(Ayaskant Das can be contacted [email protected])