The Supreme Court has granted compensation of Rs. 1,54,73,000/- to an IAF (Indian Air Force) personnel on account of medical negligence by the authorities. It said that the dignity, honour, and compassion towards the said IAF man were completely lacking in behaviour by the employer.

The appellant i.e., the aforesaid IAF personnel had filed a civil appeal against the order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) whereby it dismissed his application for compensation.

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Dipankar Datta held, “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. The present case has demonstrated again and again how dignity, honour and compassion towards the appellant were completely lacking in behaviour by the respondent employer. 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. … it is held that the appellant is entitled to compensation, calculated at ₹ 1,54,73,000/- (Rupees one crore fifty four lakhs seventy three thousand only) towards compensation on account of medical negligence of the respondents, who are held liable, for the injury suffered by the appellant.”

The Bench said that no amount of compensation in monetary terms can undo the harm caused by such behaviour which has shaken the foundation of the appellant’s dignity, robbed him of honour and rendered him not only desperate even cynical.

Amicus Curiae Meenakshi Arora and Vanshaja Shukla represented the appellant while Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee represented the respondents.

Factual Background -

The aftermath of the attack on Indian Parliament, (i.e., on December 13, 2001) was followed by heightened tensions at the Indo-Pak border. There was troop mobilization at the border; what is termed as a prolonged “eyeball to eyeball” confrontation between Indian armed forces and Pakistani armed forces. During this deployment and engagement, known as “Operation Parakram”, the appellant, who was a radar operative/technician with the IAF, was deployed at the border. He had enrolled in the IAF from 1996 in a permanent position and held a combatant rank. In July 2002, as his services were needed, he was posted at 302 TRU (Transportable Radar Unit), Pathankot but he fell sick whilst on duty during the operation (Parakram) and complained of weakness, anorexia and passing high coloured urine. He was, therefore, admitted and whilst undergoing treatment a Physician advised him to undergo a blood transfusion. One unit of blood was therefore, transfused to the appellant, for the management of severe symptomatic anaemia.

The military hospital facility did not have a license for a blood bank but was termed by the Indian Army as an “ad-hoc blood bank”. Apparently neither any pathologist nor transfusion expert was posted at the facility as it was specifically opened during Parakram. The appellant alleged that the hospital did not possess any facility to check markers of blood. While undergoing treatment at the facility, he suffered some complications. In February of 2015, the appellant was hospitalized at a military facility in Ahmedabad owing to H1N1 (Swine) Influenza, Macrocytic Anaemia, Subhyalodid, and Haemorrhage along with Immune Surveillance. At the time of release, the appellant was not provided with the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) card within a reasonable time and an ECHS temporary card was issued only after an application was moved by him. Further, Rs. 15,000 were also deducted from the dues owed to him post-retirement in the absence of an ECHS card for undergoing medical treatment.

The Commission dismissed the appellant’s complaint and observed that no expert opinion was adduced or proved before it for establishing medical negligence during the blood transfusion against the respondent/opposite parties. It was also observed that no reason existed for the opposite parties to deny sharing of the appellant’s medical records, and in fact, the discharge certificate, when found was duly supplied to the appellant. Hence, the matter was before the Apex Court.

The Supreme Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “In the present case, the appellant was diagnosed HIV positive, and immediately placed under ART which continues till date. His immune system has gone down, due to the untreated condition, for some undetermined time. He complains of reduced mobility; the IAF itself has characterised his disability, though assigned it a figure of 30% disability; that was, however, sufficient for them to dispense with his service. As time progresses, he would need the assistance of a helper. Even conservatively calculated, such a helper would have to be paid about ₹ 10,000/- to ₹ 15, 000/- per month. If a calculation of average of ₹ 10,000/- to ₹ 15,000/- (i.e., ₹ 12,500/-) for twelve years is taken into account, the total sum would be ₹ 18,00,000/- (Rupees eighteen lakhs only).”

The Court said that repeatedly during the hearing, the appellant had been complaining of obstruction and delay, and denial of his requests and that the respondents owe a duty to ensure that the appellant’s requests are met in a compassionate and timely manner.

“To avoid any future friction, this court hereby directs the respondents to extend fullest co-operation to the appellant, in regard to his future medical treatment. Furthermore, the appellant shall be entitled to bi monthly medical check-ups at the relevant departments, in the Research and Referral Centre (R&R) in New Delhi; for that purpose, the respondents shall ensure that the necessary travel expenses, in accordance with the appellant’s entitlement are disbursed”, ordered the Court.

The Court observed that people sign up to join the armed forces with considerable enthusiasm and a sense of patriotic duty and that 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. This is absolutely the minimum required of the military/air force employer for not only assuring the morale of the forces but also showing the sense of how such personnel matter and their lives count, which reinforces their commitment and confidence”, said the Court.

The Court added that since individual liability cannot be assigned, the respondent organizations (IAF and Indian Army) are held vicariously liable, jointly, and severally. It directed that the amount shall be paid to the appellant within six weeks by the IAF, his employer and that it is open to the IAF to seek reimbursement, to the extent of half the sum, from the Indian Army.

“All arrears related to disability pension too shall be disbursed to the appellant within the said six weeks period”, held the Court.

Accordingly, the Apex Court allowed the appeal.

Cause Title- CPL Ashish Kumar Chauhan (Retd.) v. Commanding Officer & Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2023INSC857)

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