The Supreme Court recently granted relief to an Army Veteran who has served the Indian Army for 15 years till 1987 when he was discharged from service after experiencing cardiac discomfort, which placed him under the permanent low medical category, thus qualifying for treatment as a hundred percent disability. The bench while extending disability pension for 10 years as opposed to 1 year granted by the Armed Forced Tribunal was of the opinion that the Tribunal was “either not cognizant of or chose not to give any reasons in support of departing from the norm indicated in Rule 185 (of the Pension Regulations for the Army-1961)”. It is also to be noted that as per the records, the services rendered by him were exemplary.

While setting aside the impugned order to the extent it confines the grant of disability element of the appellant’s pension to one year, a bench of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar thus 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”,

AOR Liz Mathew appeared for the appellant and ASG Aishwarya Bhati appeared for the respondent.

In the present matter, the appellant on experiencing cardiac discomfort was placed under the permanent low medical category with the remark “complete heart block – 4 to 6” which qualified for treatment as a hundred per cent disability. Subsequent to which, his claim for re-assessment of the disability element of his pension was considered which culminated in an order dated October 21, 1998. Subsequently, he was operated upon, and a pacemaker was implanted.

Pursuant to which, he sought for re-assessment of his disability which was declined on July 17, 2018. However, when he approached the Armed Forces Appellate Tribunal (AFT), while citing Dharamvir Singh v. Union of India & Ors. (2013) 7 SCC 316 and subsequent judgments, AFT held that the rejection of his claim for disability pension was not justified but was of the opinion that he was entitled to a disability pension only for one year.

Therefore, the appellant contended that the AFT fell into an error in confining it to one year given that the disability assessment categorized it to be permanent. It was further submitted that the Board appeared to have been prejudiced by the fact that at the relevant time, the appellant refused surgery because it was of a life-threatening nature. However, the respondents argued that according to the Board had he undergone a surgery there were significant chances of the diminution of the disability.

The Court, after perusing the relevant provision under Rule 185 of the Pension Regulations for the Army-1961, observed “…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”.

It is to be noted that the Regulation 185 (a) reads, “If the disability is certified on the basis of an invaliding or resurvey medical board to be incapable of improvement disability pension shall be granted for a period of 10 years in the first instance. During this period the pensioner will have a right to claim reassessment of his pension on the basis of aggravation, if any. Where the disability pension is modified as a result of reassessment, the pension shall again be granted for a period of 10 years from the date of the revised award provided the disability is still regarded as incapable of improvement. Each successive assessment at higher or lower rates will be for a 10 years period during which the pensioner will be given an opportunity to have his pension reassessed on the basis of further aggravation”.

Cause Title: Ex L/Nk Rajput Ajit Singh v. Union Of India & Ors.

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