No scope for abuse of disability pension provisions, says top army doctor | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

No scope for abuse of disability pension provisions, says top army doctor

ByRahul Singh
Jun 22, 2024 08:40 PM IST

Lieutenant General Ajith Nilakantan said each case related to grant of disability pension is scrutinised by the appropriate medical boards and strict adherence to the rules is ensured at all levels

New rules governing the classification of occupational disabilities among soldiers and the grant of associated pensions to them have streamlined the system and there is no scope for misuse of the provisions because of strict scrutiny at multiple levels, a top army doctor said on Saturday.

Lieutenant General Ajith Nilakantan
Lieutenant General Ajith Nilakantan

“Each case related to grant of disability pension is scrutinised by the appropriate medical boards and strict adherence to the rules is ensured at all levels,” Lieutenant General Ajith Nilakantan, commandant, Army Hospital (Research and Referral), told a group of journalists on Saturday. The 1,200-bed hospital, which has more than 300 doctors, is one of the country’s top medical facilities.

A medical downgrade following a disability entitles a service member to better retirement benefits.

“There is no possibility of misuse,” Nilakantan said.

He was responding to a question on the possible misuse of the disability pension provisions, a subject which has been at the centre of a raging debate for a few years and even led the defence ministry to announce new rules last year.

The revised policy, Entitlement Rules for Casualty Pension and Disability Compensation Awards to Armed Forces Personnel, 2023 and Guide to Medical Officers, came into effect on September 21, 2023.

The revised policy aligns with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, which came into force in 2017, Nilakantan said.

“The armed forces have aligned with the Act and things are working smoothly. I don’t think it is possible for any undeserving case to get past our procedure of very strict scrutiny by medical boards at different levels. Misuse is not possible because there are too many levels of scrutiny,” he said.

The government notified the new rules in September 2023, five months after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) told the defence ministry to analyse the reasons for disability among soldiers following its finding that almost 40% of officers, and 18% of personnel below officer rank (PBOR) who retire every year were drawing disability pension.

The national auditor examined disability pensions disbursed to personnel discharged from service during 2015-2020.

The new rules governing disability pension will safeguard the legitimate interests of people who acquire disabilities during service, prevent the misuse of liberal provisions, help run the armed forces efficiently, ensure battle readiness and encourage physical fitness across the board, chief of defence staff General Anil Chauhan said last year.

His comments were aimed at clarifying the entitlement rules against the backdrop of some ex-servicemen groups questioning provisions related to the grant of disability pension, including its calculation, eligibility and diseases attributable to or aggravated by military service.

To be sure, the revised policy tightened the norms for claiming disability pension.

But it did not introduce any change in the entitlement of those granted compensation for death or disability or alter the emoluments of war widows, family pensioners and veterans.

The previous rules were promulgated 15 years ago.

On average for the same rank, a disability pension can be 20% to 50% more than a normal one and comes with tax exemption. The CAG report also flagged concerns about disability pensions being given due to lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Disability pension claims shot up in the years following the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report in 2006 as it significantly enhanced benefits.

A decade ago, the military’s senior-most doctor said officers nearing retirement were abusing disability benefits for higher and tax-free pensions, flagging concerns about the trend of fit officers exploiting the welfare measure by getting themselves placed in the lower medical category.

“I would like to apprise you of an alarming trend evolving in the services, with regards to claims for disability pension being preferred by senior officers of the rank of lieutenant general and major general and their equivalent,” Lieutenant General BK Chopra, then director general, Armed Forces Medical Services, said in a letter to the defence secretary in December 2014.

“These senior officers, who have stayed in Shape-1 medical category throughout their career, suddenly present (themselves) with disease at the fag end of their service,” he wrote.

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