The Faux Pas of Taxing Disabled Soldiers – Part II


The Faux Pas of Taxing Disabled Soldiers – Part II

The following is the full reproduction of the letter written by war hero and combat amputee Maj Gen Ian Cardozo (Retd) to the present Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat on September 12.

“Thank you for your letter No. 0043/1/COAS Sectt dated 09 July 2019. It is very kind of you to have taken the trouble to write to me. I received your letter on 02 September 2019 on my return from the UK. Along with your letter, I also received a copy of a letter written to you by Lieutenant General Prakash Katoch, on the subject of withdrawing exemption of income tax to war disabled soldiers.  Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi has also written an article on this subject expressing his deep anguish on this unfortunate development.  

“This issue raises concerns about other related matters that are a cause for considerable concern for the Indian Army community which deserves to be commented upon. I wish to inform you Sir, in this context a little about myself and connected issues so that you are better informed about disability issues. After I retired from the Army I worked for children with disabilities for 8 years. During this period I joined a group called the ‘Disabilities Rights Group’, whose main mandate was to push the Government of India to recognize the problems faced by disabled persons in every possible human endeavour.

“This group and other disability institutions were able to revolutionize how the Government looked at disability and ensured major reforms. It facilitated the evolution of ‘The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016’ that ensured that the Act conformed to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“After this period of 8 years working for persons with disabilities, the Government of India appointed me as Chairman of the Rehabilitation Council of India. I worked in this appointment for 9 years without pay or allowances of any sort. All that I asked for was a free hand to do my work and to the credit of the Government, they respected my request and did not interfere. The Army however has been ambivalent on how it looks at disability and disabled soldiers.

“While I was still at the Artificial Limb Centre recovering from my wounds, I asked to meet Lieutenant General GG Bewoor, GOC-in-C Southern Command who had hosted a reception for the large number of battle casualties at Pune and Kirkee. As the senior most officer battle casualty on that day; I projected to the Army Commander the issue of war-disabled officers returning to their own units and being given command of infantry units if found otherwise fit. The Army Commander surprisingly said this “issue is for doctors to decide!” On my saying that instead of doctors it should be “the COAS and the army commanders to decide”, he said that he did not need advice from persons like me as to how to do his job. You have said something similar in your letter at page 4, para 6.

“As a consequence of this view, doctors have been given authority in deciding what a war-disabled soldier ‘can do or cannot do’, an authority far in excess of their charter. This needs to change. Fortunately there have been Army Chiefs like Sam Manekshaw, General Raina and General Krishna Rao who thought differently and mitigated the concept that war disabled officers had limited utility in the army. Their attitude contributed positively in my long struggle of 7 years to convince the world in general that battle casualties needed to be given an opportunity to command infantry battalions and later on infantry brigades.

“Thereafter, promotions opened up with no limit to rank and appointment and officers like YN Sharma, Pankaj Joshi and Vijay Oberoi vindicated the trust reposed on them by the Army. All three rose to the rank of Lieutenant General and the appointment of Army Commander and Vijay Oberoi retired as the Vice Chief of Army Staff. In this matter, General Sam Manekshaw was a great visionary. He directed the MS to set up a Committee to look into the improvement of the career prospects of battle casualties ‘otherwise who would stick their necks in battle in the next war?’

“The Committee took its own time in coming to a conclusion and recommended a ‘status quo’ on the existing policy after General Manekshaw had retired. Their recommendations suited the views of the next Chief – General GG Bewoor! General Prakash Katoch has commented on General Bewoor on other issues and I fully agree with his comments.

“During my move in the chain of evacuation after I was wounded I had several bad experiences with officers of the Army Medical Corps. That does not mean that all medical officers are bad. On the contrary, however, I do feel they have been given more powers than they deserve and there is no one to rein them in! Lieutenant General BK Chopra’s letter as DG AFMS to the Defence Secretary in December 2014 is direct indictment of his own failures and the failure of army doctors to prevent officers (mostly senior officers including one who happened to be an Army Chief) taking the system for a ride! Worse still, according to your letter, medical officers have themselves taken advantage of their power and authority to cheat the system to benefit themselves. The issue is what action will be taken to punish such miscreants.

“In my interaction with the government and the public as Chairman Rehabilitation Council of India, I have always proclaimed the Indian Army as the only institution that effectively punished wrongdoers in uniform. Your letter and it’s appendices that gives details of how wrongdoing has been carried on without being punished, is a great disappointment to veterans like us who retired 25 years ago.

“Action to withdraw exemption of income tax for all who have been given the concession including battle casualties projects the Army’s inability to punish wrongdoers and instead to punish those who were deservedly granted this exemption. Mass punishments, as you would know from your days at the NDA are not only unethical, but also never delivers the right outcomes.

“The alacrity with which the Government acted on the recommendation of Army HQ on this issue is part of their concerted drive to denigrate and downsize the armed forces. In my interaction with Mr Raghavan, an ex-High Commissioner to Pakistan, on this issue at a seminar at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy at Mussoorie in March 2018 is enlightening. I said to him ‘Mr Raghavan it looks like you hate us!’ his answer floored me. He said, ‘General don’t you know? We hate you! We have always hated you!’ This perhaps explains the committed resolve of the bureaucracy to downsize the Armed Forces. The tragedy is that they have succeeded largely in their efforts in the past few years wherein hard earned privileges have gradually been withdrawn, while Service Chiefs appear to be passive spectators.

“In my first interaction on TV on the issue of withdrawal of exemption of income tax on Battle Casualties, I blamed the bureaucracy for this action. Later, it became known that it was the Army that initiated the case and I was subsequently asked on TV as to what I had to say now? What was I to say? All that I could say was that whoever had done this had done wrong in punishing all battle casualties instead of punishing those who had misused the concession for personal gain.      

“As our Chief and Head of Family, all army personnel and retired, including our families look up to you to protect their interests, status and well-being of the Army and its personnel. Judging from the ‘free-run’ that the bureaucracy has had in downsizing the armed forces in recent years; we feel very much let down.  

“I do hope that the issues stated in your letter highlighting the alleged moral decline in the Army will be examined and action taken to stem the rot. In particular, I hope that the miscreants who have manipulated the system in the exemption of income tax and other issues will be punished. I concur with the views of General Prakash Katoch and General Vijay Oberoi in their letters and articles. Their views and comments need to be addressed.

Readers can draw their own conclusions how the armed forces are treated by the nation, how the military hierarchy is prepared to damage their own command in pursuit of the ‘carrot’, and where we are headed? Do we see a mismatch in downsizing the Army by 100-150,000 and announcing the Army is ready to march into PoJK on Government orders any time?

Gen Bewoor and Rawat (present Chief) are the only two Army Chiefs awarded Sword of Honour on commissioning. With anything and everything connected to vote-bank in the country, no Army Chief ironically has mustered the guts to make voting compulsory for soldiers and make them vote at the place of their posting as authorized by the Election Commission of India.

Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd), SC, is a third generation army officer. A Special Forces officer, he participated in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. He has served as Defence Attaché in Japan and Republic of Korea. An MSc in Defence Studies, he is an alumni of the Defence Services Staff College, SC, HC and NDC. He had also held the Field Marshal KM Cariappa Chair of Excellence for the year 2011-2012.The author can be reached Email: prakashkatoch7@gmail.com


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