A novel proposal to consider candidates selected for military officer training academies as ‘Officer Recruits’, thereby qualifying them as servicemen to consequently be eligible for Disability Pension is under consideration at the MoD. This slight change in nomenclature, if approved, might benefit cadets who have to survive on a measly ‘Monthly Ex-Gratia Payment’, rates of which are even lower than a recruit for the rank of a Sepoy (Group C/Class III) employee.
The suggestion, placed informally before the MoD, includes replicating a ‘Rahadari’ order usually given to recruits for Army Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR) cadre. The ‘Rahadari’ is handed to the selected candidate by the Movement Control Offices (MCOs) at various locations across the country. Thus the person is considered as ‘on duty’, even before he reaches the Regimental Center and commences his training. Any injury in the training center is considered as ‘Attributable to Military Service’.
“A similar change in nomenclature is being considered to be introduced for cadets as well, where after they are selected at the Service Selection Board (SSB) center, they be issued a movement order (or a Rahadari) mentioning them as ‘Officer Recruits’ and asking them to report at the academies,” said an officer associated with the development.
Cadets are often ‘boarded out’ of military training academies – like the National Defence Academy (NDA), Indian Military Academy (IMA), Officers Training Academy (OTA), Indian Naval Academy (INA) and the Air Force Academy (AFA) – after sustaining life-long injuries while undergoing training. Veterans have been asking for such disabilities to be considered as ‘aggravated by or attributable to’ military service so that they receive a Disability Pension.
Since the last four years, 53 trainee officers were disabled while undergoing training at various army training institutions, with almost 45 per cent of the disabled cadets being from the National Defence Academy (NDA), according to figures tabled before Parliament by Minister of State (Defence) Dr Subhash Bhamre. The NDA apparently has seen whopping rate of cadets dropping out of training, with 1256 such cadets exiting the academy between January 2008 to November 2017. Also, NDA is not the only training institution witnessing the phenomenon. A news report in Asia Times on January 4 this year quoted a Directorate General of Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) study which said the hospitalization rates amongst officer cadets between 2013 and 2015 stood at 34.14%.
“If they receive a regular Disability Pension, they automatically qualify as Ex-Servicemen, thereby becoming eligible to avail other benefits like Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) facilities. They would have become regular military officers and Veterans at some point. So not giving them an ESM status and denying Disability Pension is absurd,” said Col Vinay Dalvi (Retd), who had served as an instructor at the NDA, IMA and OTA.
The bias towards military officer cadets is even sharper when one considers the fact that all trainees (both officer and enlisted personnel) for Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are authorized full disability pension for injuries sustained during training.
Past Cases Where Boarded Out Cadets Sought Redressal Individually
According to Ankur Chaturvedi, a former NDA cadet who was medically boarded out in 1996, a few disabled cadets managed to secure disability benefits by individually litigating with courts or military authorities, but a policy change is imperative to benefit all such future cases. For instance, the oldest such case is of Flight Cadet Vijay Singh, an ex-NDA, who while undergoing training at the Air Force Academy on May 30 1974, undertook a forced landing when his aircraft developed a snag. He was boarded out on medical grounds.
After protracted correspondence, he was sanctioned Disability Pension. On 30th December Singh wrote to the Chief Justice seeking reinstatement, which was later admitted as a Writ Petition No 168 of 1987, and finally won the case, securing ‘employment of equal status’ September 26, 1988. Vijay Singh was appointed as a Defence Estate Officer and retired after completing his tenure.
In December 2012, the MoD overruled a policy in force and accepted then Air Chief ACM NAK Browne’s plea to grant a commission to Flight cadet Rajkumar Herojit Singh who became paraplegic after his trainer aircraft crashed. The youth from Manipur was a topper at the Air Force Academy and was training to fly fighter aircraft. Herojit is apparently not the only case where Indian Armed Force has granted the commission to a physically disabled cadet.
In another case, a female cadet of the AFA was granted commission with retrospective effect and authorized full disability pension. Another anomalous situation is regarding Technical Graduates of OTA and IMA. After being disabled, they are granted ‘Provisional Short Service Commission’ in the training academies prior to permanent commissioning, but are still treated on par with Gentlemen Cadets, receiving ‘Monthly Ex-Gratia Payment’.
An ex-NDA boarded out from IMA, Gentleman Cadet (GC) Ashutosh Kumar and GC Someshwar Trivedi from OTA Chennai had also managed to get Disability Pension for disabled cadets recommended in the Joint Services Memorandum submitted to the 7CPC. “This was rejected on the flawed assumption that cadets are not duty,” Chaturvedi added.
Civilians Over Military
The mysterious skew in favour of civilian employees is evident in the policy that governs ex-gratia payments. Ex-Gratia Awards for death or disablement of cadets was introduced on April 16, 1996 at Rs 375 per month and a ‘Disability Award’ of Rs 600 per month for 100% disability as was sanctioned. This amount has since been revised periodically to presently stand at Rs 9000 per month is in force. But the figure is calculated by/derived from the “minimum pension payable to the lowest central government employee” as per law.
“This is plain unfair as a cadet is being trained for a Group A/Class I gazetted position while the lowest central government employee is a Group C/Class III employee. The rates are even lower than that of the lowest employee in the army, a Sepoy. What is worse is that ‘medically boarded out’ Sepoys are granted regular Disability Pension and are considered Ex-Servicemen (ESM),” said Maj Navdeep Singh (Retd), an expert on military law and founding president of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) Bar Association.
The policy further categorically stated that these awards will not be treated as ‘pension’, thus automatically disqualifying the cadets as Ex-Servicemen and therefore the post-retirement medical treatment benefits. Shubham Gupta, a 100% disabled cadet from the NDA, who is a paraplegic, is one such glaring example of the bureaucratic obstructionism. In Shubham’s case, he is eligible for medical treatment in military hospitals but only for neurology and urology categories, which are only practiced at the Command Hospital in Chandimandir. Shubham however lives at Bhatinda.
2015 Committee of Experts Report
In late 2015, a committee appointed by former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to study pension, pay and service related grievance disputes of Armed Forces personnel slammed the MoD, calling it “utter…obstinacy of the establishment.” “Cadets who are disabled with attributable/aggravated disability and boarded out of training academies are granted a disability pension which is surprisingly not called a ‘pension’ but termed as a monthly ex-gratia award. This inane nomenclature has been conceptualized so that cadets could be prohibited from falling within the category of ex-servicemen (since all disability pensioners are termed as ex-servicemen as per DoPT rules)…”
The report points to and dismisses an oft-quoted MoD justification that cadets are not governed by Service Acts unlike recruits. Chaturvedi counters this by pointing to a glaring contradiction in the MoD reasoning. “If cadets can be punished for indiscipline under the Army, Navy or Air Force Acts, then why not be paid remunerations under the same?”