Disability In Line Of Duty Questioned

"We are expected to deliver results within constraints, guidelines and deadlines even at extra costs and are trained accordingly. The last bastion can not fail to deliver." Opines Brig Sanjay Sangwan

Disability In Line Of Duty Questioned

Editor's Note:

After the MVI debate titled 'Re-opened disability pension debate anger veterans' published on Apr 1 ,2023 an article by Neil John titled 'Indian Military & The Disability Factor' was published on April 2.

Re-Opened Disability Pension Debate Anger Veterans
“Great strategy of taking media and officials to create fake projection in the environment and to avoid disability pensions” - Opines Col Amit Kumar
Indian Military & The Disability Factor
“The officer has to work through multiple environments and leadership. One man’s liking is another man’s disliking. Keeping up with this is like riding a roller coaster. You have to constantly keep starting afresh with every new boss.”

This piece by Brig Sanjay Sangwan titled 'Disability In Line Of Duty Questioned' adds another angle to this  subject. Collectively all three articles throw ample light on this subject. What Gp Capt TP Srivastava has said below  sums up the disability debate and could possibly be the last word?

GP CAPT TP SRIVASTAVA: "There is no need for any further debate. The only question that merits an answer is 'are few unscruplous and greedy, dishonest officers abusing  disability pension privilege for monetary gains?' Deserving cases must get disability pension. Let us not beat around the bush. Accept harsh reality.

Issue under discussion is abuse and misuse of the disability pension provisions by officers. No one has the guts to admit it. Genuinely disabled must get their due. It is the black sheeps faking disability for monetary gains that is unofficer and unsoldier like. What a bureaucrat does to claim disability should not be our concern. Officers who fake shape - 1 for promotion are same who fake disability while retiring."

To ensure unhindered and unburdened delivery, there are three professions where people are required to drop any emotional considerations in performance of duty; Medicine, Accounts/ Finance and Military. Yet, amongst these only the Military relies on emotions to deliver and are expected to even lay down their lives in line of duty. The Chetwode Credo becomes the guiding principle for all army officers in every action of theirs further reinforced by the ‘Izzat, Naam and Nishan’  of the unit.  It becomes imperative to recollect the Chetwode Credo for our civilian brothers and sisters for whom we forget own families. “The Safety, Honour and Welfare of your Country comes first, always and every time. The honor, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”

If there is any organisation which hasn't let the country down in war and peace (calamities and adversities)? It is the military and despite the most inhospitable terrain, weather and often grossly inadequate infrastructure and equipment. Thanks to our insurgencies, terror tanzeems and their supporting neighbours the world acknowledges us as the most experienced and combat ready army. It is my personal belief that if India hasn’t split further since 1962 when Aksai Chin was lost to China. It is because of the military and reasons for that loss lie buried in the ‘Henderson Brooks Report’  but as per common knowledge not attributed to the army.

One major difference between the military and any other organisation especially govt departments is that we are expected to deliver results within constraints, guidelines and deadlines even at extra costs and are trained accordingly. The last bastion can not fail to deliver. This may be difficult for people to comprehend as most govt departments focus on processes with little accountability on delivery.

The personnel of other departments posted to difficult areas work there with not only much heftier allowance but also move only when a certain level of infrastructure and amenities are assured. It is only the military which walks in with not even basics and goes about creating infrastructure for own self and often even for the civil population using own resources. Human bodies and frailties remain the same irrespective of profession.  On an average, any serviceman's larger share of his service is spent in the field and operational tenures living under a constant threat to limb and life. Lesser said the better about infrastructure in peace stations due to MES shortcomings. As a brief indicator, I had to get my apartment declared a health hazard by the medical authorities to get the MES to accept excessive seepage, had a large chunk of plaster falling off the roof and missing my sleeping child by two inches and have stayed in a new apartment where there was no water flowing in taps but would seep through walls and flood the floor. Military expects us to take it in stride!

The terrain and weather conditions take their toll which often may become visible only later. Operational requirements are difficult to predict and can vary from operating in extreme heat for tank crews working in tank interior temperature of up to 55-600 C with bodies going through repeated cycles of dehydration and extreme blast pressure and noise on ears. In a service span of 36 years, I must have attended 40 odd field fires.

The peace tenures though meant for rest, training and recovery are no less demanding because the entire organisation works at a relatively high level of efficiency and performance and an organisation culture of excellence. What the writer calls lifestyle diseases are not a result of city life or clubbing as unhealthy lifestyle. Peace tenures for the military are not a 9-5 job as within the organisation we have to deliver and meet high performance standards and deadlines. There is a perceptual difference in understanding of peace tenures and probably exaggerated by the few who have enjoyed hospitality of the military during peace tenures and leaving with a misunderstanding of culture and quality of life but not realising our ethos of excelling at whatever we do including risking our lives. To draw a parallel with the Services ethos, a sportsperson aspiring to win at national/international events would appreciate the effort that is required during preparatory years. I’ll give my own example. After two hectic years of an operational tenure in J&K I had successive seven years of hectic peace tenures involving dual busy appointments, Op Parakram, conversion of my regt to a higher grade of equipment while staying in the deserts, two hectic years of command followed by a truncated Army HQ tenure to resolve prevailing technical flaws of the equipment followed by HDMC and a staff tenure in a formation undergoing conversion. During those ten years at a stretch there were rare nights when I wasn’t working till 1 or 2am. My collapse in bath one morning due to undiagnosed hypertension is being termed as lifestyle disease. My travails only began after the 50% Disability granted by the Release Medical Board was disallowed by the approving authority. Of course I had to go in appeal to Army HQ and am still fighting a case in AFT.

Military is a job not meant for everyone especially in the officer cadre and that is why the SSB remains the toughest selection process with a less than 1% overall selection making it to the academies. These are the highly motivated youth who lead from the front always and hence Indian Army has the highest ratio of Officers to Other Ranks casualties in the whole world. These young men work only for’ Izzat, Naam and Nishan’ of their units and honour of gallantry awards/ rank to take on bigger responsibility and challenges. Consequently, becoming a Low Medical Category is seen as a weakness and hence abhorred and hidden. These injuries and bodily imbalances aggravate with time and appear at advanced stages before retirement.

Leading from the front also implies all responsibility and accountability is of the Officers, both in war and peace. There can’t be a different culture and values for War and for Peace. Shortage of officers increases the officers burden further especially in peace tenures where administrative jobs can’t be taken on by the JCOs/NCOs.

The tenure of OR is 17-19 years and retirement at a relatively younger age of 35-37 years while officers serve till 54-58 years and it is a  well established medical fact that decline beyond 40 is at a faster rate and stress aggravates all health issues.

Even 58 is no age to retire as people in the civil work comfortably up to 70 and beyond and both our political leaders and bureaucrats are a good example of it.

All requirements of the OR, often including those at home are by and large catered for the organisation (Officers) which is an important measure of leadership efficacy inquired about commanders up the chain. Following generations of service personnel don’t join units merely for the salary and perks.

The L1 culture too takes its toll on the infrastructure, services and the rations (health) being provided e.g. refined oil which adds to the health issues. Modern healthcare too adds to the problems and mine is a classic case where the approach of neurosurgery probably wasn’t critical or the best approach as the surgery was done four days after the aneurysm ballooning.

There may be a hidden rivalry also as reflected in the reducing salary real value and pensions with every pay commission. It would be interesting to know how much disability the govt pays to civil employees as compared to the military. It would also be interesting to know how much the MoD is spending on the lawyers fighting cases against Disability Pension.

When a boy/ girl decides to join the military, it is primarily for highly applaudable reasons of serving the motherland, leading a life of Honour and Adventure with an assurance that the administrative and other support provided run well into the sunset years and in event of a mishap, disability pension with requisite medical cover will be provided and the family needs will be taken care of. It is an overall and comprehensive package which encourages youth to give up IIT and other professional colleges seats to join the military and this being the first competitive exam post school, it is believed to pick out the better lot. SSB criteria for selection is a proof of it as it assesses Personality comprehensively and isn’t merely an interview or an IQ test. Fair enough, the best need to be entrusted with the task of national security. Is it fair, ethical or even legal to go back on a given promise when these servicemen have delivered their responsibilities and duties as per govt orders without a question? Our military is known for strengths of its manpower as equipment wise the military generally has managed with whatever is available and usually against better equipped enemy, yet, repeatedly promises made to the military are not upheld, be it pay commissions, OROP and now even Disability Pensions. These are attacks on the strength and in turn efficacy of the military and one wonders what is the purpose. Does it behove well for any govt if veterans are seen more in courts or at Jantar Mantar than in fruitful employment avenues? With diminishing assurances and support, motivation is likely to be impacted and that too at a time when the nation faces continuous diverse threats. Chanakya had said the day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadh for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be king. That may be true in an environment of Dharma which no longer is followed but the threats and attacks on national security have only been increasing in recent times. Shift of emphasis from Outcomes to Processes can have ominous results.

The govt is well within rights to review cases on merit as is already being done but casting a generic slur across the board doesn’t seem fair. If I have to sum it up in one line, it is like assigning the most difficult task on earth, making the officers beholden to stringent standards and extreme results and then at the end of it asking why couldn’t you make your life cheaper?

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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