SC grants disability pension to former Territorial Army soldier

New Delhi, December 17 (PTI): The Supreme Court on Friday directed the grant of disability pension to a Territorial Army soldier suffering from 80 per cent disability.

A bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai said as the per Pension Regulations for the Army, 1961, an individual who is invalided out of service on account of disability, which is attributable or aggravated by military service in non­battle casualty and is assessed 20 per cent or more, would be entitled to disability pension.

The apex court said the Ecological Task Force (ETF), of which the petitioner was a member, is established as an additional company for the 130 Infantry Battalion of the Territorial Army.

”It is not in dispute that the other officers or enrolled persons working in the Territorial Army are entitled to disability pension under Regulation No. 173 read with Regulation No. 292 of Pension Regulations for the Army, 1961.

”When the appellant is enrolled as a member of ETF, which is a company for 130 Infantry Battalion (Territorial Army), we see no reason as to why the appellant was denied the disability pension. Specifically so, when the medical board and court of inquiry have found that the injury sustained by the appellant was attributable to the military service and not due to his own negligence,” the bench said.

Rejecting the Centre’s submission that petitioner Pani Ram had signed a document agreeing to the condition that he will not be getting any enhanced pension, the apex court said members of the Territorial Army would be entitled to disability pension.

”As held by this court, a Right to Equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution of India would also apply to a man who has no choice or rather no meaningful choice, but to give his assent to a contract or to sign on the dotted line in a prescribed or standard form or to accept a set of rules as part of the contract, however unfair, unreasonable and unconscionable a clause in that contract or form or rules may be.

”We find that the said observations rightly apply to the facts of the present case. Can it be said that the mighty Union of India and an ordinary soldier who had fought for the country and retired from the regular Army, seeking reemployment in Territorial Army, have equal bargaining power? We are therefore of the considered view that the reliance placed on the said document would also be of no assistance to the case of the respondents,” the bench said.

The top court directed the Centre to grant disability pension to the appellant in accordance with the rules and regulations as are applicable to members of the Territorial Army with effect from January 1, 2012.

It also directed it to clear arrears within a period of three months from the date of the judgment with interest at the rate of nine per cent per annum.

Petitioner Pani Ram was serving as a sepoy in the Territorial Army. On April 24, 2009, he met with a serious accident, and his right leg was amputated above the knee.

The petitioner was invalided out of service with 80 per cent disability on January 1, 2012. A court of inquiry found that the injury sustained by him was attributable to military service and not due to his own negligence.

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Source: PTI