By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM
Compensation for disability incurred in war or war-like-situations is at present at ridiculously low levels. This does not inspire confidence in the Government’s policies to look after the interests of those who sacrifice their limbs and vital organs on the battlefield. This must change. Otherwise, potential soldiers may hesitate to join the armed forces in future, on account of a perception that the war-disabled are callously ignored. The Seventh Pay Commission now in the final stages of deliberation must consider the legitimate concerns of the war-disabled.
Earlier, the compensation for the war-disabled and other disabled personnel was in the ratio of ‘five to two’, but it is now only double. This is incorrect, as the war- disabled must get a much higher level of compensation. The reason is obvious. When soldiers go into battle, they know they may be wounded, get disabled or killed; still they consciously take the leap. In other cases, their disabilities are accidental, although related to the rigours of military service. This distinction is necessary, otherwise officers and men may hesitate to take the risk in the service of the nation.
Soldiers sacrifice their lives & limbs for many reasons, like national pride; pride in the regiments and units; high level of motivation; and above all the understanding that the nation will look after their next of kin (NOK), if they get killed or are disabled. Till the Kargil War of 1999, financial compensation for both war-disabled and other-disabled was highly inadequate, but thereafter while compensation to the NOK of martyrs was increased, no thought has been given to the monetary compensation to the war-disabled personnel.
The plight of the disabled and their families is no less than the NOK who have lost their husband or son.The disabled personnel may be alive, but as earning heads of a household they are akin to the soldiers who have died on the battlefield.
There are two types of adverse effects on personnel who become disabled in war or war-like-situations. These are a reduction of their productive capacity and highly adverse psychological effects, which get amplified as the person grows older. His capacity for productive work continues to decrease as he ages. When he is young, his capacity is about 30 to 40 per cent less than an able-bodied person of similar age. As he ages, the productivity levels fall substantially and in exponential terms. After the age of 50 to 55 years, they fall drastically. When the psychological effects are added, the percentages are even lower. These figures do not reflect the condition of those who are confined to wheelchairs or to their beds. They are not productive at all, irrespective of their age.
Consequently, there is need to treat the war-disabled personnel at par with martyrs. They must be given monetary compensation at the same levels or nearly same levels as is given to the NOK of martyrs.
At present no compensation is given to a soldier when he gets disabled. It is only when he leaves the service, either immediately after his wounds heal or later, that he is assigned a disability-percentage and thereafter the meager compensation. This must change. The compensation must accrue to the disabled person immediately after his wounds heal and a medical board assigns the percentage of disability. Thus, a 100 per cent disabled person must get similar compensation as a martyr and those assessed with lower percentages of disabilities must get 75 or 50 percent of the amount. This must not be constrained or restrained by whether the individual is boarded out or is retained in service. The government seems to think that those who continue to serve despite their disabilities are being given a dole as a substitute for the compensation. This is most illogical as the war-disabled compete with their comrades and get no favours. In any case, it is the duty and an obligation of the Government, as their employer.
There are two other areas of dissonance. The bureaucracy, in its warped wisdom has made categories within categories for grant of concessions, like those boarded out on medical grounds; those seeking voluntary retirement; those retiring after completing pensionable service; and those who retire on superannuation. Apparently, the bureaucracy, being ‘lakeer Ke Fakir’ extrapolate ‘precedence’s’ applicable in other situations and adopt them to all situations, without applying their minds! They need to be reminded that the disability of a war-disabled person remains the same, irrespective of when he leaves service.
On the same convoluted logic, there are different compensations for different wars. Thus, a person losing his leg in any war prior to the 1999 Kargil War or in any other subsequent war or operation gets only Rs. one lakh as ex-gratia compensation, but a casualty of the 1999 Kargil gets Rs. 10 lakhs! Maybe limbs and organs were more valuable in 1999!
All war disabled personnel must be treated at one level, not in accordance with the different wars wherein they had become casualties. Neither should there be any differentiation between those who opt to remain or are retained in service and those who are boarded out.
The message that needs to go to the environment is that both NOK of martyrs and war disabled personnel will be adequately compensated for their sacrifices on the battlefield. Such compensations must not be couched in ‘ifs and buts’ of bureaucratese as these obfuscate the real issues. Sadly, this aspect is completely lacking in the present dispensations for the war-disabled.
There are three other aspects deserving consideration. Firstly, the Constant Attendance Allowance for seriously disabled personnel with 100 % disability is ridiculously low at present. Constant attendance implies round-the-clock attendance, which means three eight hourly shifts per attendant, per day. Instead of a lump sum, as it is at present, the need is for it to be a percentage of pension, which should be not less than 25 percent of the individual’s war injury pension.
Secondly, conveyance allowance for the war-disabled is a must. All disabled persons require modifications to vehicles; these come at enhanced costs and extra wear and tear to the vehicle. In addition, many disabled persons cannot drive because of their disabilities and therefore need to be driven. Consequently, to meet their special needs of transportation, they must be authorized 25 percent of their emoluments as transportation allowance.
The third aspect is the need for exemption from income tax. At present, disabled personnel are exempt from paying income tax on their pensions, but those who choose to serve have to pay income tax on their pay. They too must be exempt from income tax.
While this article relates mainly to the war-disabled, it must also be emphasised that cases of personnel disabled on account of other reasons also need to be viewed with utmost sympathy and care. It would be fair and reasonable if the compensation between war-disabled and those disabled on account of other causes is in the ratio of ‘three to one’ in all respects.
In conclusion, it needs to be emphasised that the plight of war-disabled personnel has neither been appreciated nor recognized till now. They need to be considered at par with those who sacrifice their lives in the service of the nation. The compensatory package for the war disabled must take into account the years and decades ahead of them as disabled persons; the adverse psychological impact of their disabilities; and the need to ensure that they lead an honourable life. It is equally important that the message that goes to the environment is that the Government will ensure that adequate monetary compensation is paid to both the NOK of our martyrs, as also to those personnel who lose their limbs and vital organs in war and warlike situations. It is essential that they are compensated fully for their sacrifices in the service of the nation and not merely given token relief as is the norm now.
Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) of the Indian Army.
He is also President of the War Wounded Foundation.