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Armed Forces form panel to examine disability pension

The Indian Armed Forces have set up an inter-services panel chaired by the Army’s Adjutant General (AG) to examine different aspects of disability pension to their personnel, top officials familiar with the matter told The Indian Express.

Armed personnel receive higher payouts up to 30 per cent of their pension emoluments depending upon the percentage of disability. While the exact amount of total disability pensions — which is also exempt from income tax — is not available, sources in the government said it has grown substantially over the last two decades and was estimated to be around Rs 4,000 crore in 2022-23. The total defence pensions for 2023-24 is estimated at Rs 1.38 lakh crore.

The directive to set up the panel came from the Department of Military Affairs headed by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Anil Chauhan after a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report tabled in Parliament on March 27 had questioned the grant of the disability element of pension to a “higher percentage” of officers, including medical officers. It had asked the Defence Ministry to assess the reasons.

According to government officials, the panel to examine the disability pension was constituted on March 20, before the final CAG report was tabled in the Parliament. This decision was triggered by the draft report on disability pension, the observations of which were being discussed in the defence ministry in detail over the last few months. The panel is learnt to have held at least one meeting. It includes a senior medical officer from the Directorate General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) and officers from Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare, MoD (Finance), Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and the Adjutant General’s Branch. It will also have representatives from the personnel branch (for officers and men) of the three services.

Defence pensions in the last five years have increased to Rs 1.38 lakh crore in 2023-24 from Rs 1.08 lakh crore in 2018-19. Higher disability pensions and the revision of the ‘One Rank, One Pension’ scheme and arrears to the tune of Rs 28,138 crore have contributed to the rise in defence pensions.

The CAG report had noted that officers retiring with disability range between 36 per cent and 40 per cent of the total officer retirees. In case of personnel below officer ranks (PBOR), it ranged between 15 per cent and 18 per cent between 2015-16 to 2019-20. Further, the report said 22 per cent and 13 per cent of the disability pension cases granted to the officers and PBORs, respectively, were exclusively on the ground of lifestyle diseases, especially hypertension and diabetes mellitus.

Another observation in the report was that the percentage of medical officers who retired with disability pension was significantly higher as compared to other officers of the Army. According to the CAG data, 50 per cent and 58 per cent of medical officers retired with disability pension in 2015-16 and 2019-20, respectively.

Disabilities suffered by Armed Forces personnel include battle casualties (war wounded) and disabilities due to service conditions. The disability element for 100 per cent disability for various ranks is 30 per cent of emoluments last drawn, and is proportionately lower for disability less than 100 per cent. Personnel with less than 20 per cent disability are not entitled to any benefits. The grading of disability in percentage is carried out by a medical board.

The CAG report said absence of inputs in the database — category and disease — of the pension disbursing authority impeded a meaningful analysis on the causes of disability among the defence forces and possible remedial measures to bring down such cases.


Beyond higher payout

THE DISABILITY pension payout is just around Rs 4,000 crore, but the auditor’s observations that up to 40% of total officers retire with disabilities has raised many an eyebrow in the government. More than saving money, a comprehensive database of pensioners is key in analysing the main reasons for disability, including lifestyle diseases, facilitating possible corrective action.

It recommended that the defence ministry must maintain the complete database of pensioners to carry out an analysis on the main reasons of disability, including lifestyle diseases for possible corrective action.

Government officials said the stress involved in serving in difficult fields, including high altitude and insurgency-prone areas, left Armed Forces personnel with injuries leading to major and minor disabilities and aggravation in lifestyle diseases. Personnel also claim pensions for disabilities such as partial hearing loss and lower backache.

In 2019, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) issued a notification stating that tax exemption on disability pension would be available only to personnel who had been invalidated from service and not to personnel who had retired otherwise. This was challenged in the Supreme Court which, in an order dated August 30, 2019, directed all parties to maintain ‘status quo’ on the matter.

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