The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the constitutional validity of a regulation in military service rules that ensures disability pension only to those personnel of fighting forces who are invalided due to physical ailments caused by inhospitable service conditions.
Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Ajai Wahi, who suffers from acute bronchitis, had sought disability pension even though he retired voluntarily from the force.
Wahi was commissioned in the Army Medical Corps on February 27, 1977. As a Major, he was admitted to Command Hospital in 1988 for treatment of bronchial asthma and low backache.
The medical board didn’t indicate the two ailments were directly attributable to military service. However, it certified the ailments had been aggravated by stress and strain of exposure to hostile terrain and weather.
In 1993, Wahi sought premature retirement saying “falling health is affecting” his performance. His request was accepted in 1994.
When the defence ministry denied him disability pension saying he wasn’t invalided from service, Wahi moved the Rajasthan high court (HC), which directed the Centre to release pension.
But SC quashed the HC judgment. Allowing the Union government’s appeal against it seven years ago, justices GS Singhvi and CK Prasad said regulation 48 of military service rules specifically provided for a disability pension to officers “invalided out of service on account of disability attributable to or aggravated by military service”.
Regulation 50, however, says, “An officer who retires voluntarily shall not be eligible for any award on account of any disability.”
Wahi was not invalided out of service on account of disability attributable to or aggravated by military service and his disability had not been determined under the law.
Officers who retire voluntarily constitute “a different class altogether”, SC said. However, when an officer is invalided on the ground of disability attributable to military service, there is no reason to deny such pension to him.
“In our opinion, both constitute different and distinct classes”, the court said.
Article 14 of the Constitution frowns on discrimination but permits reasonable classification, it said.