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Harassing soldiers

Editorial |

It is nothing short of a disgrace that the Supreme Court should impose a fine of Rs 100,000 on the Ministry of Defence for indulging in needless litigation ~ that too in a bid to deny a disabled soldier of Hoshiarpur the “compensation (not that money alleviates suffering) awarded to him by the Chandigarh bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal.

While the apex court is yet to pass final orders in the case, a Division Bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta were clearly irritated by the MoD challenging the Tribunal’s award.

“This is unnecessarily adding to the burden of the justice delivery systems, for which the Union of India must take full responsibility,” their Lordships asserted as they flayed the ministry.

It is to be recalled that a committee of experts on the reduction of litigation had singled out the ministry and Service Headquarters for generating unnecessary “ego-fuelled litigation by perceiving litigants as persons ‘acting against the state’”.

Clearly despite the passage of over two decades, neither the babus nor the “brass” have reconciled themselves to having their actions scrutinised by the Tribunal which has made grievance-redressal less taxing for military personnel.

Having initially resisted George Fernandes’ initiative to “sensitise” the military’s administrative apparatus, there appears a consistent effort to undermine the Armed Forces Tribunal ~ and the present government has been unable to effect a change in the mindset which the committee of experts had lamented.

While in its recent order the apex court has focused on the clogging of the justice-delivery mechanisms, there is also a very strong inhumane element to the “ego-fuelled litigation”.

Many of the matters moved before the AFT concern veterans ~ disabled or otherwise ~ “fighting” for the benefits granted to them by various orders of the government.

They are not entirely incorrect in thinking that a concerted effort is made in South Block to reduce to the bare minimum the benefits that ought to accrue from years of tough service in harsh conditions, often risking the proverbial life and limb.

This is possibly the worst manifestation of the civil-military divide, and sends out the negative signals that have made the “uniform” among the least-preferred career options. Most veterans have limited financial back-up, to drain that when litigating to secure a fair deal is often impossible ~ no officer in the MoD pays lawyers’ fees from his own pocket.

Maybe imposing “costs” on officers for frivolous litigation might be a way out. An easier solution might be having a defence minister as alert to the soldier’s difficulties as George Fernandes was.

He never permitted brass and gold braid to blind him to bitter realities. It is time for another defence minister to honestly uphold the spirit and onus of his/her share of that nation-elevating exhortation. Jai Jawan Jai Kisan.