Death while on duty during natural calamities entitled to enhanced pension: Armed Forces Tribunal

Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, February 12

The Armed Forces Tribunal on Friday considered that the next of kin of a soldier who dies while on duty for combating natural calamities is entitled to higher pensionary benefits than those applicable to death during routine service.

Finally, bringing closure to the case of the widow of a soldier who lost his life while extinguishing a forest fire on the Indo-China border, the Tribunal has directed the center to grant her Liberalized Family Pension rather than the Special Family Pension that she was getting.

Liberalized Family Pension is equivalent to the last drawn emoluments of the deceased, and is applicable in case where death occurs during operations or other specified field circumstances, whereas Special Family Pension is 60 per cent of the last drawn pay.

Champa Devi’s husband, late Naik Surinder Kumar of the Punjab Regiment, was deployed near the China border in the northeast when he perished after he was called to assist in extinguishing a forest fire in aid of the authorities concerned.

He died when a tree fell on him during the firefight.

Though the Army had declared the death a “battle casualty” as per applicable provisions, the office of the Principal Controller of Defense Accounts (Pensions) at Allahabad had rejected her papers saying the death fell in the category of rules which dealt with organized sports and recreation.

Setting aside the rejection order of the accounts branch, the Tribunal’s Bench comprising Justice Mohammad Tahir and Vice Admiral HCS Bisht held that the death fell in the category of the rules that dealt with deaths arising out of duty during natural calamities, which entitled a widow to Liberalised Family Pension.

The Army had opposed the plea by citing a judgment of the Supreme Court where a widow was refused Liberalized Family Pension on account of a heart attack and where the court had held that the claim was only sustainable if the death was in live action.

The Tribunal, however, observed that in the said case only the category of rules dealing with live action had been commented upon in which a heart attack did not fall while this case involved an altogether different category of the rules which dealt with natural calamities.

Legal experts also point out that in certain past cases the correct and latest government orders had not been disclosed by the official establishment even in the Supreme Court.

For example, deaths occurring due to natural illnesses on the Line of Control, International Border and in Siachen also qualify for liberalized benefits and are supposed to be declared “Battle Casualties” as per rules but still benefits to such deaths are opposed in courts in many cases.

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