'Indian Army campaigning against its own': Veterans criticise statement in support of taxation on disability pension

Veterans on Wednesday criticised the Indian Army's statement supporting the Centre's decision to levy taxes on the disability pension, which is given to personnel disabled in the line of duty. Responding to a statement attributed to the "armed forces", experts and retired officers accused the army of "campaigning against its own".

Retired lieutenant-general Syed Ata Hasnain responded to the statement saying that it was the Indian Army "at its worst". He also said that he was "pained" by the decision of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) to reverse the tax exemption for personnel "who have been retired on superannuation or otherwise".

Another veteran Narender Kumar said that the Indian Army "must clarify" the compulsion to make a "self-inflicting injury". He tweeted, "(The decision) has not only harmed the veterans but it will harm each one of those who are in service today. Current COAS will be remembered for Guest Room, CSD cap on cars and taxing disability pension."

Navdeep Singh, lawyer and a former reservist, said that the unsigned note attributed to the army "demonised" disabilities which were attributable to or aggravated by the "stress and strain" of being in service.

The veterans have also criticised the terming of such disabilities as "lifestyle diseases" in the army's tweet. Major DP Singh also cited post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress, and irritation as disabilities. A report by The Times of India quoted military officers as saying that the decision to levy taxes was "mischievous" and was a "new way to cut down benefits of the armed forces".

The Centre and the army justified the decision for taxation saying that the disability pension was being misused by personnel to receive higher pensions. However, the report quoted an anonymous veteran as saying, "But a few aberrations should not lead to such an illogical step to penalise everyone. There have been examples like Major General Ian Cardozo and Lt-Generals Vijay Oberoi and Pankaj Joshi, among others, who chose to carry on in service despite losing their legs and rose to high ranks."

Veterans also criticised the fact that the note was released by former defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on her official Twitter handle, and was endorsed by the Indian Army by retweeting.

In a series of tweets, the Army said over the years broad-banding and compensation awarded for disability with income tax exemption has led to rise in personnel seeking disability, even for life style diseases.  The trend is worrisome when the security challenges to the nation are on the rise, it said.

"Indian Army is concerned for all personnel who are invalidated out of service in combat conditions or otherwise, and need additional support and discourages those who seek financial gains through their disabilities," it added.

Armed forces personnel get separate pension if they suffer any kind of disability in the line of duty. The amount depends on their rank and the kind of disability. The Army's reaction came hours after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's office tweeted a letter, saying unscrupulous personnel have gained from disability benefits provided by the government to disabled soldiers.

"The army is concerned about all the personnel who because of their disability are boarded out of service and therefore need additional financial support. Any soldier with disabilities that are due to combat conditions or otherwise, need to be cared for, irrespective of the the situation in which they have been physically disabled," the letter said.

It said there should be no segregation among genuinely disabled members of personnel.

"At the same time, those who have found the leverages in the existing system for seeking financial gains through disabilities need to be scrutinised and taken to task, where ever necessitated," the letter said. Recently, a group of ex-servicemen had cited example of Major-General Ian Cardozo (retd) while referring to the issue of disability pension.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2019 14:10:42 IST