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Denied pension for a year, women army officers to seek compensation from the Indian army

By Ajai Narendran
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publive-image Photo courtesy: @capt_tania_shergill | Instagram

The Short Service Commission (SSC) women army officers who were denied pension for almost a year are now moving the Armed Forces Tribunal seeking compensation for the inordinate delay in the disbursement of their pensions. The Supreme Court in 2020 had stated that the women Army officers who had completed 20 years of service and those who were not granted Permanent Commission (PC) could avail pension benefits after they retired from service.

Lt Col Nagaveni Rao (retd) senior most woman army officer who was denied pension speaks to The Probe

The Probe spoke to Lt Col Nagaveni Rao (retd) - the senior-most woman army officer denied pension - who said that the excessive delay had caused the officers too much stress and mental agony. “This is a very rude shock to me. Setting our problem right does not take more than half a day. Someone has to just pick up the phone and ask the concerned authority to just sign a letter. That’s all. We are hurt. There are 15 of us, and very surprisingly, a few officers have got pensions and a few others like us have been denied the benefits.”

Sources in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed to The Probe that the ministry has written to the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pensions) to process the pensions of the aggrieved women officers. “I have not yet got the pension. So far, we have not been intimated on when we will receive our pension except for a mail that we received, which said that the MoD has written to the PCDA Allahabad. We may get the pension, but who will compensate us for the financial and mental stress that we went through for the last so many months? One of my friends sent her son abroad. She cannot tell him now that ‘I cannot afford, please come back’. Many of us have financial commitments, and we are unable to fulfil them because of this delay,” said one of the affected women army officers on condition of anonymity.

The Probe also spoke to many other officers. Some have attributed the delay to the government’s new online pension disbursing site called Sparsh (System for Pension Administration (Raksha).

“If it’s a problem with the online system, then in our case, at least they can process it manually so that all of us can get some reprieve. This pension problem started in April last year. At that time, 25 to 30 of us were affected. Till that time, most of our documents were sent manually. Meanwhile, in the month of September, they transitioned to an online system. All our coursemates who are getting pension got it based on the documents we all had already submitted manually. Our documents are already with them in hard copy. All they have to do is just process the documents with them manually. There is a clear empathy that we feel is missing in the way this entire matter has been handled,” said Lt Col Dolly Tewari (retd).

The officers are now planning to move the Armed Forces Tribunal for compensation for the excessive delays in the disbursement. Rakesh Kumar, the advocate representing 13 women army officers, confirmed to The Probe that the petition for compensation would be filed soon. “We can’t just say that it is only a system error. They sent a mail to the officers stating that they are not entitled, but subsequently, they realised the mistake, and now it seems they are working on it. There has been a one year delay, and we are approaching the appropriate authorities and the tribunal. The officers have faced unnecessary and unreasonable delays. They must be compensated for this delay because they have faced a lot of financial and mental stress the last one year. We are approaching the tribunal for compensation, and I am optimistic that the tribunal will pass a favourable verdict on compensation.”

Lt Col Nagaveni Rao (retd) speaks to The Probe

Life came full circle last year for officers like Lt Col Nagaveni Rao (retd). At one point in her career with the Indian army, Rao was in charge of swiftly disbursing pensions for army personnel, but today she has to call the same pension offices that she had once served for disbursement of her pension.

“I was dealing with the pensions department when I was posted in Delhi. I used to call up the same Allahabad office to get things sanctioned. I used to get the pensions sanctioned immediately within two to three days. I used to carry all the files home, and my daughter was just an infant during that time. I used to work late at night just so that someone else should not suffer. I worked with those kinds of principles, and today I am on the other side of the fence, and there’s nobody to think like that for me.”

Lt Col Malika Sheikh, who served in the army for almost 25 years, told The Probe that she is optimistic that justice will be done to the officers. “I believe that things have started, but I guess it will take some more time. But so far, none of us have got our pensions. I have served in the Indian army for 25 years, and 25 years is a good enough time to give to an organisation. We are very sad.”

While the 15 women officers were denied pension, few other officers who retired around the same time were granted the benefits. Lt Col Manju Shanwal (retd), who retired nearly a year ago, said, “There is certainly some problem in the system that few officers have got the pension and few others haven’t. We are given to understand that since the time we moved on to Sparsh, the online system, the issue has started. It’s not just that we didn’t get pension, but we were also given a PPO order that stated that we are not entitled to it. Instead of stating that there is a problem in the system, the point is, how can they say we are not entitled especially after the Supreme Court order?”

Some of the officers have also filed an RTI in the matter and have sought replies on how many women officers were granted pension and why many of them have been denied the benefits. “We have knocked on many doors. We have also filed RTIs to get more details related to our case. We are still awaiting the reply to our RTI petitions,” asserted Lt Col Manju Shanwal (retd).

Speaking to The Probe, Lt Col Nagaveni Rao (retd) said disbursing pensions after such a delay does not make up for what the officers went through for so many months. “What about all the problems that you have caused us for almost a year now? Officers and authorities must be held accountable for this delay and penalised. Sanctions should be imposed on those who are responsible for this. We have not just lost our pension. Because of this, we can’t avail the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) facility. I fell sick twice last year, but I couldn’t go to any empanelled medical hospital, and I, in turn, had to go to a private medical institute. God forbid should something bad happen, how will I be looked after? Who will treat me? Who will bear the expenses?”