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The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that Schizophrenia cannot be a ground for military personnel to claim disability pension unless the same is attributable to or aggravated by military service.
The judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta in an appeal against a verdict passed by the Armed Forces Tribunal, Lucknow (AFT) which had rejected the claim of the appellant for disability pension.
The appellant was enrolled in the Indian Army on December 2, 2003. The invaliding Medical Board found the appellant to be suffering from Schizophrenia. The disability was assessed at 20 percent for a period of five years. The opinion of the Board was that disability was neither attributable to nor aggravated by military service.
The opinion of the Medical Board formed the basis for the discharge of the appellant from Army service on May 8, 2007.
The claim of the appellant for disability pension was rejected departmentally and later by the AFT. Aggrieved, the appellant moved the Supreme Court.
The appellant relied upon the judgments of the Supreme Court in Ex. Gnr. Laxmanram Poonia (Dead) through Legal Representatives v. Union of India & Ors., Dharamvir Singh v. Union of India & Ors. and Union of India & Anr. v. Rajbir Singh to contend that since no note was given at the time of enrolment of the said disease in the Army, therefore, such disability is to be attributed to military service.
The Supreme Court, however, proceeded to distinguish the judgments cited by the appellant. It held that in the present case, there is no infirmity in the report of the Medical Board which may warrant reconsideration of the physical condition.
The Court stated that the question was whether the harsh and adverse conditions in which the person was posted was what led to mental imbalance.
The Court adverted to Annexure I to Chapter IV of the Guide to Medical Officers (Military Pensions), 2002 — “Entitlement: General Principles”. As per the same, certain diseases may be undetectable by physical examination on enrolment including the Mental Disorders, Epilepsy and Relapsing forms of mental disorders which have intervals of normality, unless adequate history is given at the time by the member.
The Entitlement Rules itself provide that certain diseases ordinarily escape detection including Epilepsy and Mental Disorder. Therefore, the mere fact that Schizophrenia, a mental disorder was not noticed at the time of enrolment will not lead to a presumption that the disease was aggravated or attributable to military service, the Court held.
Each case has to be examined to determine whether the duties assigned to the individual may have led to stress and strain leading to Psychosis and psychoneurosis.
“Relapsing forms of mental disorders which have intervals of normality and Epilepsy are undetectable diseases while carrying out a physical examination on enrolment unless adequate history is given at the time by the member.”
In the current case, the appellant was a young boy of 18 years at the time of enrolment and had been boarded within 3½ years of his service. Even if he was suffering from any mental disorder prior to enrolment, the same could not be detected as there were intervals of normality. Importantly, the Court noted that the appellant was posted in peace station as a Vehicle Mechanic. The nature of the job or the place of posting was not such that it could have caused stress and strain leading to disability as attributed to or aggravated by military service.
Further, clause 14(d) of Entitlement Rules for Casualty Pensionary Awards, 1982, as amended in the year 1996, would be applicable as entitlement to disability pension shall not be considered unless it is clearly established that the cause of such disease was adversely affected due to factors related to conditions of military service.
The Court also observed that though the provision for grant of disability pension is a beneficial provision but, mental disorder at the time of recruitment cannot normally be detected when a person behaves normally. Since there is a possibility of non-detection of mental disorder, therefore, it cannot be said that Schizophrenia is presumed to be attributed to or aggravated by military service.
It, therefore, concluded that though the opinion of the Medical Board is subject to judicial review but the Courts are not possessed of expertise to dispute such a report unless there is strong medical evidence on record to dispute the opinion of the Medical Board.
Consequently, it dismissed the appeal.