Chandigarh: The Indian Army is "the most neglected in the world", says retired army officer C.S. Sidhu, who won a legal battle with the government over his meagre pension in a case that provoked the Supreme Court to rebuke the government for treating army personnel like "beggars".
"It is a matter of shame that our soldiers who guard the international borders, fight terrorists and ensure security of over one billion people are left with frustration and discontent at the end of the day," Sidhu told IANS Friday.
A day earlier on Thursday the Supreme Court dismissed the government`s appeal challenging a Punjab and Haryana High Court`s directions to pay increased pension to him.
"There are cases where a soldier is earning less than a government peon. It seems that the Indian government is testing their patience in extreme conditions and is willingly forcing them to go corrupt," said Sidhu, who feels vindicated after the court verdict.
Even at the age of 66 years, Sidhu, has the same conviction in his voice, when he talks about his rights. He joined the Indian Army at the age of 22.
Upbeat with the Supreme Court`s verdict, Sidhu said he had been waiting for this day for the last over three decades.
"It`s really disheartening that it took me nearly 32 years to win my legitimate right in a country that claims to be one the world`s biggest democracy. But there is some consolation as still there are some institutions in the country like the judiciary whose integrity is intact," Sidhu told IANS at his house.
He added, "Nobody realized the gravity of suffering of a youth who had lost everything at the age of 24."
Sidhu was commissioned in the Indian Army in 1968 in the Parachute Regiment. While guarding the Indo-Tibetan border he met with an accident in November 1971 that left him with 100 percent disability.
"While on duty, I was hit by a landslide. I was admitted in hospital with multiple fractures and severe injuries on head and various parts of the body. My right arm was amputated and I spent nearly nine months on bed in the hospital," said Sidhu.
"After discharge from the hospital, I immediately joined my duty. I also served during the 1971 war and was posted at various locations, including high altitudes where conditions were really tough, before retiring in 1978," he stated.
After retirement, the authorities started giving him pension on the basis of his service period of only two years and three months - before the accident. They refused to consider the years that he spent in the army after the accident to calculate his pension amount.
"It was insulting and belittled all my sacrifices. In 1978, they were giving me Rs.321 per month pension whereas I was actually entitled to over Rs.1,000. But now with the Supreme Court`s directions they will pay me a pension of Rs.18,000 per month along with all my past dues," said Sidhu.
"I did not fight for money because I am from a well off family and I have good property and business. I fought only for the rights because there are many other defence officials who are facing similar discrimination everyday," pointed out Sidhu.
In a desperate attempt to make his voice heard, Sidhu even went to the extent of burning his medals at the Amar Jawan Jyoti in New Delhi in 2006. He also burnt his artificial limb and the army`s instruction book at the same place in 2007.
"I had approached Punjab and Haryana High Court somewhere around 2000 and the court directed the army to pay me the increased pension. Despite the court orders, they did not pay anything to me for one year. Then I filed a contempt to court case and after that they submitted Rs.360,000 in my account but after a few months withdrew it," said Sidhu.
"I even wrote a letter to the president of India but I did not get any reply. After failing in all quarters, I approached the Supreme Court of India in 2006, and yesterday I got a positive verdict," said Sidhu.
Sidhu lives in his sprawling farmhouse in Mullanpur village, adjoining this union territory, with his wife and children.
A bench of Justice Markandeya Katju and Justice A.K. Patnaik said Thursday: "Is this the way you treat those brave army officers? It is unfortunate that you are treating them like beggars." The court asked the government to adopt a more "humane approach" towards those defending the country`s borders.