‘Can’t Trust the Army’: Kargil War Hero Recounts Fight for Pension
Digendra Kumar helped India secure a victory in the crucial Battle of Tololing and was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.
Producer and Cameraperson: Kabir Upmanyu
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Thirteen years since he retired from the army, Digendra Kumar feels both a sense of pride and betrayal.
Pride, because he helped India secure a victory in the crucial Battle of Tololing, which was instrumental in giving the country an upper hand in the Kargil War of 1999. For his bravery during the battle, Kumar was honoured with the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest wartime gallantry award, on 15 August 1999.
Betrayal, because since his retirement, Kumar has been waging another battle – for his rightful share of disability and service pension that he has been denied.
I want to tell the government and the public that I have taken a bullet for this country. Despite being awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, I have been left distressed. I cannot place any trust in the Indian Army or its records when it comes to disbursing the pension due to us [soldiers].Digendra Kumar to The Quint
A Prolonged Fight
The 49-year-old, who sustained five bullet wounds during the Battle of Tololing, was denied the disability pension that he was entitled to, from 2005 to 2010, which ultimately forced him to move the Armed Forces Tribunal. The basis for denial of benefits to the Maha Vir Chakra awardee was purportedly because he sought voluntary retirement.
But ruling in his favour, the Tribunal reportedly called the denial of benefits an “inhuman and unfortunate decision that deserved to be deprecated”, and even penalised the army with Rs 30,000 for the “lack of sensitivity”. After that, it took two years for the pension/benefits to be disbursed.
Even today, Kumar claims that he is not being given the full pension amount. His lawyer, Colonel (retired) SB Singh, says that while he has managed to get the full disability element of his pension, the service element that he is being given is for 15 years and not for the 20 years due to him.
“The colleagues who worked with me have got more pension than I have. What kind of a law is this?,” Digendra Kumar asks, feeling wronged by the system.
But considering that Singh ultimately managed to get a large part of what is due to him, his lawyer asserts that the “court has been very considerate” in his case. However, for others, he indicates, getting what is due can be an endless wait, pointing out that the shortcomings in the system are responsible for this.
“For instance, the Jaipur bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal doesn’t have a judge for the past two years – since 30 June 2016. Five thousand cases are pending there,” he tells The Quint.
‘For Me, the Nation Will Always Come First’
Despite running from pillar to post all these years just to get his due share, Kumar’s commitment to the country remains strong as ever.
Apart from the Maha Vir Chakra, Kumar was also the recipient of the Sena Medal in 1993. As he proudly recounts his stints in not just Kargil, but also in Sri Lanka and Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara, the 49-year-old asserts that if a war breaks out today, he will go back to his battalion to serve the country, irrespective of whether he is called or not.
The story that I narrated is something that I consider to be a personal issue. But I want to say that I was never serving my country for the money… I want to tell the people of India that the country comes first and the money comes later. No allowance is bigger than the country. We live and we die for the country.Digendra Kumar
The army, in a rebuttal dated 23 July, said that Kumar had taken premature retirement on compassionate grounds on 31 July 2005, and his request was granted. The Army claims that he was given:
- full financial grant of Rs 13,00,000/- as part of Kargil package.
- War Injury Element (WIE) @ 80% from the date of his discharge (01 Aug 2005).
- Rounding off benefit @ 100 % (80% rounding off) for life from the date of his discharge.
The rebuttal also stated that Kumar had been advised to submit a written application to the Rajputana Rifles record regarding his grievance on the revised pension fixation under OROP, but had failed to do so.
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