Ex-Adjutant General Gets Defamation Notice Over Disability Remarks
Lt Gen Ashwani Kumar’s controversial statements during a recent TV interview with NewsX received a lot of flak from the ex-servicemen community. However, the consequences could now be more serious, after a retired Lt Colonel sent him a legal notice threatening to sue him to the tune of Rs 1 crore for defamation.
Lt Gen Kumar, a former adjutant general of the Indian Army (the officer responsible for key administrative and legal matters), retired last week.
The defamation notice has been sent to Lt Gen Kumar by one Lt Colonel Niraj Bakshi (Retd), a recipient of the disability pension.
He has demanded an unconditional apology from the former adjutant general within 15 days – if this isn’t issued, he says he will be filing a defamation suit for Rs 1 crore against him.
Controversy Over Disability Benefits
The comments came at a sensitive time, with the Centre having announced in June that it would be withdrawing the income tax exemption on disability pensions for officers who continued serving even after suffering a disability – the tax exemption would henceforth only apply to those who were forced to retire early because of the disability.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has promised to review the decision, and the armed forces have suggested that the disability pension tax exemption in such circumstances should be provided to an extent, with stronger scrutiny of claims for the disability pension itself.
Lt Gen Kumar’s interview with NewsX followed several comments to the media where he had argued that the disability pension was being misused by many retired officers, who were claiming it for medical conditions related to their lifestyle, not problems arising out of their service.
He also batted for a ‘Code of Conduct’ for retired officers, who are allowed to maintain their ranks after retirement but are not bound by any service rules.
The comments drew sharp criticism from ex-servicemen. Some criticised the comments on the disability pensions issue:
While others minced no words about the ‘Code of Conduct’ proposal:
The code of conduct proposal was widely viewed by veterans as a response to criticism by ex-servicemen of the government, including politicisation of the military over the Balakot airstrikes earlier this year.
The adjutant general’s defence of the tax exemption withdrawal for disability pensioners was viewed as insensitive and belittling, without properly considering the reasons for such disabilities.
The Defamation Notice
Lt Col Bakshi has argued (through his lawyer) that Lt Gen Kumar’s statements were improper as he spoke to the media about service issues even while he was still a serving officer.
“In your interview,” the notice says, “you disparagingly spoke about disability pensioners of the army and persons with disabilities, conveying as if many such pensioners do not deserve disability benefits.”
It also takes exception to the fact that Lt Gen Kumar addressed the tax exemption issue even after the defence minister said he was looking into the matter and it was sub-judice in the Supreme Court.
The legal notice also refers to Lt Gen Kumar’s comments about bringing a ‘Code of Conduct’ for veterans, which is argued to be illegal as retired officers are not bound by the service rules. “By talking of such an illegal theory you have maligned the image of all military retirees as if they are meant to follow your dictates or that they are not indulging in respectable behaviour in civil life.”
The notice claims that Lt Col Bakshi has received multiple messages on social media and personal jibes, with people “saying that disabled soldiers are known to have ‘fake disabilities’ as per the utterances of their own senior military leadership.”
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