MUMBAI: Forty-seven years after an Indian Army personnel from Satara sustained severe injuries in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Bombay High Court today directed the Maharashtra government to allot a plot of land to him.
The high court also asked the government to extend all other benefits due to him, under a Government Resolution (GR) meant for former Army personnel from Maharashtra.
A bench of justices A S Oka and R I Chagla also imposed a cost of Rs 50,000 upon the state government and directed that the amount be paid to the petitioner, Hindurao Jagannath, within a month.
It was unfortunate that a former Army personnel had been a victim of such apathy and that he had to run from pillar to post to ask for benefits that he was entitled to, the bench observed.
Jagannath, 68, used to serve as a driver in the '216 Medium regiment' when, during the 1971 India-Pakistan war, he received some bullet injuries.
According to his plea, the injuries got aggravated subsequently and resulted in a bone infection.
By the time Jagannath got discharged from the Army in 1975, the infection had resulted in a permanent disability in one of his legs.
After his discharge, Jagannath wrote several letters to the state and Union government seeking that he be granted the benefits promised under the GR issued by the state on December 30, 1971.
The GR provides that all former Army personnel from Maharashtra who sustain injuries while in service will be entitled to agricultural as well as residential land plots, and some other benefits.
However, Jagannath's letters to the state and central authorities never yielded any results.
In 2008, he wrote again to the Maharashtra Social Justice Department which finally forwarded his letter to the Satara district collector's office.
The collector's office and the zilla sainik welfare officer, however, rejected his request on the ground that there was no proof his injuries got aggravated while still in service.
The district level authorities also claimed that the GR was meant only for those Army personnel who received gallantry awards.
Jagannath then approached the high court through his counsel Rajesh Panchal in 2015.
Today, the bench led by Justice Oka observed that it was unfortunate and shocking that the state had shown such an apathy to a former Army personnel.
"It is unfortunate that it took over 10 years just for the petitioner's letter to be forwarded. There was a complete misreading of the 1971 GR by district officials. They proceeded on a wrong footing that benefits will be available only in cases of gallantry award winners," the bench said.
"Also, the stand taken by the zilla sainik welfare officer is shocking. His approach should have been sympathetic and positive since he was dealing with an ex-Army officer," the court said.
The bench said since the sainik welfare officer had no personal knowledge of Jagannath's injuries, he had no business to get into whether or not the same got aggravated while he was still in service or not.
"Therefore, this petition must succeed," the bench said, adding that the land and other benefits under the GR must be given to Jagannath within three months.
The court cautioned that if its orders were not complied with, it would impose further cost on the state.
Jagannath, who had come to the high court with his wife and daughter, said he was "very relieved now".
Incidentally, the 216 Medium Regiment is celebrating its golden jubilee this year, and has invited Jagannath as one of the guests.