Forty-four years after he suffered 230 per cent disability and blindness in a TNT explosion while serving in the 1 Armoured Engineering Regiment, R. Mani was recently offered a sum of Rs 1 lakh by the Indian Army under a self employment scheme meant for rehabilitation.
The offer has only added to the sense of hurt to Mr. Mani, who is now 70 years old and having lost both his arms, sight of the eyes and some hearing power is in no position to take up an employment scheme.
For Mr. Mani, though this is not the first time in the last 44 years that he has had to fight the system for his rightful dues. According to him, the Army treated him like a “medically invalid man” rather than a “war casualty”.
Recalling how on that fateful day, July 1, 1970, his unit was preparing for a visit by General Sam Manekshaw when a TNT explosive on which he was “putting the leads” went off, Mr. Mani said he suffered extensive injuries in the explosion. “I was an Engine Art (Artisan) and was employed as an explosive storekeeper since 1965 up to the day of the incident.”
“In the explosion, I suffered 230 per cent injury – 100 per cent to both the eyes, 100 per cent to the arms and 30 per cent to the ears. I was treated in various Army hospitals in Jhansi, Lucknow, Pune, Delhi and Bangalore. But the Army refused to acknowledge me as a ‘war casualty’ and as recently as 2008, before a Pension Adalat in Coimbatore it submitted that it was a ‘civil accident’.”
“My honour was lost that day. But I have almost got used to encountering opposition from my very own. Even in the Army records, the officers never made a proper mention of how the accident took place. Even the discharge and disability documents were manipulated and in the Disability Certificate, issued in 1991, the words ‘cause of disability’ was deliberately altered to read ‘cause of discharge” despite the officers knowing full well that it would decide the merit of the case.”
Apart from this, Mr. Mani said “all these years I have been denied grant of war injury pension, 230 per cent disability pension, attendant allowance and a medal for my service. I was also denied the improved pension after 2006.”
Mr. Mani, who was commissioned in the Army in 1963, now stays with his daughter in Salem in Tamil Nadu. Despite the odds being stacked against him, he has not given up hope. “A couple of months ago I petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee to seek my rightful dues. I am confident that he would find merit in my demand.”
But why did some Army officers manipulate the records and deny him his dues? Mr. Mani believes this was done by some senior officers to cover up their own shortcomings in the mishap. In his letter to the President, he said, he has made a detailed representation in this regard.