The regional Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal directed the Defence Ministry and the Centre to sanction pension and other retirement benefits with nine per cent interest to the widow of a defence serviceman twelve years after his death in a train accident.
The Division Bench of the Tribunal, comprising Judicial Member Justice K. Padmanabhan Nair and Administrative Member Lieutenant General (Retd.) Thomas Mathew, criticised Defence Ministry officials for demanding court order from the wife of Sugathan as proof of her husband's death for the release of pension, gratuity and other benefits.
Sugathan, hailing from Mangaiathukonam in Thiruvananthapuram, had been working as ‘farm hand' at the military farm at Tenga in Arunachal Pradesh when he died after falling from the Thiruvananthapuram-bound Guwahati Express between Vishakhapatnam and Tuni railway stations. The Rajahmundry police had then registered a case. But when his wife, Suchetha Devi, approached the ministry for pension, the Manager of Military Farm Records, New Delhi, asked her to produce ‘proper indisputable proof of death or decree of court that the employee concerned shall be deemed to be dead.'
The tribunal observed that Sugathan had no adverse service records. The fact that he fell from a train and that nothing was heard about him thereafter was also not disputed. Further, section 108 of the Evidence Act did not confer any substantive right to a person to approach a civil court and obtain a decree to the effect that another person was dead, it observed.