Martyr status

Martyrs to apathy

Print edition : March 15, 2019

Even as there has been a lot of hue and cry over the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Pulwama, getting shaheed/martyr status for the deceased, which would entitle their families to rightful perks and compensation, seems to be a tall order. In a case (Abhishek Chaudhary vs Union of India) that came up for hearing in the Delhi High Court on February 19, just five days after the Pulwama incident, the Union government categorically reiterated that the issue of declaring the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and Assam Rifles personnel killed in the line of duty as “Martyr/Shaheed” had been rejected by the Committee of Secretaries (COS) in 2011 itself. “During the meeting, the Special Secretary, Ministry of Defence, stated that ‘Shaheed/Martyr’ was not defined anywhere and presently they were not issuing any order/notification of Shaheeds/Martyrs. It was important not to start a new practice or introduce the requirement to notify or certify a Shaheed/Martyr,” states an affidavit filed before the court.

The government stand was made clear in the composite affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Department of Personnel and Training (Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pension) and the Ministry of Defence in reply to writ petition no. 6666 of 2015 filed by advocate Abhishek Chaudhary in the Delhi High Court in 2015. The unit commander certifies the circumstances under which the armed forces personnel died, and next of kin (NOK) get the full family pension based on his last pay drawn. The Cabinet Secretary stated that while the sacrifices made by police personnel should not be underrated, it was important not to lose sight of the possibility of similar demands getting raised for State police personnel. Further it was equally important that action in this regard does not lead to any other unintended consequences. The priorities of State governments cannot be pre-empted and the overall balance that has been evolved in public policy between external defence and internal security and maintenance of public law and order should be maintained. Benefits and concessions should be given, but not for prestige alone,” the affidavit says. After detailed deliberations, it was concluded that at this juncture there was no consensus on designating CAPF personnel who died while on active duty as “Shaheed/Martyr”.

The case was taken up for hearing on the basis of an application filed by Abhishek Chaudhary before the Delhi High Court on February 15, a day after the Pulwama attack, for “urgent mentioning” of his writ petition no. 6666 of 2015 in which he had prayed that CAPF personnel killed in action in the duty of the nation should be granted the same status of martyr as is given to personnel of the three defence forces which entitled their families to mandatory benefits like full pension, a government job for one family member, and aid for the education of children. In the absence of any official notification to this effect, he contended that the families of CAPF personnel who laid down their lives for the nation were left high and dry and were at the mercy of respective State governments, which, more often than not, turned apathetic once the initial clamour died down. He also requested the court to pass instruction to the government to ensure that the deceased CAPF personnel be referred to respectfully as “martyrs” by the print and electronic media instead of saying that they died or were killed.

Significantly, it came to light through the affidavit that there was no statute, rule or notification or even an office memo which defined who a “martyr” was—whether from the armed forces or from the CAPF. “In this scenario, personnel of the armed forces [Army, Navy and Air Force] who lay down their lives in the course of their duty are called either ‘battle casualty’ or ‘physical casualty’ and are compensated based on the existing rules. But for CAPF personnel, even this criterion does not apply because they are not officially deployed in battle, hence their compensation and benefits is akin to that of civil employees which is extremely inadequate for the sort of duty they perform,” said a serving CRPF commandant posted in Srinagar, not willing to be named.

 

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