Supreme Court Has Directed The Army To Compensate Rs 50 Lakh To A Havaldar Who Was Discharged Due To An Incorrect AIDS Diagnosis

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Case Title: Satyanand Singh vs Union of India

A division bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta of the Supreme Court has issued a directive for the Indian Army to provide Rs 50 lakhs as compensation to a dismissed Havaldar based on an erroneous AIDS diagnosis, which was later proven to be inaccurate.

The bench emphasized that the awarded compensation would not fully alleviate the mental distress endured by the individual during the 23 years following his dismissal.

The bench said “In view of the extreme mental agony thus undergone by the appellant (Havaldar), in not only facing the apathetic attitude of the respondents 2 to 4 (Indian Army, Central government) but in facing the concomitant social stigma and the looming large death scare that accompanied such a discharge from the armed forces, we deem it fit to award a lumpsum compensation of Rs.50,00,000”.

The Court deliberated on an appeal lodged by a former Havaldar (the appellant) who was discharged from the Indian Army in December 2001, after serving for over eight years.

The appellant’s dismissal was based on a medical assessment indicating that he had a “neuro-tuberculosis,” classified as an “AIDS defining illness,” deeming him unfit for military service. Challenging his dismissal, the appellant sought recourse with the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

Initially, a single judge ruled in his favor, but a subsequent decision by a division bench of the High Court upheld his dismissal.

Subsequently, the Director General Armed Forces Medical Service and the Armed Forces Tribunal declined to reverse the dismissal or award him a disability pension. Subsequently, the former Havaldar appealed to the Supreme Court seeking relief.

The Court reprimanded the Army for dismissing the Havaldar based solely on an inaccurate diagnosis. Additionally, it condemned the Army’s decision to deny him disability pension, labeling AIDS as a “self-inflicted” illness.

The bench remarked that this case brought attention to the persistent discrimination and ingrained bias experienced by individuals living with HIV.

The Court criticized the Army for being extremely careless and negligent in their treatment of the Havaldar. Expressing sorrow for the hardships faced by the dismissed soldier, the Court highlighted the abrupt transition from military to civilian life.

The bench determined that an erroneous diagnostic process was followed in assessing the appellant. The Court noted that despite the former Havaldar being HIV-positive, his condition had not progressed to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), contrary to the medical diagnosis provided by the Army.

The Court emphasized the challenge faced by the soldier, who was suddenly uprooted from a structured military environment and placed into civilian life without adequate preparation.

“It is no secret that despite the enactment of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Act, 2017, and the slew of awareness measures taken by Governments in recent times, the stigma and discrimination which lamentably accompanies an HIV+ve diagnosis is still an illness that afflicts the minds of society today. The discriminatory sentiment of deeming persons who are HIV+ve to be unfit for employment, is starkly evident from the way in which the appellant has been responded to and treated by the various authorities”.

The Court noted that due to the significant passage of time and the fact that the Havaldar is now 50 years old, reinstatement in the Army was not possible. Hence, the Court directed the army to compensate the appellant with Rs 50 lakh for wrongful termination, covering leave encashment dues, non-reimbursement of medical expenses, and addressing the social stigma the appellant endured.

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