Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)

SC rejects govt’s plea on order to pay HIV+ veteran ₹1.5 crore

THE PETITIONER, WHO RETIRED FROM THE AIR FORCE, CAUGHT HIV FROM BLOOD TRANSFUSIO­N THAT WAS GIVEN TO HIM IN 2002, WHEN HE SERVED IN OPERATION PARAKRAM

- Abraham Thomas letters@hindustant­imes.com

The Supreme Court has dismissed the Union government’s review petition against a decision requiring the Army and Air Force to jointly pay over ₹1.5 crore to a former air force corporal who contracted HIV from a blood transfusio­n at a military hospital in 2002.

The government challenged the court’s September 26 ruling last year that found the Army and Air Force guilty of medical negligence in failing to ensure the highest safety standards for military personnel. The retired corporal, discharged in 2016, was also granted benefits including free medical care and disability pension.

On April 3, Justices Dipankar Datta and PB Varale said in an order, “the judgment and order under review does not suffer from any error, much less apparent error, warranting its reconsider­ation.” The court also dismissed the government’s request for an open court hearing of the review petition.

The airman, whose identity has been protected by the court, filed a contempt petition after six months passed without receiving the ordered compensati­on. Last month, the court directed the government to immediatel­y release his disability pension, ₹25,000 allowance for monthly hospital visits, and an additional ₹18 lakh for a caretaker, within a week.

The airman joined the Air Force in 1996 and received the tainted blood transfusio­n in July 2002 during Operation Parakram, a military standoff with Pakistan. He was not diagnosed with HIV until May 2014 at a naval hospital in Mumbai, after a military hospital failed to detect it earlier that year.

In the original September judgment, Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Datta held the Army and Air Force “vicariousl­y liable” for medical negligence, awarding the HIV-positive soldier ₹1.5 crore in compensati­on. The Air Force was allowed to seek reimbursem­ent of up to half the amount from the Army (which was in charge of the field hospital where the transfusio­n took place.

Justice Bhat wrote, “No amount of compensati­on can undo the harm caused by such behaviour which has shaken the foundation of the appellant’s dignity, robbed him of honour, and rendered him not only desperate, but cynical.”

“People sign up to join the armed forces with considerab­le enthusiasm and sense of patriotic duty... to put their lives on the line and be prepared for the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. A correspond­ing duty is cast on all state functionar­ies, including echelons of power within the armed forces to ensure that the highest standard of safety, which is physical and mental well-being, is maintained,” the ruling added.

The airman’s wife left him due to his condition, and after being discharged, he filed a complaint with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission seeking ₹95 crore from the Air Force for negligence. The commission dismissed his petition in August 2021, prompting his appeal.

In recent contempt proceeding­s, amicus curiae Vanshaja Shukla warned that the petitioner’s CD4 count, indicating immune system health, had fallen to a concerning level of 256. “His CD4 level has fallen to 256. If it goes below 200, he will become an AIDS patient.” Shukla said emphasisin­g that delay on part of Centre to pay him the compensati­on will adversely affect his health and sustenance. The court ordered the government to deposit the remaining compensati­on with its registry within two weeks and said it will review compliance on July 16.

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