HC removes rank bias in ex-servicemen health care
Former servicemen move court to seek an end to practice of giving retired officers precedence over ex-jawans under ECHS polyclinics
NEW DELHI: The Delhi high court has ruled that retired armed forces officers cannot get privileged treatment over other defence personnel who held junior ranks, at hospitals and clinics under the existing health scheme for servicemen.ILLUSTRATION: ABHIMANYU SINHA
The high court’s views came on a petition by a society of ex-servicemen — the Anti Discrimination Core — that moved the court to seek an end to the practice of giving retired officers precedence over retired jawans under Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) polyclinics across the country.
Launched in 2003, ECHS entitled ex-servicemen pensioners and their dependants for treatment in service hospitals and other civil or private hospitals empanelled with it.
As per the scheme, a person with a White Card — war disabled/battle casualty disabled veteran/disabled beneficiary — and senior citizens are entitled for treatment in ECHS polyclinics on priority.
However, the society complained that exservicemen of the officer cadre were not only attended to first, but also allowed to jump the queue. They were also issued medicines of different specifications while ex-servicemen of other ranks, even if suffering from serious ailments, were made to wait endlessly.
The discrimination did not end here.
In some polyclinics, there are display boards to separate the officer ex-servicemen from other rank ex-servicemen and separate counters too.
A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice RS Endlaw took a dim view of the practice of giving precedence to officers, holding that it could not continue post retirement “when both fall in the same category ie of ex-servicemen”.
It also noted that the health scheme did not sanction preferential treatment or priority to be given to officers, over other cadres or among officers as per their rank.
The bench said: “The defence forces, more than any other, are steeped in hierarchy and the doctors, physician or paramedics of a lower rank are likely to, out of habit and deference, give priority to those superior in rank, even if ex-servicemen”.
The court, however, did not issue a specific direction but only asked the managing director of the ECHS to address the issue raised by the society “in the best possible manner”.
It suggested that steps be taken to avoid heartbur n among a certain category of ex- servicemen by “building consensus and awareness” among its members, including various ranks of retired officers, to respect the scheme and not seek any priority or favour while seeking medical services.
The HC also said doctors, paramedics and other staff of such hospitals under the scheme have to be taught to see patients strictly as per appointment if per missible or on first-come, firstserved basis.