Retired Air Veteran contracted HIV during blood transfusion: SC awards compensation of Rs. 1,54,73,000

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Today, the Supreme Court of India was hearing an appeal against the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) judgment denying the compensation claimed by a retired Air Veteran (appellant) on account of medical negligence due to which he contracted HIV. The matter was heard by Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice S Ravindra Bhat. The bench gave the decision in favor of a retired Air Veteran and awarded compensation amounting to 1 crore 54 lakhs 73 thousand (1,54,73,000). The court order reads, “The appellant is entitled to compensation calculated at 1,54,73,000 rupees on account of medical negligence of the respondents who are held liable for injuries suffered by him. Since individual liability cannot be assigned, the respondent organizations IAF, and the Indian Army are held vicariously liable jointly and severally. The amount shall be paid by the IAF (his employer) within 6 weeks. It is open to the IAF to seek reimbursement to the extent of half the amount from the Army. All arrears related to disability pension shall be disbursed within 6 weeks.”

The appellant holding the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army jointly, contracted HIV during a blood transfusion while falling sick on duty during ‘Operation Parakram’ in Jammu & Kashmir.  In July 2002, he was admitted to 171 Military Hospital, Samba, and one unit of blood was transfused into his body. The appellant fell ill in 2014 and was diagnosed with HIV. His Medical Case Sheet and the Personal Occurrence Report were provided regarding his hospitalization in July 2002. Further, in 2014 and 2015, Medical Boards were held and his disability was found due to a transfusion of one unit of blood in 2002. He was discharged from his services on May 31, 2016. The appellant moved a letter for the supply of a disability certificate but the same was denied on the basis that no provision was there for it. He then approached NCDRC claiming 95 crore rupees as compensation. NCDRC said “In the present case, there is no Expert Opinion to the effect that at the time of blood transfusion in the body of the complainant, the staff of 171 Military Hospital had committed any negligence. As such the complaint is liable to be dismissed on this short ground alone.” Aggrieved by the decision, the appellant approached the top Court (SC). 

While hearing the matter, the SC highlighted the importance of upholding the well-being and dignity of armed forces personnel. The bench observed “People sign up to join armed forces with considerable enthusiasm and a sense of patriotic duty. This entails a conscious decision 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 standards of safety which is physical, and mental well-being as well as wellness is maintained…” It also added that “When a young person from either sex as is nowadays case enrolls/joins any armed forces, at all times their expectation is to be treated with dignity and honor.” The bench further expressed disappointment related to the respondent’s behavior in relation to the fundamental principles of dignity, compassion, and honor. The SC bench opined “The present case has demonstrated again and again how dignity, honor, and compassion towards the appellant were completely lacking in behavior by the respondents. Repeatedly, the court places disdain, discrimination, and even a hint of stigma attached to the appellant in the attitude of the respondent.”

Moreover, the SC also addressed certain directives for the government, courts, and quasi-judicial bodies under the HIV Act, 2017 while delivering the judgment. It said “We’ve issued directions to the government in tune with the HIV Act, 2017, and also every court, quasi-judicial body including all tribunals, commissions, forums, etc. discharging judicial functions set under central and state enactment shall take active measures to comply with the provision of Section 34. Section 34 prioritizes the cases of all these persons suffering from AIDS. Chief Justice of all High Court shall compile information and devise methods of collecting information anonymizing the identity of persons affected appropriately and also complying with Section 34(2).”