The Para Special Forces Colonel lost his battle against cancer at Bangalore military hospital

Veterans took to social media to express their outrage after the parents of a decorated officer, a Colonel from the Para Special Forces (SF) who died fighting cancer, were forced to travel by road from New Delhi to Bangalore for the last rites due to confusion in rules between the Defence and Home Ministries. They are expected to reach Bangalore by Saturday night.

Colonel Navjot Singh Bal, 39, who commanded the elite 2 Para SF of the Army, was fighting a rare form of cancer and passed away at a military hospital in Bengaluru on April 9. He was awarded the Shaurya Chakra, the country's third highest gallantry award, in 2008, for counter insurgency operations in Kashmir.

His father Lt. Col. K.S. Bal is a veteran from the Garhwal Rifles and is based in Gurugram. At the time of the Col. Bal’s passing, his parents were in Amritsar and were forced to make the long road journey after confusion between the Defence Ministry and the Home Ministry over approval for service aircraft.

“Deepest condolences! Have a safe journey. Sad GOI (Government of India) did not help. Rules are never written on stone. They are modified or changed in special circumstances,” said former Army Chief Gen. V.P. Malik on Twitter. There was a deluge of social media messages from the veteran community expressing their condolences to the grieving parents and condemning the red tape in not ensuring approval for use of an aircraft in such an exceptional circumstance.

A day before he passed away, Col. Bal had clicked a selfie from his hospital bed which went viral on social media. Highly respected in the Army for his leadership abilities, the special forces officer had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2018 and in 2019 his right hand was amputated to contain the disease’s spread. Despite the amputation, officers recall seeing Col. Bal leading his troops in an exercise in Rajasthan last year. Col. Bal is survived by his wife Aarti and two sons, Zorawar (8) and Sarbaaz (4).

The family was given the option to airlift the mortal remains to Delhi to perform the last rites. However, Col. Bal’s wife and children were in Bengaluru, so his parents wanted to travel there instead, a defence official said. speaking on condition of anonymity. Following this, the Defence Ministry approved the use of a service aircraft to take his parents to Bangalore. Also, an Indian Air Force C-17 was scheduled to travel on the route anyway, the official stated.

However, it was felt that due to the lockdown concurrence of the Home Ministry was needed. While verbal approval was given by Home Ministry, some officials in the Defence Ministry insisted on a written approval which Home Ministry officials weren’t sure they could provide. This confusion in the rules meant precious time was lost and Col. Bal’s parents had no option but to take the road route.

Under normal circumstances, Defence Ministry sanction, which is required for civilians to fly in service aircraft, would have been sufficient.