In November 2009, Defence Minister A K Antony, in reply to a question by MPs Yashodhara Raje Scindia and Virender Kashyap, had said the Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) had been extended to “all the Short Service Commission (SSC) officers” after retirement. Four years on, SSC ex-servicemen are disappointed not only because the ECHS benefits never reached them but also due to the confusing statements floating in the official channels.
City-based Department of Sainik Welfare (DSW) has taken up the demand afresh with public representatives and the Army. If implemented, ECHS benefits will reach close to 30,000 ex-servicemen across the country, including 300 in the city, say DSW figures.
Making a retrospective statement in the Lok Sabha in 2009, Antony had said the government “has taken steps to encourage youths to join Armed Forces”, of which one was “provision of medical facility to all the SSC Officers after release under Employees Contributory Health Services”. The minister’s remark had come as a pleasant surprise to SSC ex-servicemen fighting for ECHS benefits ever since the scheme was introduced in April 2003. But the scheme was never extended to them, and a follow-up yielded confusing outcome.
In an April 2013 letter, addressed to Brigadier Anil Chauhan, Deputy Director General, Veterans Cell, Adjutant General Branch of Army HQ, said: “A case has been taken up with the MoD for grant of ECHS membership to SSC and EC officers, which is pending with them.” A letter from Lt Col Rohit Johar, Joint Director (C&L) for MD, ECHS, however, said: “(The) Ministry of Defence has decided not to extend ECHS facilities to non-pensioners, including SSC officers.”
The ECHS website too says: “Short Service Commissioned officers are not entitled to be an ECHS member, unless you are a battle casualty and drawing disability pension.”
“How did the defence minister then say in 2009 the government has already provided ECHS benefits to SSC ex-servicemen,” asked a retired SSC officer. Major (retd) Milind Tundar, Deputy Director, DSW, said: “We have been following up the matter with the Army HQ as well as the government.”
According to Commander (retd) Ravindra Pathak, member of the Governing Body and the Pension Cell of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM), “ECHS is extended to those ex-servicemen who receive pension. SSC officers, though ex-servicemen, do not get pension and thus are ineligible for ECHS facilities. On the contrary, they are treated at service hospitals. However, due to shortage of doctors and other staff, service hospitals have been denying entry to retired SSC officers. IESM has also been following up the matter with authorities.”
In 2007, ECHS facilities were extended to retired personnel of Coast Guard.