Veteran Armed forces officers and family members of martyrs have come down heavily on Punjab’s Rs 130 crore war heroes’ memorial and museum to beinaugurated in Amritsar on Sunday saying the money could have been better utilised to give monetary help to the next of kin of martyrs.
A mega inaugural event has been planned by the state government in Amritsar, to be presided over by the Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, and attended by a galaxy of personalities associated with Punjab including senior retired military officers and Bollywood actors. Punjab government has spent a sum of Rs 100 crore for the project while the union government has pitched in with approximately Rs 30 crores.
However, Speaking to The Indian Express, a cross-section of the defence veterans fraternity and relatives of the martyrs have complained bitterly that while the government has deep enough pockets to spoend on memorials it does not show the same magnanimity to the family members of those who have laid down their lives for the country.
“We were told that the government does not have any money to spare. Our mothers sat on dharna in front of the Deputy Commissioner;s office in Patiala for momnths on end but no one cared for them. Ultimately, they had to sit in rpotest on the road in front of the CMs house to attract his attention,” said Gursewak Singh, whose mother was part of the 161 war widows demanding their dues from the Punjab government.
Gursewak said that while the widows have accepted the compensation of Rs 50 lakhs they have been disappointed to know that the paper work for the disbursement of the amount has not even started. “We asked the officials to at least give us the amount in one go but they have said that the government coffers are empty and that the amount will be given in three installments. What use are memorials worth so many crores if you cannot take care of the families of those who died in wars,” says Gursewak.
Dr Simmi Warriach, member of the Missing Defence Personnel Relatives Association, whose mother also had to run pillar to post for getting her dues when her husband was believed to have been taken a Prisoner of War in 1971, says that the memorial seems to be a political achievement rather than anythoing substantial for the families. “Just imagine spending such a large amount on a memorial. Most war widows are illiterate and do not even know wnhat is due to them. And then the officials deny them their dues saying that they did not apply on time,” she said.
According to Captain GS Bhatti (retd) of ExServicemen Welfare Union Punjab the money could have been better utilised by disbursing it among the war widows who have been demanding compensation and many of whom are in dire straits. “Why could the governmment not spend Rs 130 crores on them. They could have got almost a crore each. Who is the SAD-BJP government trying to fool. On one hand they rained lathis on us at Jantar Mantar when we demanded One Rank One Pension and now they raise memorials for politics,” he said.
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Capt Bhatti added that no member of his union, which has influence in around 14 districts, was going to be part of the function in Amritsar. “With what conscience can we go to such an event to eat samosas when we know that family members of our bretheren who died in 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars are lying destitute,” he said.
“All a soldier needs is a reassurance that his family will be taken care of by the state and society when he dies in battle. He does not bother about such memorials etc. Being remembered by his regiment and unit is enough for him. But heer the government has not even given the war widows what was ordered by the court and has just given them half of what was their right. Are such memorials worth the money in such a scnerario,” asked Lt Col SS Sohi (retd), President of Ex-Servicemen Grievances Cell, Mohali.
Meanwhile the state government has left no stone unturned to make the occcasion a big success. Apart from former Chiefs of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor, General JJ Singh and General Bikram Singh, the organisers also expect the Marshal of the Indian Air Force, Arjan Singh, to attend the function too. Captured Pakistani military hardware as well as phased out Indian military equipment has also been put on permanent display at the memorial and museum to inspire the visitors.