They all have seen and been a part of the three wars that India fought in 1962,1965 and 1971. Recruited under special provisions,they were later dumped unceremoniously by the indian army. Now in their seventies,more than 30 war veterans from Punjab,living in extreme penury,are now waging another war - this time for pension benefits,something that has been out rightly denied to them.
These men were recruited under a special provision for 15 years when external emergency was declared. They were,however,discharged from service after the emergency provisions were lifted and the army built up its own strength.
Karnail Singh,from Dholmajra village,claims he served in the army from as a Sepoy from 1959 to 1968 and actively fought Sino-India and Indo-Pak wars. We served the nation when our services were wanted the most,and fought three wars in 1962,1965 and 197. But when the army got surplus staff,we were thrown out without any pension benefits, Karnail Singh said.
Thakur Das (75),another war veteran said: We spent our youth serving the nation in most inhospitable conditions,but at this age we are forced to live a sub-standard life. We have to depend on others for medical treatment. We are not even allowed to become members of Defence Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme.
Karnail Singh added that they are not demanding pension benefits for 40 years,but requesting the government to treat the period of emergency - from 1962,1965 to 1971 - as a special period for giving us pension benefits.
He said that like Azad Hind Fauj and freedom fighters,war veterans should also be given benefits and may be allowed to get free and full treatment at military hospitals.
Col (Retd) SS Sohi,president,ex-servicemen grievance cell,has taken up the cause of these war veterans with higher authorities and has already made several appeals to the Prime Minister,Defence Minister and also written to the President.
Explaining the issue,Col Sohi said,While being discharged from duty,these men were assured that they will be recalled for reserve establishment in order to complete the tenure,so that they could be granted the pension. But the Army never recalled them.
Labh Singh (72),another such war veteran added that the defence ministry denied them pension on the ruse that we had not completed pensionable service. Whereas it is matter of fact and record that we were not allowed to complete the pensionable service, he added.
Their case was filed in Armed Forces Tribunal,but in 2010,the Army Headquarters rejected the pension claim,saying that minimum 15 years of service is mandatory to earn pension,as per the existing rules.
On the issue,a senior advocate from Armed Forces Tribunal,said,If these soldiers had left the army on their own,then they can not be given any benefit under existing rules. But if the army had discharged them because it had surplus staff,then they deserve their due benefits.