A nation’s promise to the soldier

On the anniversary of Vijay Diwas, we need to ask ourselves again: Are we doing enough for the armed forces?

Written by Rajeev Chandrasekhar | Published: December 16, 2017 12:00 am
A nation’s promise to the soldier Flags of India and Pakistan

Today marks the 46th anniversary of India’s decisive win over Pakistan and Pakistan’s surrender to the Indian armed forces in Bangladesh in 1971. It is a day of remembrance for the gallant soldiers who fought the war and the Armed Forces. Each year on Vijay Diwas, we see an outpouring of tribute and homage from all quarters, much is written about the bravery of our soldiers and their sacrifices in protecting our nation is lauded. But beyond these tributes and homages, we must ask ourselves: Are we doing enough for our Armed Forces and their families?

There are several issues that our Armed Forces personnel face which need to be resolved. There is a concern in the serving and veteran community about the degradation of their status in rank and pay parity vis-à-vis the civil services. This seems to have caused much discontent within the Armed Forces. The matter is being looked into by a committee set up by the Raksha Mantri and I hope the issue is resolved soon.

There have been numerous cases where our veterans have had to wrest their rightful benefits and pensions after painful and long-fought court battles, especially in cases of disability pensions. In January 2014, I had written a letter to the then Defence Minister A.K. Antony asking him to retract a memo by the Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare (DESW) ruling that ex-servicemen who take the Ministry of Defence to court for disability and pension benefits would have to fight their cases all the way up to the Supreme Court. This memo was retracted after my letter.

However, it was painful to learn that between 2014-2016 there were a total of 794 appeals filed against soldiers for disability pension alone. After the January 2014 memo was recalled, in April 2016, the DESW issued new instructions to automatically file appeals in all cases pertaining to disability pensions and benefits. In June, this year, the DESW again issued an order to not challenge court orders asking the defence forces to give disability pension to its soldiers. In a letter addressed to the Raksha Mantri in July, I have appealed to the government that they must withdraw all pending appeals in cases of disability pensions and benefits. I have also stressed that the June order of DESW be final and no order contradictory in nature and spirit be made in the future on this matter.

More recently, there was the matter of the order based on 7th CPC recommendations which caps the educational concession to the children of our Armed Forces martyrs and disabled soldiers at Rs 10,000. The scheme to bear the cost of education of children of our Armed Forces martyrs was announced in the Lok Sabha on December 18, 1971 and introduced in the 1972 Parliament session. It allowed complete exemption of tuition and “other fee” for education school onwards.

The commitments made to our martyrs’ families must not be withdrawn or diluted. We must not turn away from our moral obligation and commitment to support the children of our soldiers who have sacrificed their life and limb for us. That is the least we can do.

Then there are several instances where war widows and aged veterans are being denied their rightful pensionary benefits on some hyper-technical ground. Recently, a widow of an Army Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) who was awarded Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime gallantry award, had approached the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) for “liberalised family pension” which had been denied by the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts since 2007.

The Raksha Mantri promptly intervened once I tweeted this to her and the dues were sanctioned. One can only imagine the plight of the veer nari, who had to fight the long arduous battle for 10 years. The issue should not have arisen in the first place. Cases such as these do not augur well for the morale of our forces serving in forward areas in volatile situations. All such matters need to be dealt with sensitivity and personnel in charge of handling these must be sensitised adequately.

Every Indian respects the men and women who serve and their families. Each time a soldier is martyred there is a huge outpouring of emotions and tribute. For instance, when lieutenant Ummer Fayaz was abducted and killed by terrorists, it saw an overwhelming online support as well as thousands gathering at India Gate to pay their respects. But this support needs to translate into something more concrete. These emotions do not change the systemic issues that need addressing and fixing. Not only do we need a systemic reform but also a national resolve to ensure that our soldiers and their families are looked after.

The government must seriously consider passing legislation similar to the US and UK to boost employment opportunities for our Armed Forces veterans. I had submitted a Private Members Bill called the Armed Forces Covenant Bill in 2012 to enshrine in law a covenant prescribing a commitment between the people of India and the Armed Forces community, serving as well as retired, and their immediate families pledging a duty of care and improving support towards them. This bill is still pending discussion.

It is time we move from mere words and posthumous tributes to action, and ensure that our soldiers, veterans, veer naris, children and parents of bravehearts know that the nation cares.

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP

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  1. Jeyaprakash Gopalswamy
    Dec 18, 2017 at 7:26 am
    WHAT ABOUT THE RESERVISTS PENSION TO VETERANS OF 3 WARS ie 1962,1965 1971,living in poverty .without medical facilities. to all those completed their regular term of engagement sent out without transferring to reserve needs great consideration
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      Amitava Biswas
      Dec 16, 2017 at 10:36 pm
      Yes army do their job but common people are confused about their role in india as a citizen. This because in my openion our syllebus is not at that level that can create nationalism and love for country. This may be the reason of excess coverage of foreign culture in our syllebus which brainwash our students. The reason of huge foreign content in our study may a future plan of the foreign universities to capture india in near future when most countries will emersed under water due to global warming and then india will be a safe place to live in and this is the reason of present brainwash through college university and political party of foreign ideology. We urgent need freedom from foreign ideology.
      1. D
        Dipak Cha
        Dec 16, 2017 at 7:54 pm
        Thank you very much Sir for taking up their cause.
        1. Jaiparkash Narain
          Dec 16, 2017 at 5:37 pm
          Well written but Govt is not listening. Who is responsible, it is bureaucrats or the politicians, one of them is at fault. Still, soldiers are required to go to Sc to get their disability broad banding pension and other such matters of 6 7 CPC. One such issue is fixing of pension in 6 CPC with a Number of increments of the rank in which one has retired which has been given to all the Maj Gens then why not to others, just because they had gone to court so others also must follow. Like that there are 49 anomalies of 6 CPC and many more of the 7 CPC. OMJC report is waiting for its implementation for last one year and there seems to be no one answerable to this failure.
          1. T
            Taaza Khabar
            Dec 16, 2017 at 5:14 pm
            For Indian, There is more on Aerial View blog. Satyam Ev Jayate. Jai Hind
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