April 4, 2021 8:53:15 am
It is a Friday morning and an NGO of ex-servicemen is holding its weekly help desk in a small park in Phase-10 of Mohali, next to a liquor vend, with a dozen odd veterans, one war widow and two stray cattle in attendance.
Till around a week back, the NGO was allowed to hold the camp in Punjab government’s Mohali Sainik Sadan Complex in the open, adjacent to Western Command’s CSD canteen, just across the road. However, after the NGO wrote a letter to Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh highlighting the plight of some war widows awaiting government help, the office bearers allege they have been booted out of the complex and refused permission to hold their help desk.
The Ex-Servicemen Grievances Cell has been functioning in Mohali for close to two decades now. A small group of public spirited veterans comprising retired officers, JCOs and jawans are members of this cell and strive to help those veterans, widows and dependants of ex-servicemen who are unable to get help from the official quarters.
Most of the cases which come to this NGO are either pension related or those of pending dues. The group also has a legal advisor who takes up these cases in court if need be and a very nominal amount is charged from those who come to seek help.
“The majority of cases which come to us are of jawans and their widows and we write to the record offices highlighting their problems. Most individuals who come to us are either not aware of the rules and regulations or they have not got satisfactory response from the government help desks,” says Lt Col SS Sohi (retd), president of the cell.
For the major part of the duration of their venture the NGO has been functioning out of public parks near the CSD canteen at various locations. When the canteen was in Sector 70, the veterans sat on a bench opposite its building in a park and when the it moved to industrial area Mohali, they again sat on benches outside the building in another park.
“Even in those days, the then Director, Sainik Welfare was peeved with our activities and tried to get us removed from the park too. It is only when this Sainik Sadan was constructed some years back that we were given permission to hold camp in a corner of the open space by the Sainik Welfare Department ,” says Lt Col Sohi.
In the present instance, the genesis of the NGO’s eviction from Sainik Sadan followed a letter written by them to Capt Amarinder on March 14 highlighting the cases of some war widows of 1962, 1965 and 1971 who were still awaiting the land or the cash in lieu of land announced for them by the state government.
“Many cases have been attended to by the Punjab government and the dues cleared but some cases of war widows are still dragging on. It is in this regard that we had written to the CM saying that being a ‘fauji’ himself we were certain that he will look into the cases and cut the red tape. Our letter did not mean to annoy any official. However, I was berated by a senior officer of the Sainik Welfare Department who asked us to stop holding the help desk inside the complex. So we are back in a park,” said Lt Col Sohi.
The NGO has helped nearly 400 veterans and widows in the time that it has operated. Charging Rs 20 (increased from Rs 10) as a one time payment for paper expenses, the group of veterans follow up with the military and civil authorities on behalf of the veterans and widows.
When contacted, the Director, Sainik Welfare, Punjab, Brigadier Satinder Singh (retd) said, “It is totally incorrect to say that we have asked them to stop holding meetings inside the premises because of some letter written by them. They had been told six months back too to vacate. They have no business sitting inside an official complex and that too in Covid times with so many people coming and going”.
The Director added that if one group was allowed to sit inside the complex then others too will ask for same access. “Under what
authority can we allow them to do so,” he said.
Meanwhile, the NGO has requested the local councillor to at least arrange a few benches for them to sit in the park and ensure fencing so that stray cows do not disturb them. “We offer our guests tea and biscuits. But now that our desk is next to a liquor vend. Someone jocularly asked if we will offer chilled beer too,” says Lt Col Sohi as the gathering breaks into laughter.
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