Darshan Singh Dhillon holds seven medals in his hand. One, says the retired colonel, is original and the others are “fakes brought for Rs 250 from a market in Delhi”. The difference is obvious: With Dhillon’s name and service number engraved on its edges, the Samanya Seva Medal is a heavy, beautifully carved round piece of metal; the anonymous fakes are made of cheap metal or plastic, pasted haphazardly on a riband.
“I spent most of my service period wearing these fake medals bought from the market,” says Dhillon, 59. Today, 13 years after “early retirement due to ill-health”, he is still waiting for one last original medal.
In April this year, Dhillon filed an application under the Right To Information (RTI) Act to know whether there were others like him, waiting for their medals.
After four months, and an appeal, the response he received was startling:
* The Integrated Headquarters of Ministry of Defence (Army) replied in August that 17.33 lakh service medals of Army personnel are “in the waiting list” as on July 31, 2019. This included “33,035” medals for Commissioned Officers and “17 lakh (approx)” for Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR).
* A separate reply from the Directorate of Military Regulations & Forms under the Ministry of Defence stated that “Rs 20 crore” was allotted each year for 2014, 2015 and 2016 to DMR&F for the medals. It added that “work relating to procurement and distribution of all service medals has been transferred from DMR&F to respective Service Headquarters vide MoD’s O.M. Dated 4.7.2017 with the approval of Hon’ble Raksha Mantri”.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Colonel Aman Anand, Army spokesperson, said: “The Army has taken over the responsibility of issuing the medals and is presently working out the contractual terms. We are in the process of signing a contract with a medal-making company and more can be conveyed when the contract is signed. Some options are being worked out and under active discussion. The names of the companies cannot be divulged.”
Bharat Bhushan Babu, ADG, Media and Communication, Ministry of Defence, said: “We do not want to comment on this matter as of now.”
Army sources told The Indian Express that of the two categories of medals awarded — gallantry and non-gallantry — the backlog is mostly in the second category, for “services rendered… under active service conditions”.
Gallantry medals, such as Shaurya Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra, are presented in ceremonies while non-gallantry medals, such as Ucch Tungta Medal for high-altitude areas, are dispatched by post once orders are issued, sources said.
Naginder Singh Gill, a 54-year-old colonel from Panchkula who retired this year, says he was awarded nine service medals, including one for eight years of duty in J&K, but has received just one original. “I had no option but to purchase fake medals from the market,” he says.
Says Dhillon, a bomb disposal expert whose medals include those for serving “eight years in the North-East and six years in J&K”: “Medals are to be awarded, not bought from markets. They are precious, not a commodity. A medal on our chest is just not a piece of metal, it sums up the history of our life, it gives a glimpse into what we did for our country. Of my seven medals, not a single one came on time.”