Kathmandu/Pokhara [Nepal): Ex-servicemen of the Indian Army of Nepali origin have lauded the Government of India for its steadfast commitment to their welfare, saying that India has not only put money into their accounts but has put money into Nepal’s account and has been doing so for years.
Speaking exclusively to ANI over the phone, these former Indian Army soldiers who now live in Nepal were effusive in their praise of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee taking time out of his busy two-day state visit to Nepal to spend time with them at the ex-servicemen’s pensioners camp organized in Pokhara, where he highlighted their foundational and time tested association with India, as also reiterating New Delhi’s commitment to deliver to them the benefits of one rank, one pension (OROP) at the earliest, besides other welfare measures.
These ex-servicemen, most of them Gurkhas, who have been serving in the Indian armed forces for more than 200 years, said they were extremely proud, happy and satisfied to meet the Indian president and recalled their enormous and well documented contribution in safeguarding India’s borders from external aggressors in the years gone by.
They said it was a particularly great moment for them when President Mukherjee described them as the pride of the Indian Army and as people who had earned a name for themselves on battlefields and in other military-related operations.
Colonel (Retired) Sher Bahadur Gurung told ANI, “We have no complaints. The minor problems affecting the Gurkhas here and there as regards documentation on pension and other benefits are being taken care of very efficiently. The main problem that we face is that a majority of the ex-servicemen of the older generation are uneducated and don’t understand the finer points of what they are entitled to. The younger lot has a better understanding because of the education that they have received.”
Col. (Retired) Gurung further said, “We Nepali Gurkhas are treated at par with Indian soldiers. There is no differentiation in either pay or pension.”
When asked to give his view on how the Indian government’s pension for ex-servicemen is benefitting the economy of Nepal, Col. (Retired) Gurung said, “You have asked me a million dollar question. I will only say that a significant amount of money has come in from India and has been of great help to Nepal.”
Commenting on President Mukherjee’s visit, he said, “It was a very welcome visit. We were very happy and grateful to see him at Pokhara. It was a great privilege.”
Colonel (Retired) D.B. Thapa, another ex-serviceman of Nepali origin, told ANI, “The President of India’s visit to the pension camp at Pokhara has left us all in a jubilant mood. To see our Supreme Commander gave us a very nice feeling and we are grateful. We, however, would like to see the Indian government giving us more encouragement and strength. The benefits and welfare measures are many and quite sufficient for our families and for us to lead our social lives.
He also said that the pay and pension received from India was much better than what the United Kingdom offers to its Gurkha retirees.
Diverting, Col. (Retired) Thapa also sought to highlight the fact that there are some elements in Nepal who are promoting anti-India feelings and made it a point to stress that India was not behind the recent blockage in the Terai region. He, however, said that the people of Madhes need to be looked after better and was confident that things won’t be allowed to go out of hand.
“What India can do, no other country, including China, can do. They will not be as effective. The majority of the people are pro-India. I would like to see the Government of India strengthen the hands of the ex-servicemen. I absolutely believe that India and Nepal share a wonderful emotional and economic relationship. We are very happy and there is no discrimination. In the British Army, there is too much discrimination.”
Recalling that India’s Ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae had informed during an interaction that India has a role to play in 300 to 400 projects in Nepal, Col. (Retired) Thapa suggested that ex-servicemen of Nepali origin should be given an opportunity to participate in them, and believed that there would be a 40 percent improvement in delivery and effectiveness because of the discipline with which the tasks on hand would be attended to.
“Our morale is high, but our identity needs to be highlighted. Nepal should treat us with more respect,” he said.
Colonel (Retired) Jhum Bahadur Gurung said that 126,000 ex-servicemen of Nepal origin greeted President Mukherjee when he came to visit them at Pokhara.
“It was excellent. There was pin drop silence when the president was speaking. All thanks to defence attache Col. Mannat Singh Maan,” he said.
Col. (Retired) Gurung candidly acknowledged that Nepal is still economically far behind India and that the country lacks a “far-sighted leadership.”
“We have definitely benefitted from India’s contributions. There still 32,000 soldiers of Nepali origin in the Indian Army. We get our pensions every month on time and it is a great boost for the Nepal economy. I joined the Indian Army as a sepoy 33 years ago and retired as a colonel. India is my second home. However, I must say that Nepal has an employment problem. Many of us have to go abroad to earn. Currently 40 lakh Nepalis are placed in 108 countries and all of them are sending remittances back home. It is but obvious that the political leadership in Nepal needs to do more to improve employment prospects, create vacancies. So far, we have a very good relationship,” he said.
Subedar Major Kaji Raj Thapa said,”We have got more than we expected from India. It is a relationship of blood. We face no problems as far as our pensions are concerned. There is good progress. India is helping us with education, health and earthquake relief. Ex-servicemen should be involved in Indian projects in Nepal so that the future of their children is taken care of. I have spent 28 years in service and enjoyed every moment of it.”
During his interaction, President Mukherjee said it was a matter of pride for India that around 126,000 ex-servicemen and their dependents are drawing pension from the Indian Army in Nepal.
He said relations between India and Nepal are based on multi-faceted social and cultural contacts, and reminded that both nations shared an open border and a friendship treaty that has elevated bilateral relations to a higher level.
This relationship, he said has also strengthened the friendship between the armies of both countries, and the ex-servicemen have made important contributions to the security and development of both our countries.
He said the objective in 2016-17 is to distribute around 4000 crore Nepali rupees under ‘One Rank One Pension’ and the 7th Central Pay Commission, he said.
He said that the Indian Army has an ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme in Nepal to take care of their health in old age, and added that approximately one crore Nepali Rupees has been distributed as medical assistance.
He said the Indian Army is providing scholarships to their dependent children; drinking water projects in 1049 villages and electricity through solar electrification projects in 17 remote areas.
The President said it is a matter of satisfaction and pride that a decision has been taken to increase the original pension drawn on December 31, 2015 by 2.57 times and that the 7th Pay Commission had recommended a payment of 2.57 times of the pension drawn on January 1, 2006.
The ex-servicemen said they were happy to hear about India’s commitment to rehabilitation efforts pertaining to the devastating earthquakes that struck Nepal last year.
The Government of India has provided 32,000 Nepali Rupees per pensioner in addition to other aid to 6832 earthquake affected ex-servicemen. (ANI)