At the recent War Decorated India convention, one got the viewpoint of gallantry awardees of the 1962 war, General PL Kher and Colonel Amar Singh Khattri, both awarded the Vir Chakra, on a major issue regarding the entire community of gallantry award winners. Their view was echoed by the outgoing core team of the War Decorated India, including Brigadiers Narinder Sandhu and Baljit Gill, MVC and VrC, respectively. A team which, one may add, has not only done an outstanding job of organising the reunion but also successfully articulating and getting most of the bravehearts' demands accepted.
The government of India's notification of January 26 to institute national gallantry awards stated that 'every recipient of Chakra award shall be entitled for life, from the date of the act, by which the decoration has been granted, to 'special pension'. The revised notification of 1972 substituted 'allowance' for 'special pension'. Payment was also sanctioned from January 1, 1972. At that time, Param Vir Chakra was sanctioned an allowance of Rs 100 and this has been treated as a base/benchmark thereafter. However, subsequent increments have not kept the parity ration of 100:75:50 between Param Vir Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra and Vir Chakra.
The 6th central Pay Commission made the following recommendations:
"In the case of gallantry awards, the Commission is of the view that these monetary allowances are for conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy/ anti-national elements, over and above the normal call of duty, the central government should revise the rates of these gallantry awards on their own." So, since the initial rates/benchmarks were dismally low, every increase is anything but dismal.
Our decorated soldiers have, therefore, demanded that in all fairness the 'special pension', as envisaged in the original notification reflecting the initial intention of the government, be restored in place of allowance. Second, that the enhancement of monetary benefits to the war decorated be made with retrospective effect from the date that they started defending free India, i.e., since Independence. Lastly, that the original ratio of 100:75:50 between PVC/MVC/VrC, in all revisions of monetary benefits be maintained and that the benchmark be raised too. I appeal to the good citizens of this country to add their voice to that of the gallantry awardees and demand that the government accept their just demands.
Navy's media warriors to fore
The Indian Navy not only has the best technology among the three armed services but also a media savvy public relations outfit. Located at Kota House, Shahjahan Road, New Delhi, rather than in the cloistered, difficult-to-access atmosphere of South Block, it acts as a significant force-multiplier for our sea warriors. Commander Dillip Sharma, the cheerful, helpful Officer-in-Charge, is a Punjabi from Delhi and a navigation and direction specialist from the executive branch. Having commanded the Karwar-class minesweeper INS Konkan, he now puts his best foot forward in managing the Navy's media relations.
Another area where the Navy scores is its innovative recruitment campaign. Conceptualised by Commander GS Sidhu of the Directorate of Naval Recruitment, this is one of the successful initiatives of the armed forces' thrust towards making up critical shortages in their all-important officer cadre.
Staff shortages in Punjab Sainik Welfare Dept
Punjab with its large number of ex-servicemen and serving soldiers is a pioneering state in the matter of their welfare. Not only does it have a full-fledged directorate to represent them and oversee their interests, but within that department, welfare workers exist at the grassroots level to see that grievances of soldiers are resolved speedily, remaining in touch with them in their villages and 'mohallas'. A fine example of a helpful welfare worker is Subedar Baljit Singh (retd), 10 Sikh LI, who works in the Khanna and Payal tehsils of Ludhiana district. But one does find that all the offices in the newly-formed administrative divisions like SAS Nagar and Tarn Taran are without full-time district-level deputy directors of Sainik Welfare to coordinate and supervise their work.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, it seems. At the cutting edge of the department, there is a shortage of 80 tehsil-level welfare workers, 40 clerks, 20 stenos and some dozen drivers. This kind of deficiency severely hampers the work of otherwise well-meaning departmental officers. While the department itself has pointed out the shortages, prepared a case for fresh recruitment and sent it to the government, the delay seems to be with procedural wrangling in the state secretariat. Surely a state with a well-meaning chief minister like Parkash Singh Badal, whose heart beats for soldiers, augmented by a dynamic young deputy like Sukhbir Singh Badal can do better when it comes to ensuring the well-being and best interests of those who spent the best years of their lives on the far-flung frontiers defending the nation?