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India’s overseas pension army

Battle scars are like bravery awards for soldiers and Tek Bahadur Adhikari is proud of the ones he possesses. The 65-year-old retired Indian Army rifleman from Gulmi in western Nepal takes immense pride in showing the wounds he sustained in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Utpal Parashar reports.

world Updated: Jun 05, 2011 01:47 IST
Utpal Parashar

Battle scars are like bravery awards for soldiers and Tek Bahadur Adhikari is proud of the ones he possesses. The 65-year-old retired Indian Army rifleman from Gulmi in western Nepal takes immense pride in showing the wounds he sustained in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

As a 25-year-old, Adhikari sustained splinter injury on his right shoulder in the famous battle of Sakargarh in Punjab/Jammu sector. The scars are still prominent and so are the memories.

"We never thought that we were fighting for another country. I am proud to have served the Indian Army and do my bit during the war," stresses Adhikari when prodded if it felt odd to go to battle for India. His son didn’t follow his footsteps, but both his sons-in-law are serving the same force.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/05_05_11-metro-19.jpg

Adhikari is not alone. There are 79,000 other Indian military pensioners like him from Nepal. Add 11,000 widows of ex-servicemen, 17,000 retired Assam Rifles personnel and a similar number who retired from paramilitary forces and central and state government services.

These 124,000 men and women and their families spread across every nook and corner of this Himalayan nation are the ‘goodwill ambassadors’ India possesses in Nepal. And despite ups and downs they are the ones who maintain the balance in people to people relations between both neighbours.

History

Soldiers from Nepal (more popular as Gorkhas) started serving in the Indian Army since 1947 as part of the tripartite agreement between India, Nepal and Britain. But the history of their service in India goes much further back.

Gorkhas started serving the British in India from the first quarter of the 19th century. They were first recruited as soldiers into the army maintained by East India Company and later the British Indian Army.

When India became independent, India and Britain agreed to split the Gorkha regiments between both nations. As per the tripartite pact, it was agreed that the Gorkha connection would be maintained in both the Indian and British armies and they would enjoy the same conditions of service.

The Indian Army has maintained this agreement in letter and spirit till this day and Gorkhas from Nepal continue to be commissioned and recruited into all branches. They also serve as officers and enjoy the same benefits and emoluments as any Indian.

In 1949, the number of Bhu Puus (Bhutpurva Sainiks or synonym for ex-servicemen) from Nepal was around 8,000. The figure rose to 21,000 in 1955 and thanks to annual recruitment of thousands more every year, it stands at 124,000 at present. There are nearly 30,000 Gorkhas from Nepal serving in the Indian Army at present. The figure includes 120 officers.

In service

It’s been over five decades since Nand Ram retired from the Indian Army after serving as a rifleman for 16 years. But the services rendered by the 86-year-old from Harpe in Baglung district of Nepal and thousands of others like him have not been forgotten.

The veteran of the 1947 Indo-Pakistan war still gets his pension and all other facilities provided to ex-servicemen. In a unique welfare scheme found nowhere else, Indian Army runs a defence wing called the Indian Ex-Servicemen Welfare Organisation in Nepal (IEWON) to cater to the needs to Nand Ram and other ‘bhu puus’.

Besides the IEWON headquarters, the wing has two pension paying offices in Pokhara and Dharan and 22 district soldier boards (DSBs) across Nepal where all issues concerning the ex-servicemen are addressed. Six more DSBs are under construction. Every year nearly Rs 12 billion is paid as pension to the 124,000 ex-servicemen from Nepal. Besides payment of monthly pensions at Kathmandu,

Booster dose to economy

The pension earned by ex-servicemen from Nepal directly benefits them and their families. But the amount — Rs 12 billion — has a positive impact on the country’s economy as well.

Nearly 11,000 ex-servicemen from four districts—Pyuthan, Baglung, Gulmi and Arghakhanchi--reached the Gulmi camp with their families. Every day over 800 of them collected their pensions in cash and also availed services provided by a medical team that came from Lucknow.

Apart from the Rs 12 billion which comes to Nepal as pension for the ex-servicemen, a similar amount earned by Gorkhas from Nepal serving in the Indian Army at present also adds as a booster to the local economy.

Remittances account for 23% of Nepal’s GDP. Last year Nepalis working abroad sent back US $ 3.5 billion to their country. Significantly, the figure doesn’t take into account the pension and salaries earned by ex-servicemen from Nepal and those still serving in India.

Not just pension

The role of IEWON is not limited to disbursement of pension to ex-servicemen alone. The organisation provides a host of other facilities to ‘bhu puus’ and their families — some of which are only meant for those in Nepal and not accorded to ex-servicemen in India.

There are three medical inspection rooms in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Dharan where ex-servicemen and their families avail medical facilities. Serious cases are referred to empanelled hospitals in Nepal or to military hospitals in India. Financial assistance is also provided for medical treatment elsewhere.

All ex-servicemen are provided with a basic first aid kit containing 15 types of medicines and a prescription in Nepali every year. Fifteen medical camps are conducted across Nepal every year where thousands are treated by general practitioners, ophthalmologists and dentists.

A number of scholarships and financial grants are awarded every year to children of ex-servicemen and war widows. Over 4400 ex-servicemen and their family members have received vocational training like knitting and stitching provided by IEWON till last year.

Special grants for marriage, house repairs, setting up of schools, electrification of villages, construction of roads and drinking water projects at villages where ex-servicemen reside are some other facilities.