Ex-servicemen return gallantry medals over pensionFebruary 8th, 2009 - 5:34 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) More than 300 retired soldiers of varying ranks Sunday marched to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and returned medals won in combat and for distinguished service as they sought equal pension for each rank.
The veterans were among the thousands who had gathered earlier in the day at the Jantar Mantar observatory in the heart of the capital for a protest that some said marked a black day for the Indian armed forces.
President Pratibha Patil did not personally receive the medals, which were collected by some of her officials.
“Our main demand is ‘one rank one pension’. As a mark of protest we are returning the medals to the president. A soldier wears his medal with pride but we are left with no choice,” former army deputy chief Lt. Gen. Raj Kadyan told IANS. The president is supreme commander of the armed forces.
Kadyan held the Param Vishisht Seva Medal, the Ati-Vishisht Seva Medal and the Vishisht Seva Medal — all of which he surrendered Sunday.
The soldiers, who also included three-star generals, marched under the banner of the Indian Ex-servicemen’s Movement (IEM).
The march was led by Shiksha Bharadwaj, mother of Captain Umang Bharadwaj. Her son was killed by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002 and he was posthumously awarded Shaurya Chakra.
Umang’s father, Col Kanwal Bharadwaj, a Sena Medal winner, accompanied her and other former soldiers.
“When you are not able to meet two ends, the medal is of no consequence,” Col Bharadwaj said. “The government did not pay any heed to our demand. We had to take this step.”
The main demand of the protestors is that irrespective of the date on which a soldier retires, he or she should get the same pension.
An army sepoy who retired before 1996 gets a monthly pension of Rs.3,670. But one who retired between 1996 and December 2005 gets Rs.4,680. A sepoy who retired after January 2006 gets Rs.8,700.
Effectively then, an army havildar, who retired earlier, gets pension money that is less than that of a sepoy retiring after January 2006 though the havildar enjoys a higher rank. The mismatch applies to all ranks.
“Most IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers, judges, governors, MPs and even the president enjoy this right (of one rank one pension),” pointed out one retired soldier.
The government has rejected the ‘one rank one pension’ demand, saying that it will entail huge financial costs.