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Tuesday, October 13, 2009
DEPARTMENT OF EX-SERVICEMEN WELFARE(MOD) : 5 YEARS IN SERVICE OF VETERANS
The Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (ESW), functioning under the Ministry of Defence, completes five years of its existence next week. Set up on September 22, 2004, the department caters exclusively to the rehabilitation and welfare of about 21 lakh Ex-Servicemen (ESM) population and another five lakh ESM widows. Nearly 60,000 ESM are added to this huge number every year, largely due to perhaps the highest attrition rate in any organized sector among the Armed Forces in order to retain a youthful profile of the fighting forces, their primary task. Taken together with ESM dependents ranging between 50-70 lakhs, the Department of ESW shoulders responsibility of the welfare of roughly one crore population of ESM and their dependents.
The Department of ESW achieves its objectives through its three attached offices, consisting of the Directorate General of Resettlement (DGR), the Kendriya Sainik Board (KSB) and the Ex-Servicemen’s Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS), besides coordinating with the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (PCDA), Allahabad. In January 2008 the Department of ESW came to be headed by a full-fledged Secretary-level officer, underlining the government’s commitment to the concerns of the huge ESM population. Besides helping the veterans resettle in a suitable second career, the department provides healthcare and ensures timely payment of benefits and pension to the ESM and their dependents.
The Directorate General of Resettlement (DGR) is the first avenue for the Services personnel on the verge of superannuation. It imparted training to over 34,000 officers and Persons Below Officer Rank (PBORs) during 2008-09 besides granting jobs to 51,000 ESM and securing placement for another 30,000 ESM in DGR-sponsored security agencies last year. The DGR, being the nodal agency for resettlement of ESM, has in recent years tied up with reputed management institutes to offer post-graduate diplomas to Services officers. It runs several successful ESM reemployment programmes including the popular Mother Dairy Milk and Fruit and Vegetable booths, placement in empanelled private security agencies, coal tipper scheme, allotment of army surplus vehicles, management of CNG stations and toll plazas under the NHAI and sponsoring ESM for the allotment of 8 percent quota of LPG, petrol pump and kerosene outlets reserved for wartime/peacetime widows and disabled soldiers. Last year 287 Mother Dairy outlets were allotted to ESM/dependents sponsored by the DGR. The DGR’s stupendous success in the placement of ESM in security agencies can be gauged from the fact that the number of ESM employed jumped from over 27,000 in 2007 to over 40,000 in 2008 while another over 17,000 have been successfully granted placement this year till May, 2009.
The Kendriya Sainik Board (KSB), the apex body for the welfare of war-wounded and other Ex-Servicemen (ESM), keeps in constant touch with the large ESM community, fulfilling their needs and aspirations through the 32 Rajya Sainik Boards and 355 Zila Sainik Boards spread across the country. KSB doles out about Rupees 7 crores aid every year to ESM, widows, children and orphans through welfare schemes out of the Armed Forces Flag Day Fund, which includes the Raksha Mantri’s Discretionary Fund ranging between Rs.5,000-1,25,000. The government recently amended the eligibility to include ESM up to the rank of Havildar and equivalent in the Navy and Air Force under the scheme. In another major initiative the KSB has in recent years replaced the crude motorized tricycles with the new modified 4-wheeled Honda Activa scooters distributed free of cost to the disabled ESM. The KSB also provides funds to the Red Cross Society, Cheshire Homes and Military Hospitals for the treatment and care of ESM and their wards and administers the award of more than 3,500 Prime Minister’s scholarships every year to wards of ESM.
The Ex-Servicemen’s Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) is another big success story in the Department of ESW’s endeavours and concerns for the ESM welfare. Founded in April 2003, the ECHS today has a vast network of 2,267 polyclinics, its membership jumping nearly ten-fold, - from 3.5 lakhs in 2005 to over 30 lakhs. ESM with disabilities who had to travel long distances to the Artificial Limb Centre, Pune, are now getting such medical aid from about 150 Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) -empanelled centres across the country. The government has also hiked ECHS allocation from Rs. 82.85 crore in 2004-05 to Rs. 690 crores in the current financial year. The Department of ESW further proposes to include soon the Nepal-domiciled Gorkhas, who continue to receive medical aid from the Armed Forces Flag Day Fund, under the ECHS and has given ‘in principle’ approval for setting up a Pension Payments Office (PPO) in Butwal, Nepal.
But all efforts and welfare schemes would come to a naught if the ESM does not get his monthly dues on time. The Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (PCDA), Allahabad is the nodal office, handling pension for about a whopping 17 lakh ESM and dependents through banks, treasuries, Pension Disbursing Offices besides the vast postal network all over the country. The government has recently issued instructions to issue simultaneous notification of Service and Disability Pension to avoid delays in release of the latter. Unmarried daughters over 25 years of age and widowed/divorced daughters dependent on the ESM have now been granted family pension and several other steps to support the ESM dependents have been introduced. Other major initiatives include, - hiking minimum pension from Rs. 1,913 to Rs.3,500 pm, removal of linkage of full pension with a qualifying service of 33 years from Jan.01, 2006, commutation of pension increased, gratuity hiked from Rs.3.5 lakhs to Rs.10 lakhs and special family pension hiked from Rs.2,550 to Rs.7,000 pm. The government has also improved pension for Ex-service personnel, besides benefits accruing out of the Sixth Pay Commission including Military Service Pay to Armed Forces personnel and awarding a higher separate Pay Bands for officers of the rank of Lt. General and Lt. Colonel, or equivalent, respectively. Additional pension has been granted in varying range for elderly pensioners, with the government granting cumulative benefits of Rs.2,144 crores to the men in the three Services and the ESM.
Pension Adalats have been a tremendous success in settling disputes related to ESM spread across the country; six such Adalats are normally held in places with large concentration of ESM population.
In contribution of the sacrifices made by the martyrs, war-wounded, Ex-Servicemen and their dependents, the DGR marks December 7 every year as the Armed Forces Flag Day (AFFD) when the nation remembers its veterans and generously contributes to the Flag Day Fund.