Saturday, February 19, 2011

Apathy towards the war-disabled must end

The number of war-disabled soldiers is increasing on account of casualties being incurred in prolonged counter-insurgency operations. But they are gradually fading away from the radar screen of the government and the Service headquarters. The plight of disabled soldiers needs to be appreciated and action should be taken to ameliorate their multifarious problems
by Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi (Retd)
On Army Day last month, Chief of the Army Staff made a welcome statement for the large number of war-disabled personnel of the army who till now have been a neglected lot. "The Indian Army," he said, "will observe 2011 as the year of the disabled soldier, to honour soldiers who suffered injuries or were disabled in operations. While we have been giving respect to martyred soldiers, the time has come to give due honour to soldiers who have been disabled in operations". He also stated that the government had sanctioned Rs 1 crore for rehabilitation, training and basic amenities to disabled soldiers this year.
Disabled soldiers at the Paraplegic Rehabilitaion Centre in Mohali. Several issues need to be redressed to ensure that disabled soldiers get due benefits that compensate them for the substantially reduced capacity for employment.
The parsimony of the government towards the war-disabled is amply illustrated by the earmarking of just Rs 1 crore for an entire year for nearly 25,000 war disabled personnel, which translates to a token amount of a mere Rs. 400 per person. What a shame! However, it at least acknowledges the need to assist the war-disabled. So far, they have been a forgotten group.
Theoretically the Ministry of Social Welfare looks after disabled personnel. But it refuses to entertain the war-disabled on the ground that it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. The Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare (ESW), set up six years ago, was till recently not engaged with the war-disabled even though the issue fell squarely in its ambit. Hence, the war-disabled were nobody's baby! Now that cognizance has been taken of this major lacuna, at least by the army, it is hoped that implementation action would follow rapidly by the army and the ESW department. There are many areas that need to be addressed.
There are broadly two categories of war-disabled personnel. Some opt to continue serving in the army after their disablement, while others decide to go home to engage other pursuits. The problems of both categories are the same, but those retained in service are denied many of the benefits. This attitude of the bureaucrats, both civilian and military, stems from a perception that a great favour is being done by retaining them in service although no concessions are offered to them as they compete with their able-bodied peers in all respects, including professional advancement. An attitudinal change therefore, is the first action needed so that there is no discrimination between those continuing in service and those who go home.
The second action needed is to treat war-disabled personnel at par or nearly at par with those who lay down their lives in battle. The plight of the war-disabled and their families is no less than those who have lost their husband or son - their bread-winner and their security. In addition, war-disabled persons have to cope with the trauma and adverse psychological impact of losing parts of their body. Their physical capacity to earn is also permanently impaired and substantially reduced. Yet, financial compensation for them is meager and their next of kin (NOK) do not get any other facility, like a house, an agency, or a job. Those who sacrifice their lives in war must be and are treated with great respect and their NOK adequately compensated. However, the war-disabled find themselves completely left out from such considerations. This unfortunately does not inspire confidence in the government. This situation needs to change so that potential soldiers do not hesitate to join the armed forces in future on account of a perception that the war-disabled are being callously ignored.
The third action relates to the ex-gratia grant to the war-disabled. At present, it is only Rs 1 lakh for those sent home and nothing for those retained in service. The grant needs to be substantially increased and those continuing in service must also be brought in the ambit of such grants. This differentiation is purely a meaningless bureaucratic formulation, but the damage it has done is colossal, as it has hurt the very psyche of the war-disabled who are today a disillusioned group.
The fourth action relates to the preparation of a comprehensive data bank of all war-disabled personnel. Unlike gallantry award winners and widows of martyrs, for whom up to date records exist, no detailed records are maintained by the army or the ESW department for the war-disabled. Consequently, no one really knows how many war-disabled personnel exist, how many are still serving, how many have been boarded out and how many are still alive. Due to lack of details, the war-disabled are generally forgotten and usually left out of consideration when concessions, grants or awards are made. Even during many military and non-military functions, while war widows and gallantry award winners are honoured, no such courtesies are extended to the war-disabled. Without comprehensive data, neither can any planning take place nor can a dialogue be established with the war-disabled.
The fifth action needed is to fully take on board the two existing NGO's exclusively dealing with the war-disabled. The government needs to encourage them, instead of viewing them as interfering irritants or competitors, as seems to be the case at present. The NGO's exist for the sole purpose of assisting the war-disabled and would like to work closely with the government and the army. After considerable effort, a dialogue has now been established with the army, but the ESW department is yet to change its attitude! These NGO's are the only organisations interacting with the war-disabled on a regular basis and are au fait with their problems and aspirations. There is certainly a need for regular dialogue between the ESW department, army headquarters and the NGO's. Getting them on board will result in a two-way passage of information between the authorities and the war-disabled. Both NGO's exist on donations that are meager, but their request for funds has been summarily dismissed by the ESW department!
Over the last few decades, the war-disabled as a group have been gradually fading away from the radar screens of service headquarters as well as the government, despite the fact that their number is increasing practically on a daily basis on account of casualties incurred in counter-insurgency operations. The plight of war-disabled soldiers, especially in rural areas needs to be appreciated and actions need to be taken to ameliorate their multifarious problems. This situation of apathy to the war-disabled must be corrected lest it leads to grave adverse repercussions in the long term.
The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army and President of the War Wounded Foundation
The Article appeared in THE TRIBUNE dated on Feb 18, 2011 

1 comment:

  1. The babus, Police; PMF, Obviously get their Rightful share & dues.

    WE perceive INEQUALITY, don't get our Rightful dues or the same treatment.

    ITS TIME to realise WE are doing something WRONG.
    Cribbing is our Right, but it hasn't got us our dues.
    Lets Change track & analyse what they are doing RIGHT. Besides being Servile.

    For too long its been Obvious that WE have assumed our brass does Right for us, its proved otherwise during 6th PC, its aftermath; actually since 4th PC.

    There IS an alternate to wailing, to retrieve the situation that prevailed - good old times, post Independence; which was frittered away by us, due to naivete & lack of FORESIGHT, till now; but earned by "others" by using their IQ - maalum, from the OUTSET !

    Parvez Jamasji