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Grant of ECHS to SSCOs – Partisan Policy of the Government

After a prolonged struggle, the Cabinet last month approved the grant of ECHS facilities to World War-II veterans, Emergency Commissioned Officers, Short Service Commissioned Officers and premature retirees. Normally, ECHS allows Ex-Serviceman to get cashless medical treatment through a network of over 425 ECHS polyclinics, 2,500 empanelled private hospitals and all government hospitals throughout the country. But, according to a notification later issued by the MoD, for treatment in empanelled hospitals, former Short Service Commissioned Officers (SSCO) will first have to pay for the treatment and later on file for reimbursement. Centre will reimburse 75 per cent of the “admissible expenditure” to those SSCO having served for over 10 years and 50 per cent to those who had less than 10 years in service. The new beneficiaries of this scheme feel cheated and say the government has taken us for a ride and feel, not being honoured for the services and sacrifices rendered to the country.

by Capt RK Bhardwaj, Veteran (from the April ’19 edition)

India’s military organizations comprising Army, Navy and Air Force had been expanded multi-fold since the Chinese aggression. Lesson was learnt when India lost the 1962 war and Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister, was directly pin pointed by the Parliament for keeping in the dark about the half-hearted  war preparedness due to overall shortage of military equipment and ammunition.

Similarly, shortage of manpower was another big setback which could not made up within short span of time. Then, the new emergent policy was evolved by the Ministry of Defence under AI/s/64 for grant of Emergency Commission so as to recruit officers to make up the deficiency of officers. Large number of youth came forward on national call especially who were already in civil employments in different fields. These newly recruited officers were allowed to keep their lien with their parent organization so as to enable them to re-join as soon as their services were no longer required in the Armed Forces. Some of them were also absorbed for Permanent Commission depending upon their suitability, but not all.

Apathy surrounded who were released abruptly with the remarks that their services were “no longer required”, but without any benefit like medical or any lifelong honorarium as subsistence allowance for their dedicated services rendered by them during a national emergency. Nevertheless, it was a faulty policy without any terminal benefits putting most of the released officers in dilemma till their whole life. It often happens when bureaucrats lack knowledge of military rules with its practical aspects and haphazardly plan the policies detrimental to the interest of men in uniform. This practice has been going on since years.

Nevertheless, after discontinuing Emergency Commission in 1964, a breather for survival of Indian Armed Forces, Short Service Regular Commission was introduced by the Defence Ministry which came into being in 1966. It was continuity of EC to SSC for nourishment of the Armed Forces because the government had the apprehensions of another war to break out.

Significantly, the Indo-Pak War of 1971 was an unavoidable event. During 1971 Indo-Pak War, 54 Short Service Commissioned Officers specifically, were martyred as per the RTI information obtained from the Adjutant General Branch. As a matter of fact, almost each and every officer was deployed on borders in Op Cactus Lily. Those survived have not officially been declared as War Veterans by the Ministry of Defence again due to lack of vision.

Some of them were abruptly released without having been considered for any benefit of medicare or pro-rata pension except gratuity at the rate of 100 per cent of their service rendered for these young officers. No one in the gallery of policy makers had given an iota of thought to compensate the released young officers with any terminal benefit so for. It is out of place to mention here that all these officers, whosoever participated during the wars, should have been granted out rightly Permanent Commission which they actually deserved. But they are the victims in the hands of heartless bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence who have not understood and were unaware of the reality of these unheard brave soldiers. And same is the case of politicians showing only the lip sympathy creating vote bank for their own self.

After lapse of more than 50 years, these released officers of the past realized that they have been victimized to the extent that their prime of youth has been squeezed with the obvious intension of ‘use and throw’ intent. Few of them are in very bad state of livelihood at their advanced age.
It is evident that Babus make their own lucrative policies and politicians make their own policies in Parliament, whatsoever is beneficial to them. But who will take care for those who too made sacrifices for the nation? It is a big stigma created by the policy makers.

Now these old aged Veterans felt aggrieved due the stubbornness attitude of the Directorate General of Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS). We hereby have to expose the cleverness of the DGAFMS. It has vitiated the sanctity of the accepted recommendations of the Expert Committee of 2015, convened by the late defence minister Manohar Parrikar, in which he had mentioned that the grant of ECHS facility to the SSCOs with remarks on the file that said, “Agreed in principle”. Ungainly, MoD had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the favourable decision of the AFT Chandigarh to provide medical facilities to the ECO/SSCCOs. MoD has reportedly committed before the SC bench that they would be formulating the ECHS policy as and when the Cabinet Committee approves the policy. The court then granted two months’ time with effect from 11th February 2019.

It is shocking to note that the MoD has circulated a letter dated 7th March 2019 without having notified any policy with dubious instructions giving full 100% ECHS facility to World War II and ECOs but granted 50 % of the reimbursement to the SSCOs up to 10 years of service and above 10 years to 14 years at the rate of 75% reimbursement and OPD at polyclinics only. Contribution amount of Rs 120000 has been exempted as per the directions of the Supreme Court decision for those officers drawing pension who were retired prior to 1996. But this contribution amount is being demanded from all the ECO/SSCOs including released prior to 1996 even though these non-pensioner officers may have meagre source of income to spare a sum of Rs 120000. What a highhandedness of the MoD?!

Arun Jaitley, Cabinet Minister has reportedly announced in the media that the ECHS facility to non-pensioners would be cashless but it is other way around. How can the government be partial and discriminatory in framing such instructions and playing with the sentiments of the Veterans without any base? It is surprising to also note that out of two petitioners, one is ECO has been granted 100% ECHS benefit; and the other is an SSCO, has been granted 50 % of ECHS on reimbursement basis. It is a cruel joke.

Needless to add, policy makers in MoD are civilians not acquainted with the rules under Army Instructions. Due to their lack of knowledge, it becomes the apathy of the sufferers without any fault of them and dithering policies create disharmony in the large interest of the masses. Equality of law has to be maintained without any partisan attitudes and policies are to be laid with equability. Sensibility of the bureaucrats has be part of their curriculum to understand such instabilities.

Capt Ramesh Bhardwaj, Veteran is the General Secretary of the All India Released Defence Officers Welfare Association. He can be reached at Email: rkb1944@rediffmail.com