Camaraderie in the ‘Fauj’ is so deeply ingrained that it remains even after retirement. But with time, memories dim and many a time, the families of our soldiers killed in action (KIA), do not get the attention and care they need and deserve. So there is much that each of us can do individually for the Veer Naris and their families, who continue to face multiple challenges in life, trying to make both ends meet.
This story is about two Veer Naris whose husbands were Killed in Action (KIA) in the 1962 War. At that time, the families received but a pittance as pension, and it was only in February 1972 that Liberalised Family Pension (LFP) for such families was introduced. There was no media then to highlight their woes and while the Army did what it could, many Veer Naris did not get their dues.
In 2016, a function was organised in Gwalior, to felicitate the ‘Veer Naris’. After the felicitation ceremony, we interacted with the veterans and Veer Naris and it was then that a number of pensioners and Veer Naris approached me with their problems. Amongst them were Smt Shanti Devi (widow of Late Nk Makhan Singh, 4 Rajput) and Smt Rajkumari Devi, whose husband too was from the Rajput Regiment and who was from Bhind in Madhya Pradesh. Both ladies were octogenarians. They told me that they were not receiving their pensions as revised (enhanced), from their respective pension disbursing banks in spite of necessary instructions issued by Pension Disbursal Authority and Local Military Formation (Pension Cell). I noted down details and requested them to give me photocopies of relevant documents and their contact numbers. I also requested the ladies to give me contact details of any of their relatives or friends having email ID and/or using WhatsApp, which enabled me to connect with them.
I sent the details of their cases to Lt Gen. Milan Naidu (former VCOAS and former Colonel Commandant of RAJPUT Regiment) and also to Director, Sainik Kalyan, Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal. Gen. Naidu was extremely quick to respond by sending a request to Centre Commandant, RAJPUT Regimental Centre/Records.
RAJPUT Records took expeditious action to resolve the problems and advised both ladies to contact their respective bankers. However, despite number of visits to the bank by these aged Veer Naris, their dues were not credited. On 02 June 2016, Smt Rajkumari Devi contacted me and told me that the bank staff was expressing their inability to credit her dues. I then contacted the Branch Manager and apprised him of the harassment of the Veer Nari by his staff. Fortunately, the Branch Manager responded very positively and asked me to direct Smt Rajkumari Devi to meet him as soon as possible. Accordingly, I advised Smt Rajkumari Devi to meet the Bank Manager, which she did the very next day. I also spoke to the bank manager before the lady met him and he told me that her dues of over Rs 4 lakh had been credited to her account. The Branch Manager also assured that her One Rank One Pension (OROP) arrears would also be credited to her within a weeks’ time.
However, the case of Smt Shanti Devi was proving to be more intractable despite projecting this problem to SBI CPPC at Govindpura on 21 June 2016 and further registering this case at Pension Adalat at Bhopal a week later. The Principal Controller Defence Account (Pensions) [PCDA (P)] representative at this event was unable to give me any satisfactory reply and palmed off the issue by saying that this matter pertains to the Bank. Since there was no SBI representative present at the Pension Adalat venue at that time, this matter remained unresolved. Anyhow after a number of visits to the CPPC, I was able to partially resolve the issue and the PDA rectified their records and remitted almost Rs 5.5 lakh as LFP arrears due to Smt Shanti Devi with effect from 01 Jan 2006 onwards.
However, the PDA did not pay any arrears for the period of about 40 years prior to 01 Jan 2006 (i.e. 01 Feb 1972 to 31 Dec 2005).
On 23 February 2018 I went to Bhind to make a courtesy call to the Veer Nari and also meet the District Sainik Welfare Officer. Meeting Smt Shanti Devi was an experience by itself. I was accompanied by a soldier from my unit and on seeing us, the old lady’s eyes brightened and she extended her arms with a smile on her face to feel the uniform and bless the young soldier. It seemed as though there was an instant connect and unexplained chemistry between the Veer Nari and the olive green. The issueless octogenarian who was widowed in her prime was living at the mercy of relatives who appeared to be concerned as they depend on the Pension of the Veer Nari. Some of them like Shanti do not even know how much is due to them. Efforts to get their dues running from pillar to post go in vain due to lack of sincerity and inefficiency on part of Pension disbursing and Record Keeping staff.
There I also came across another octogenarian, Veer Nari Kamala Devi, whose husband Sep Samant Singh of 2 RAJPUT was also KIA in the 1962 India-China War. She had completed 80 years in July 2017 but was not getting increased old age Pension as she did not have a copy of Pension Payment Order (PPO) and had not received corrigendum PPO with date of birth (DOB) mentioned on it. Thanks to mobile communications, I was able to request Chief Record Officer, RAJPUT Records to expedite issue of Corrigendum PPO to her and also sent him pics of available documents (on WhatsApp) to start processing her case. So this added another Veer Nari to the list in my struggle for getting her legitimate dues.
Here I would like to mention that the RAJPUT Regimental Centre Records has been very responsive after the discrepancies were brought to their notice. What remains to be resolved need to be done by the Pension Disbursement Authority (PDA)/PCDA Pension and Treasury Offices/Bankers concerned.
The cases that I have mentioned are the ones that came to light on personal scrutiny of documents. There may be many more such cases especially of 1962/1965 War Veer Naris as there was no policy of Liberalised Family Pension (LFP) for battle casualties in 1962. Most of the Veer Naris of 1962/1965 wars would today be octogenarians and hence eligible for increment of Pension after attaining 80/85/90/95/100 years age. This increase will only be done by PDA if DOB is endorsed on their respective PPOs. Some of the Veer Naris are very old, frail and bedridden, hence they may not even be able to express their problems. There is a need to carry out a survey of surviving Veer Naris of 1962/1965/1971 wars and provide them assistance where required. This is where the fledgling Directorate of Indian Army Veterans (DIAV) at Service HQ, Regimental/Corps Record Offices, PCDA Pension and PDAs come into play. The State/District Sainik Welfare Officers should facilitate in reaching out to the Veer Naris through ESM organisations and volunteers. Active and selfless veteran volunteers in their respective areas can be networked to take the mission “Hamara Haath Veer Nariyon Ke Saath” forward. If more of us join together we can do the impossible.
Brigadier Ramnarayan Vinayak, VSM is a veteran Air Defence Gunner. He presently works for the welfare of ‘Veer Naris’ in Madhya Pradesh