How much do we really value our jawans? Very little, in terms of the pensions paid to them. The claims of those who say that they care for the Indian soldier would ring hollow if they stopped to consider the miserly pensions paid to retired soldiers.
Naik Dharam Sharma, who was employed in the elite defence artillery of the Indian army, now has to pursue odd jobs to make ends meet.
Sharma earns a living by cleaning cars or working as an part-time driver. He says his pension of 1,800 rupees is just not enough to get by.
“One feels very bad. I have served on the border, in Rajasthan and Jammu but we get little pension and nobody gives us jobs,” says Naik Dharam Sharma.
All that an Indian soldier, up to the rank of Naik, can look forward to is a pension of less than two thousand rupees a month. This is much lower than the pension of a government peon or chowkidar who receive an average pension of 2,200 rupees a month.
The issue of jawans’ pension was raised at a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Defence in December last year.
But NDTV has learnt that when the defence and finance ministries initiated a proposal to increase Army pensions, it was turned down due to financial and administrative constraints.
The Defence Ministry justified the low pensions saying that the Army has to keep a profile that is young and fighting fit.
Consequently, jawans usually retire in their mid-30s after just 15 to 17 years of service. This policy, however, renders them ineligible for a full pension that requires a minimum of 30 years in government service.
In addition, the MoD says jawans also get canteen and hospital services along with jobs quotas in various sectors.
But retired army personnel feel that pension and related benefits are still inadequate.
“Soldier still does not get his due. In the UK, there is a separate pay commission for the Army. Here there is the same pay commission for everybody and they don’t have the right perspective because of bureaucratic vision,” says Major Dalbir Singh, Ex-Service men’s League.
While in times of war, the army is often hailed as the last bastion for defending the nation’s borders, but the same passion and rhetoric is missing when it comes to defending the dignity and self-respect of the individual army soldier.