By Jay Bhagwan
The armed forces are miffed with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and mad at the Modi government for putting a cap on educational expenses paid to the children of armed forces personnel killed in action.
On Wednesday, Sitharaman was to chair a meeting on to take a call on the issue. “It is a sentimental issue and I respect martyrs and their families and I know that the order is hurting them. I will take a relook at the issue,” she promised.
While at it, the minister tried to distance herself from the government move which she said was decided on the basis of the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission.
Sitharaman was forced to consider taking a call because the Army warned that if the government failed to get rid of the Rs 10,000 cap, it will from its own pocket fund the education of the soldiers’ children.
Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lamba had the other day sought a review and return to the previous scheme, rolled out in 1972. Under that scheme, tuition fee of children of martyrs or those disabled in action were completely waived in schools, colleges and other professional educational institutions.
But on July 1 this year, the government issued an order placing a cap of Rs 10,000 per month. Nearly 3,400 children of armed forces personnel were affected by the decision. The bureaucrats are the ones who take such befuddled decisions
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh had the other day flayed the government’s decision, calling it “immoral”, “unprincipled.”
“The move to cap the expenses at Rs 10,000 per month would make a mockery of the objective behind the scheme announced in the Lok Sabha in 1971 and introduced the next year,” PTI quoted him.
But with Nirmala Sitharaman’s heart in the right place, chances are the government will remove the cap. Nobody knows this better than naval chief Admiral Sunil Lamba.
He wrote to the minister requesting her to withdraw the order that limits education expenses reimbursement to children of soldiers who went missing, got disabled or were killed in action.
Sitharaman, who soon after she became Raksha Mantri asked jawans to join the Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan and clean up streets, much to the disgust of some retired army officers, must not let the government prey on the children of dead soldiers.
Admiral Lanba, who is also chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, in his letter told Sitharaman that “this small gesture would assure the families of our brave women and men that the nation cares for them and their sacrifices are truly appreciated by the government.”
Sitharaman was recently at the site of a stampede on a railway foot-over-bridge in Mumbai. The stampede killed 23 and injured over 40. There she announced that the Indian Army will build a FOB for the railways at the tragedy site. The Raksha Mantri, it seems, likes to stun and surprise! But does she understand what sacrifices soldiers make?
Admiral Lanba sought to enlighten her. “These personnel have made the supreme sacrifice for the country and the provision of educational concessions to their wards is a small gesture to recognise their commitment to the defence of the country,” he wrote.
Children of soldiers killed in action and of those missing or disabled were given full reimbursement of tuition fees, hostel charges, cost of books, cost of uniforms and clothing till a few years ago. Now, the armed forces want the government to lift the cap altogether. And because Lanba heads the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the army and the air chiefs must also be party to the decision to write to the Raksha Mantri.
There are reports that the government is considering to reverse its order. Reimbursement of education expenses of children of soldiers killed in action was introduced two days after the 1971 war ended. It was a gesture to convey the country’s gratitude to the children and widows of soldiers killed in the war.
It was an order backed by noble intentions. It is hard to believe that the government has no money for the educational expenses of 3,400 children. (IPA Service)