Retd Colonel I S Chanam
Present political situation concerning the hills and the valley in the state is quite disconcerting. Isolation of the hills people from the valley people was initiated during the British days. The feeling of isolation is now accentuated by demand for ‘integration of Naga inhabited areas’ plus an ‘alternative arrangement for the hills people’ by some section of the people. All the people of the hills and the valley have lived all these years, since time immemorial, peacefully till recent years. We all, the hills people and the plains people belong to Manipur. We are all Manipuris.
To help bring a sense of oneness and cohesion, the present government is progressing positively with the slogan ‘go to the hills’. To reinforce this initiative it is intended to high light the presence of a small community that is ‘above’ this feeling of divide between the hills and valley people. They are the ex-servicemen who have served in the Army, the Navy and the Airforce, now retired from active service after taking part in various wars and military operations.
This community of people scattered all over the state constitutes people from all ethnic groups, religion and castes. It is a group bound by the military uniform they had worn and a high sense of patriotism.
This community is quite sizeable now, approximating to eleven thousand including 1200 widows and 47 veer Naris (husbands martyred during recent military operations). This size of ex-servicemen will keep increasing every year.
This group can form a skeletal frame of bondage amongst the ethnic group of people in Manipur, to combat the divisive influence. So far they remain unnoticed and neglected in the state.
They are only noticed when the body bags are received at Tulihal airport after their martyrdom; noticed because of the respect and the military ritual with which the local Army and Central forces receive the body bags at the airport. Thereafter they are forgotten.
The ex-servicemen are paid pension by the centre. Medical care for them and their dependants is arranged by the centre. Whatever pension they earn is income for the state. To administer their welfare, the central government has made a network of institutions in the form of : (a) Rajya Sainik Board/ Zila Sainik Board, (b) ECHS (Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme) and (c) Sainik Rest houses.
Sainik Boards are tasked to look after the ex-servicemen and their dependents, in their pension processes and rehabilitation besides other matters. The ECHS is a mini hospital fully supported by military hospitals and empanelled specialist hospitals, the entire cost funded by the central government. The Sainik Rest Houses are for providing affordable accommodation to the ex-servicemen and dependants while they visit the capital and the district headquarters to attend to medical treatments, to attend the courts and for pension problems. The central government bears 75% of the cost of maintaining these Sainik boards.
Till now there is a Rajya Sainik Board at Lamphel. One Zila SainikS Board at Churachandpur. Both of them are in pathetic conditions. The Rajya Sainik Board is authorised ,besides the Secretary, a welfare officer, two clerks and a peon. The welfare officer and two clerks are not provided. Appeals by the Secretary have gone unheeded up till now. The secretary, in absence of a clerk, writes all official correspondence in his long hand. It is not in a position to handle the pension issues for a large number of ex-servicemen who need guidance and help. Currently, since digitisation started in the country, all central government circulars are uploaded on concerned official websites. The Sainik Boards, therefore, remain blind to all these circulars. Pension anomalies are wide spread for the ex-servicemen due to pay revisions as well as errors by pension sanctioning and pension disbursing authorities. Only a handful of ex-servicemen who can reach the Army/Assam Rifles units receive help to resolve the pension anomalies, as will be seen from local papers. These jobs are expected of Sainik Boards. The Saink Boards require urgently, computer savvy clerks who understand the workings of defence services; preferably retired computer savvy ex-servicemen.
In 1998 a proposal was initiated to open Zila Sainik Boards at Chandel, Senapati and Ukrul to extend services to these remote areas where the population of ex-servicemen is quite high. The papers did reach the office of the Chief Minister. The proposal has, thereafter, been shelved.
In July 2016, the GOC 57 Mountain Division and assisted by the IG Assam Rifles (South) organised additional Zila Sainik Boards at Bishenpur, Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong, Thoubal and Ukhrul by utilising resources from the nearest Army and Assam Rifles unit as a stop gap arrangement till the state government extends assistance as required by the government of India guidelines. These Zila Sainik Boards need state government support for office accommodation, appointment of staff and salary; 75% of which will be borne by the central government. Recently office accommodation at Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Senapati has been provided by the respective DCs.
As per the Government of India, the structure of Sainik Boards is given below:-
a) Composition of Rajya Sainik Board : President – Governor/Chief Minister; Vice President – GOC-in –C Eastern Command; Ex-officio Members – Home Minister.
: Home Secretary
: GOC 57 Mountain Division
Non-official members – Four ex-servicemen, Four prominent citizens.
Secretary – Secretary Rajya Sainik Board.
b) Composition of Zila Sainik Board : President – District Commissioner; Vice President – Senior ex-service officer of the district, Non-official Member – Two ex-servicemen of the district and four prominent citizens of the district.
Sainik Boards are assigned the task of running Sainik rest houses. Manipur state does not have a single rest house till date.
Without displaying details of rest houses of North Indian states where they exist in gigantic scale, the status of one south Indian state and some North Eastern states are shown below, to highlight the shortcomings in Manipur.
At Lamphel, a building designated on office record as ‘Sainik Rest House’ exists.
It is housing the Rajya Sainik Board. The ex-servicemen do need rest houses for those coming from remote areas: one rest house at Imphal and another one at Churachandpur to begin with.
By activating and invigorating these institutions for ex-servicemen, the state government will be keeping this community of ex-servicemen as a well-connected, harmonious and cohesive social segment, free from tendencies of communal conflicts and divisive influences. As a collateral benefit, it will result in creation of a strong pillar of oneness for all the ethnic groups of people in Manipur.
Retd Colonel I S Chanam