Lt Col L Manongba (Retd)
“Dream, Dream, Dream. Dreams will transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action” – Dr APJ Abdul Kalam
In some areas, veteran activities are quite rudimentary and there is perceptible disinterest in society. The author highlights that this is often because of a lack of interest or enthusiasm amongst veterans themselves. This situation can be improved vastly if the veterans organize themselves in a cooperative manner, develop a collective representative voice which then facilitates veterans welfare through a connect with local Governments. Manipur has been witness to such a transformation in veterans’ visibility in the last few years, reading about it is worthwhile.
The scenic hill State of Manipur is familiar to most Army personnel. The place is remembered by many, as the ground where many have had our ‘‘Battle Inoculation”, straight after commission. But this small gem of India’s North East, has been a powerhouse in National spirit. Manipur has provided a large number of international sports persons to the Nation; also proportionately the State has provided a greater share of officers and men into the Armed Forces.
But Manipuri and other men from the North East are basically happy go lucky, and have not been concerned with regard to their entitlements. The veterans themselves had no focal point of interaction, were disunited and concerned only about few basics.
On 24th April 2016, a warm Sunday afternoon, the General Officer Commanding of the local Army formation in Manipur had invited the Ex-Servicemen (ESM) community for an interaction at the beautiful Leimakhong Hills. A discussion came up about the status of ESM & their facilities in the State. There was usual talk about CSD, ECHS Polyclinic, and Rajya Sainik Board etc.
One issue that came up was the intangible aspect of ESM status in the State. It was realized that the State as a whole, and the people at large were indifferent towards ESM, the State was not harnessing the potential of ESM, nor were ESM involved in any Government activities. The General Officer, in his wisdom said, “Why don’t you all elders form an Ex Servicemen Association, in case there isn’t one as yet. That will be a good rallying point to highlight the positives about the Armed Forces veterans. Besides it may be a formal pressure group for the benefit of all ESMs”.
This cue nudged ESMs into action and very next day we began our work to form an All Manipur Ex Servicemen Association, consisting of members from all ranks including widows, from all districts, Hills and valley.
The ESM Community
The ESM community in Manipur is estimated to be about 11000, 70% of them residing in the five hill districts, and the balance about 3500 residing in the Imphal Valley districts. This translates into 65000 to 66000 ‘retired Fauji Families’ and one can safely add another 40,000 active serving ‘Fauji Families’.
Unfortunately there are a very large number of young widows (about 10 to 15%) within the ESM community. The ESM community had remained subdued and inactive. The passionless and blasé attitude of the authorities from time to time; and at times insouciant & cursory dealings from the parent organisation added to this state of affairs.
AFESAM Comes Into Being
Having taken the decision to “do something”, small teams of volunteers reached out to far flung districts and met the ESMs. We had to painstakingly explain to each ESM, to unknown faces & uninterested voices – “We want to form an association; please join us”.
The first response, in most cases, was “What is the benefit”. It was difficult to ‘Sell a Dream’ to an ESM about something, which we ourselves were not sure of. We forged ahead relentlessly, and a month later, on 22 May 2016, we had the first meeting of enthusiastic ESMs.
There was a reasonable crowd of approximately 150 ESMs of all ranks, mostly unknown to each other. They came all the way from the comfort of their homes to participate in something new, hoping to make it work. In a year, on 9th March 2017, Armed Forces Ex-servicemen Association Manipur (AFESAM) received the official registration certification with the Manipur Societies Registration Act. We started with zero membership. As per last count, in early September 2020, membership has crossed 30% of the total Armed Forces veterans of Manipur.
The significance of the Association is that it became the focal point of all welfare activities of the ESM community. The modest collection of Rs 100/- per annum as membership fee, has not reduced our resolve – to solve our problems by ourselves and for ourselves. The collective will of 3000 plus ESMs is a dynamic & remarkable source of energy. For us few officers, it was only to provide leadership & direction to the aspirations of the State’s ESMs. We were proceeding in the right direction to alter the past inertia.
The Right Priorities
·Sorting out Priorities – The ESM community, like anywhere the world over, have a common urge –expecting the populace to give a standing ovation, at all times to all veterans. We veterans forget that, having done our time, we are back to the fold of citizens, as ordinary as others in society. There was a need to prioritise our woes and worries into–doable or actionable ones. It had to be- Pragmatic, Productive & Supportive to the ESM community. We decided to focus on healthcare, reviving the interface organization and financial help to deserving persons.
·Healthcare Solutions for the Veterans – The Armed Forces veterans have an extremely vigorous and useful healthcare system, Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS), which is probably the best system in the country. However, in 2015, the two polyclinics in the State were quite dysfunctional, with just about five patients on an average daily, and medicines were often not available. With dynamic leadership, and support of various local Army formations the ECHS Polyclinics have now become nodal centres for ESM welfare. The daily sick report footfall has increased to 30 (six times previous figures) and medicines availability has improved vastly. Today we dispense medicine worth Rs. 9 lakh per month, including for Cancer Patients, Anti Hepatitis Viral drugs, Chronic Kidney disease, Post Renal Treatment, etc. Not a single patient has gone back empty-handed or returned dejected due to lack of medicines.
Controlled quantities of Anti Rabies medicines & Polyvalent Anti Snake Venom (ASV i.e. effective against all the four common species; Russell’s viper, common cobra, common Krait and saw-scaled viper) are kept under strict supervision for any emergency. The mini pharmacy ensures the availability of medicines ranging from Amlodipine (Re 01 /- per tab) to Tab Lenvatinib for thyroid cancer costing Rs. 1.90 lakh per month’s dose.
This is the story of a simple yet significant transformation of a humble ECHS Polyclinic at, Imphal. These are changes that the team has been able to bring about–To bring smiles to many a veteran.
(To be contd)
Lt. Col. L. Manongba (Retd) was commissioned into 11 GR in June 1980, and took premature retirement in Nov 2003. In his second innings he was witness to epochal events, where he saw the birth of a new Nation, i.e. South Sudan. At that time he was working as General Manager of a Petroleum Company in East Africa (South Sudan). He was elected as an Executive Member of the 1st Commercial Association of South Sudan (Petroleum Association of South Sudan). Since 2016, he has been overseeing the Ex Servicemen Healthcare scheme in Imphal and has been the driving force of the first ESM association in the State, AFESAM. He is in the forefront of ESM activities in Manipur. He can be contacted on e-mail ID– [email protected]