The retired armed forces soldiers up to the rank of Havildars in the Army, Petty officers in the Navy, and Sergeants in the Air Force, are openly expressing their resentment, & perhaps with good reason, as they feel they have been discriminated against under the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS).
As per the ECHS policy functioning under the Ministry of Defence, retired Non Commissioned Officers (NCO) and ex-servicemen belonging to Other Ranks & their equivalent ranks in the other two forces and their spouses / widows are only eligible for being admitted and treated exclusively in general wards in ECHS empanelled private hospitals. However, by some reasonable progressive logic, a similar health scheme run by the Central Govt., as Central Govt Health Scheme (CGHS), D Group employees such as Chowkidars & Mess Waiters et al are eligible for admission and treatment in Semi Special wards.
The issue has been raised by Mandetira N Subramani, President of Mysore based Vekare Ex-Servicemen Trust (VKET), who himself is a retired senior non-commissioned officer (SNCO) of the Indian Air Force, and an Advocate. He questions whether the status of Ex-NCOs & ORs of the three forces is far below the status of Group-D Civilians of Central Govt. who are eligible for admission and treatment in Semi Special Wards, as per the policy of the Central Govt. Health Scheme (CGHS).
Ex-Sgt Subramani also reiterated that the present day ex-servicemen belonging to the rank of Havildar & below and their spouse who are members of ECHS are educated and well informed, who constitute well over 70% of the total ECHS membership, have started debating amongst themselves regarding the retrograde and discriminatory policy of ECHS, which is degrading the status of NCOs and ORs in the public eye, by the authorities of the ECHS organization which comes under the Ministry of Defence.
However, the term Group-D employees of Central Govt. has been abolished and they are elevated and now referred to as ‘Multi Task Staff’ (MTS) who come under Pay Band-1 with the basic salary 5200-20200, w.e.f. 01.01.2006 as per 6th Central Pay Commission according to Subramani.
Ex-Sgt Subramani claim that, his Trust has been constrained to take up the issue with Ministry of Defence and the Chiefs of the three forces & Managing Director of ECHS Organization, since VKET is flooded with innumerable representations from ECHS members who are Ex-havildars / Ex-Petty Officers / Ex-Sergeants, other ranks and their widows.
“It is surely incomprehensible why ex-servicemen up to the rank of Ex-Havildars and their equivalent in the IAF and the Navy are treated as second class citizens insofar as hospital admissions are concerned, as they are entitled only to the general wards on admission for treatment in ECHS empanelled private hospitals. The disparity with Group-D civilians of Central Govt. who are eligible for admission and treatment in Semi Special Ward under CGHS is lamentable.
Subramani who is a retired Senior Non Commissioned Officer of Indian Air Force opined that, it is surely sickening when one considers the trials & tribulations that the ordinary soldier faces during his service, & then again on his retirement a similar fate befalls him, as he is yet again prejudiced. The ECHS organization surely shouldn’t grudge if its medical reimbursement bill to the desolate ex-servicemen creeps up to any extent, as the ex-servicemen community under NCOs ranks is not that very humongous that the ECHS Budget cannot absorb them by plugging the loopholes which may exist in health scheme itself!
The discriminatory eligibility policy:
According to Subramani, under CGHS policy, the eligibility for admission and treatment in private hospital is based on ‘Basic Pay’last drawn by the Central Govt. employees. Any employee who has drawn basic pay more than Rs. 13,960/- pm are eligible for admission & treatment in Semi Special Ward in private hospitals empanelled under CGHS. Most of the Multi Task Staffs (Formerly termed as Group-D employees) draw more than Rs. 13960/- prior to their retirement on attaining the age of superannuation under Pay Bank-1 as per 6th Central Pay Commission Report.
The learned policy makers in ECHS organisation while formulating the policy on ECHS deliberately brought in the concept of ‘Grade Pay’ and the ‘Rank Structure’. It is needless to mention that, Grade Pay is only an element of remuneration depending up on the rank structure in the Armed Forces which was not in existence prior to 31.12.1995 as per 4th Central Pay Commission.
Why the concept of ‘Basic Pay’ is not considered as the bench mark for eligibility of different wards in the hospital under ECHS as it is considered under CGHS since, Basic Pay alone taken into account as bench mark for all purposes, such as for calculation of Dearness Allowances, House Rent Allowances, City Compensatory Allowances etc is a question that begs an answer, Subramani said and further added “there was nothing called ‘Grade Pay’ paid to those retired armed forces personnel prior to 31.12.1995” irrespective of any rank i.e. from Sepoy to General officers while they were in forces.
The ill-conceived dual concept, ‘Grade Pay’ for initial contribution w.e.f. 01.01.1996 which was again revised upward w.e.f. 01.09.2009 to become a member of ECHS and the ‘Rank Structure’ for eligibility of different wards in ECHS empanelled private hospitals as the bench marks, has subtly been included to deny the eligibility of admission and treatment in the Semi Special Ward for non commissioned officers and their spouses / widows and family members who constitute well over 70% of the total strength of ECHS membership” Ex-Sgt Subramani said, and reiterated that this dual concept of Grade Pay and rank structure concept is not only discriminatory but also aimed at belittling the NCOs & the combatant soldiers below Havildars rank, who are forced to retire at a very young age, i.e., between the age group of 33 to 38 years and to fend for themselves with their meager pension.
“Are retired soldiers, up to the rank of Ex-Havildars in the Army, Ex-Petty Officers in the Navy and Ex-Sergeants in the IAF, lower in grade to the status of Group-D retired civilian employees?” questions Mr. Subramani, whose organization has already raked up the issue with the Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Headquarters and Managing Director of ECHS organization, New Delhi.
He also opined and in agreement that no ECHS member should / would have any grouse if Sepoys / NCOs are admitted and treated in general wards, JCOs in Semi Special wards & Officers in Private or Deluxe Wards, as per their rank structure, on their admission in any Military Hospital, so as to maintain the services protocol. Subramani also added that regimentation is all very fine while in active service to maintain discipline and decorum in the forces, but to extend the same rationale after retirement is fallacious, and quipped as the term ex-servicemen includes from the rank of Ex-Sepoy to retired General officers for all purposes including ECHS except for pension.
Subramani also cites another area of contention in the ECHS policy, wherein retired Generals to Sepoys, who retired prior to 01.01.1996, are totally exempted from the initial ECHS contribution and forgo the monthly ‘Fixed Medical Allowances’ of Rs. 300/- per month from their pension, on becoming members of ECHS. This again defies logic, as under the principles of natural justice every ex-servicemen should be treated on par, & especially more so when the scheme in itself is contributory in nature.
He also opined that since the scheme is contributory in nature, any ex-servicemen who wishes to enroll himself as a member of ECHS, should be given an option, wherein on payment of a initial pre-designated contribution / fee w.e.f. 01.01.1996 at the time of becoming the ECHS member, he can gain admission into the special ward or private ward or general ward of an empanelled hospital, irrespective of the retired rank in the Armed Forces and grade pay. Needless to mention that, the initial contribution to become a member of ECHS has been exempted as per ECHS policy for all those ex-servicemen who retired prior to 31.12.1995 and their widows.
The sooner this contemptible policy is discarded the faster will the beleaguered ex-servicemen find relief & cheer. Surely the Indian armed forces owe it to the humble sepoy who sacrificed the prime of his life towards the service of the motherland in odd service conditions, whose grievance deserves to be treated with empathy. Will the Armed Forces settle this issue with alacrity? Subramani questioned and asserted as “Our Trust shall impress upon all the powers that be, to end this bias”.
Jai Jawan – Jai Kisan