by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
- Veterans further warn that if the government fails to provide a lasting solution for their problems, they are even willing to take their own lives
- The association further states that they would be compelled to go for an island wide protest if the first citizen of the country denies an audience with them on this matter
Disabled soldiers have continuously raised the issue of government’s failure to solve the discrepancies that have occurred in their pensions. They were also compelled to protest on the streets demanding the government to solve their problem.
Following the most recent protest carried out by war veterans, the Director of the Pensions Department said that that they have decided to temporarily halt the government’s decision to reduce the veteran’s pension by 6000 Rupees.
However, claiming that temporary solutions are not going to provide an answer for their issue, the veterans are demanding a meeting with the President to discuss the matter further.
However, during the discussion with the Director of Pensions, he has said the decision was taken as he could be charged with misappropriation of funds. However, when questioned by war veterans about the parliamentary approval for the payments, the Director failed to respond.
They have also sought advice from a President’s Counsel at the Presidential Secretariat Office and he has said that the President’s office is not aware of such an action. Although the reduction has been temporarily halted, the struggle for a permanent solution will continue, war veterans say
War veterans have further accused the authorities of attempting to reduce other benefits and privileges that are given to war heroes such as housing benefits and rations allowances. Veterans further warn that if the government fails to provide a lasting solution for their problems, they are even willing to take their own lives. According to them, death is a better choice if the government does not honour their sacrifices made to the country.
JR govt. increased incentives
There are some 40,000 families of deceased and disabled war heroes who are depending on these benefits. With the start of the civil war, the then JR Jayawardena government increased the incentives given for the military. Accordingly, in case of a death of a member of the armed forces, the widow and orphan fund is given to the wife up until the age 55 and to the parents if the soldier is unmarried. After that the ordinary pension is paid. However, the present government has taken a decision to reduce these benefits claiming that they are ‘too much’. It has become problematic for these war veterans why they are being treated like this during the peace time, after being praised and worshiped during the time of war. They ask the question as to whether the country needs their service only during the time of war. According to them the lives that were sacrificed in the name of the country and the loss that was suffered by the loved ones of those brave soldiers cannot even be filled with these monetary compensations.
Expressing his views on the matter, the convenor of the “War heroes for the Motherland” organisation retired Major Ajith Prasanna said “everyone is talking about parliamentary privileges. Bur so far no politician has talked about the reduction of war hero’s pension. At present a government MP receives over 400,000 Rupees in total as salaries and allowances. An opposition MP receives nearly 3 lakhs. But all of them seem to be worried about the small sum of money that is given to the war heroes who have sacrificed their lives for this country. No political party has so far spoken against this atrocity. Even the Joint Opposition is silent on this matter. Soldiers in active duties cannot speak about these matters due to official restrictions and no one seems to care about those who have retired from the army. The treatment for disabled people is one of the key indicators for a country’s moral standard. In other countries disabled people are given the best treatment. But here even the lives of war veterans who have lost their limbs in battle are ignored. This means that the country only feels the value of soldiers when there is a war. There is no point of holding commemoration ceremonies and victory parades .It seems that only another war could bring back the war heroes their respect.”
The All Ceylon union for deceased and disabled war heroes is another veterans ‘association that has been discussing this issue with the Ranawiru Seva authority. Pointing out that there areover30,000 deceased war heroes and over 60,000 injured war heroes in the country at present, the association says that it is in possession of data about 90,000 war veterans who require government assistance.
They have already made a written request to the chairman of the Ranawiru Seva Authority Mrs. Anoma Fonseka. Accordingly, she has promised to arrange a meeting with the President. The association further states that they would be compelled to go for an island wide protest if the first citizen of the country denies an audience with them on this matter. Pointing out that they are not carrying out the political agendas of any political party, the war heroes stress that their only intention is to look after the welfare of the war horses.
The founder of the association and the current chairman of the Minipura Ranawiru Association Daya Gamage is also a disabled war veteran. Expressing his views on the matter, he said, “The people of the country are only aware of what the Ranawiru Seva Authority and the Army commander says. We have not been given an opportunity to state our case to any media. If we are given an opportunity, we are ready to speak to any media about this problem. Unfortunately, some media institutions including Rupavahini are even slinging mud at us. We have become utterly disappointed over this matter. We have discussed this matter with everyone. But so far nothing has been done. So we now need to speak directly to the President. Now, they are even using soldiers who are in active duty to insult retired war veterans.