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Babudom brings war hero to tears

Krishnagar, Dec. 25: An elderly and ailing war hero whose pension had been stopped because he had no bank account was thrown out of a government office in Nadia when he went for a certificate of his being alive.

An unlettered Atul Haldar had risked his life to save 150 Indian soldiers during the 1965 war with Pakistan.

He was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for his valour and a pension of Rs 15 a month. The pension went up to Rs 100 over the years but the government suddenly made a bank account mandatory for the money and Haldar could not afford one. Opening an account meant a deposit of at least Rs 500 and lots of paperwork.

After The Telegraph reported his plight on June 11, Nadia district magistrate .S. Meena personally intervened and got the account opened. “It’s a shame. He is the pride of our district,” Meena had said.

Two years’ dues were paid to Haldar within a fortnight by an official who drove to his crumbling hut.

But the insensitivity of officialdom proved far more entrenched.

New rules had made the “life certificate” a must for the pension that came from Delhi.

Krishnagunj block development officer Dilip Ghosh asked the 78-year-old man if he thought he was “important enough” to deserve the certificate.

The officer gave the verdict himself. No, he said, and showed Haldar the door.

Wiping tears with the end of his dhoti, the resident of Naghata village narrated his insult to some of the others at the office.

He showed the Government of India citation and said: “I was honoured 43 years ago as the government felt I was important to the nation. It gives me the pension as it feels I still have some importance. But the officer here doesn’t care,” Haldar said.

The other babus couldn’t care less either.

Haldar wrote to Meena about the BDO’s behaviour. “When I told him ‘I had rescued over a hundred army jawans’, he laughed. When I told him ‘Sir, your predecessors gave me this certificate’, he asked me to get out,” Haldar wrote.

The district magistrate’s head hanged in “shame” again. “I have sought an explanation from the officer. I’ve also asked him to send an officer to Haldar’s home to give him the life certificate,” Meena said.

BDO Ghosh has gone on leave and was not available for comment.

On September 18, 1965, a strapping Haldar was preparing to cast his fish net with his father when he saw through sheets of rain a big mechanised vessel capsize on the Ichhamati. It was coming from Kusthia (in erstwhile East Pakistan), 130km from Calcutta.

Moving his dinghy closer, Haldar saw soldiers screaming for help in the raging river.

Haldar jumped into it and pulled 150 jawans to the bank with his father’s help. He dived into the river several times that night and recovered almost all the army equipment that had sunk.

The Rs 100 pension is his only source of income now.

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