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Victory only symbolic for hill Gurkhas
- Most ex-soldiers too old to rejoice

Darjeeling, Jan. 30: The British government’s reported decision to grant settlement rights to thousands of Gurkha ex-servicemen who retired before 1997 has brought cheer to the former soldiers here.

But without pension equal to what the British soldiers get, the settlement right seems to be a symbolic victory for the Indian Gurkhas unlike their counterparts from Nepal.

The Times, London had yesterday reported that Britain’s new policy on Gurkha settlement rights would be announced by the home office soon.

The Brigade of Gurkhas has been serving the British Armed Forces for more than a century but not all soldiers are entitled to pension equal to that enjoyed by the British nationals.

The Gurkhas have been fighting for pension rights for almost a decade but a judicial review in 2003 upheld the UK government’s decision to pay nearly one-third of what was given to a British national. The British government had compared the economy of the two countries — the UK and Nepal — to argue for a reduced pension for the Gurkhas.

Currently, only those Gurkha soldiers who retired after 2006 enjoy equal pay and pension like their British counterparts. These Gurkhas are mostly from Nepal.

Maj (retd) D.M. Limbu, president of Brigade of Gurkhas Ex-Servicemen’s Association, Darjeeling, said: “We have been fighting for settlements rights for long. We are about to achieve our goal and this has to be appreciated as it is bound to be beneficial to many of our people who want to settle down in England.”

The settlement issue came to the fore in the 1990s when many of the Gurkhas who had gone to Britain from Nepal were denied settlement rights. Later, the British government allowed only those soldiers who had retired after July 1, 1997 to settle down in the country. The new policy is expected to allow all the former Gurkhas to settle down in England.

Maj (retd) K.P. Malla, a retired soldier, said: “I, too, believe the settlement rights are beneficial but given our age it is difficult for us to go and live in England unless we get equal pension as our British counterparts. The pension we receive is enough for those residing in India and Nepal but the same cannot hold true in England.”

At present, a retired Gurkha major receives a monthly pension of about Rs 34,000 (Indian currency).

Apart from the financial aspect, Malla also cited old age as a major problem for the Indian Gurkhas. “Unless we have technical knowhow, it is difficult to stay there. At our age it is difficult to develop these skills,” said Malla.

This is largely because most of the 400 odd retired soldiers with Indian citizenship have crossed the 60-year mark. “Only citizens of Nepal can be enrolled in the Brigade of Gurkhas. Till about 1958, the British government recruited Gurkhas even from India and there was a recruitment centre at Jalapahar in Darjeeling which was later shifted to Dharan in Nepal,” said Malla. One can serve for about 28 years in the British Armed Force depending on the designation.

The recruitment from India for the Brigade of Gurkhas stopped in 1958.

“However, some of us can still think of settling down in a new country at this age if the pension becomes at par (with the British soldiers),” said Maj Malla.

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