Long live ECHS. The ECHS is dead, almost! If this exclusive report by CNN-IBN is something to go by, the Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme is on its deathbed. Most of the reputed hospitals have opted to pull out of the scheme. There are mainly two reasons for their action: non-payment and delayed payment of bills and lowering of rates at par with the other government scheme for civil employees, CGHS.
The Army itself admits that the health scheme needs life support. It acknowledges that routine bills take two to three months for clearance. Bills over Rs 5 lakh require Defence Ministry’s approval, which takes a minimum of 6 months.
Only six lakh out of 20 lakh ex-servicemen have enlisted reflecting lack of confidence in the scheme.
The abysmally low payment rates of Central Government Health Scheme to which the scheme is tied rule out quality medical care.
“Hospitals have always been loathe to accept these rates. I can’t understand why army cant have its own rates,” says former MD, ECHS, Maj. Gen. Kuldip Sindhu.
One doesn’t know whether the Army, which is responsible for running the scheme for the three services and has a serving two-star general heading it, can redeem the situation. It is a difficult task to combat the vested interests of the bureaucrats. Given the supine nature of the military top brass, the situation seems rather hopeless.
One needs to realise that the sufferings of the ex-servicemen will adversely impact the recruitment and retention rates in the military as these former troopers are the biggest advertisers and ambassadors for the services. Treating them with dignity and care will do more for the health of the services than spending a few crores on hiring a top advertising agency to create glossy advertisements. Is it possible to drive such simple truths home in the prevailing environment of the services?
Many service members have believed, rather naively, that their battle for a better deal from the government over the SCPC recommendations will be fought by the mainstream media. They would be disappointed, if not horrified, by the media coverage given to the demands of the paramilitary forces.
Demanding “equal pay for equal work” vis-a-vis defence personnel, a group of ex-paramilitary personnel has – on behalf of over 7.5 lakh jawans and officers in CRPF, BSF, CISF, ITBP, SSB and Assam Rifles – sent a memorandum to the Union home ministry, asking it to end the “discrimination” which, they say, is quite “demoralising” for the forces fighting terrorism and Naxalism across the country.
In the memorandum to Union home minister Shivraj Patil and home secretary Madhukar Gupta, the All India Ex-Paramilitary Personnel Association said that there should not be any disparity between army and CPMF personnel as the latter had an equally hard job in violence-hit and insurgency-prone areas in J&K and the north-eastern states.
Putting the case of paramilitary personnel forward, the association has mentioned how the paramilitary force personnel were deployed without a concept of ‘peace posting’ and ‘hard posting’ (that is followed in the army) and moved from one operation area to another without being given any break unlike their counterparts in the army.
Pitching for a ‘Paramilitary Service Pay’ akin to the ‘Military Service Pay’ recommended for defence personnel, it said that army personnel were adequately compensated for their services but paramilitary personnel had to contend with inferior pay, perks, pension and insurance cover despite doing the same kind of job.[TOI]
It only reaffirms what this blogger has been saying all along. The discontent of the military will be clubbed along with the discontent of the IPS, paramilitary, IFS and many others. They will be dismissed under the usual “all these government servants are greedy and want more without any productive work”. It is likely that the committee of secretaries will bide its time and then offer some perfunctory sops to get the right media coverage.
It only leads to one conclusion. Despite all the self-eulogising, the services are not considered an exclusive entity and will not be provided any special treatment by the government. So, is the current state of the services– grieving, wallowing in self-pity and begging for more alms– the only way out? Shouldn’t the current crisis, if it is one, spur the services to seek internal reform and restructuring? That would certainly have many more long-term institutional benefits than the short-term gain of a pay commission largesse, likely to be negated by spiralling inflation very soon.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Chronicle has a story that answers the question– Has war worn itself out in Kashmir?
Meanwhile, tourists are trickling back to Kashmir. Government figures say there were more than 450,000 tourists in 2007, including some 25,000 foreigners. In February, the mountain resort of Gulmarg hosted national winter games, attracting thousands of athletes and spectators. A fifth world-class golf course is due to open this year in Jammu. And a bevy of discount airlines are docking at Srinagar’s shiny new terminal. According to the chamber of commerce, overall business investment has soared from $200 million in 2001 to $2.3 billion in 2007.
It doesn’t seem to be going too well for the military. If the Kashmir crisis is resolved, the nation will certainly rejoice; the services may not, as they will go further down the pegging order of government priorities. Not that it will happen soon!