The Trinamool Congress and its supremo Mamata Banerjee may be fighting the Agnipath scheme tooth and nail, but not all is well with ex-servicemen in West Bengal where the party is in power for over 10 years now.
Several World War-II veterans, as well as some widows, have said how they do not receive their monthly pensions on time.
Ex-service men (ESM) also complain about how they receive no preference during recruitment to the state police force or other departments. The West Bengal government had earlier announced that 5 per cent of recruitment in the police would be earmarked for ESM.
"Its been over two months now since I received any pension. I have no other means of livelihood. At my age, the best I can do is pluck some vegetables from our garden and sell them outside. That way, I manage to earn a few rupees a day that I need to pay for some rice and lentils to stay alive," the widow of a WW-II veteran said.
She is nearly 90-year-old and doesn't want her name made public.
"They will stop paying if I complain. I prefer to wait," she added.
Her husband was part of the Burma campaign and the famous Battle of Kohima. He was injured and returned home a paraplegic. She has been making both ends meet since then. Her husband died a few years ago and she is no longer able to work as she used to.
"We are supposed to receive a pension of Rs 3,000 per month, but the payment is irregular. Its a hand-to-mouth existence for most of us who don't have children or other relatives. Its particularly difficult for the widows. We find that there are funds for all kind of schemes in the state, but when it comes to us, there is a shortage of funds," a former soldier of the Gorkha Rifles said.
West Bengal has 376 World War-II pensioners, including 38 widows. An official in the state finance department said that pension couldn't be paid as funds were not allocated.
There was no comment from the Rajya Sainik Board that operates under the state government.
Manwhile, an ESM wondered how the state can pay Rs 50,000 each to Durga Puja organisers but fail to allocate funds for ESM and their widows.
The Uttarakhand government, on the other hand, has increased the pension for WW-II veterans and widows from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000.
West Bengal has a sizeable number of soldiers, sailors and airmen from districts like Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North 24 Parganas and East Midnapore. According to a source in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), many of them prefer to relocate to other states before retirement where there are several schemes for ex-servicemen.
Every medal or honour is recognised in states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and even Assam. The states offer cash rewards or land to ex-servicemen.
"Here in West Bengal, even families of soldiers who sacrifice their lives for the country receive far less as compared to other states. Rs 2-5 lakh ex-gratia announced by the state is hardly anything for a young widow with children," another veteran said.
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