Gorkhatimes

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Gurkhas in fresh court battle over army pensions

Posted by Ramesh Khati on October 27, 2009

Veteran Gurkha soldiers from Nepal are launching another court battle against the government

LONDON(AFP) — Veteran Gurkha soldiers from Nepal are launching another court battle against the government Tuesday — this time over pension rights.

The British Gurkha Welfare Society is taking action at London’s High Court because it says around 24,000 veterans and dependants who served in the British army before 1997 receive only a third of the normal payments.

In May, all Gurkha veterans with a minimum four years’ service won the right to settle in Britain after a high-profile legal battle led by actress Joanna Lumley.

“It is an insult that the Gurkhas are yet again forced to take the British government to court,” said Chhatra Rai, general secretary of the British Gurkha Welfare Society, ahead of the hearing.

“Notwithstanding the savings that could be made by increasing the future monthly pension payments for Gurkhas, this is above all a moral issue as the majority of Gurkha veterans in this group are now becoming increasingly old and fragile,” he said.

“Most of these Gurkhas are therefore not able to work in their old age to supplement their pension.”

The society says there are also around 7,000 Gurkha veterans who served for less than 15 years and receive no pension at all. In addition, around 5,000 veterans and widows currently rely heavily on charity to survive, it adds.

The Ministry of Defence, the target of the legal action, says that because Gurkha pensions are payable over a longer time than regular armed forces pensions, Gurkhas end up receiving the same amount as British veterans.

“Over the course of a retirement, Gurkha soldiers will receive the same amount of pension as their British counterparts,” it said in a statement.

“Gurkha pensions can be paid from the age of 33, 20 years before British pensions begin,” it added.

“That means a Gurkha rifleman will already have received approximately 40,000 pounds (44,000 euros, 65,000 dollars) by the time he is 60.”

Ninety-four British lawmakers have so far signed a House of Commons motion calling for improved pension rights for Gurkha veterans.

One of them, Ann Widdecombe of the main opposition Conservatives, said: “The Gurkhas have always been an integral part of the British armed forces, fighting the same wars and carrying out the same duties as British soldiers.”

“It is an injustice to give these veterans a pension based on their country of origin instead of the country in whose army they loyally served.”

About 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in World War I and World War II and more than 45,000 have died in British uniform.

Around 3,500 now serve in the British army, including in Afghanistan, from where around 100 Gurkhas returned to their base in southeast England on Sunday.

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