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Appreciate Soldiers Sacrifices: Defence ministry had recommended capping tuition fee reimbursement for children of martyrs at a paltry Rs 10000 per month, Nirmala Sitharaman to take final call

Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP continue to claim that its only the saffron party that respects and takes care of members of India’s Armed Forces and their kin, a decision by the Union defence ministry to cap reimbursement of tuition and hostel fee of children of martyrs at a paltry Rs 10000 per month has irked Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Sunil Lanba, has now sought to remind Union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of the sacrifices made by defence personnel for the country and urged her to withdraw the cap on educational concession for children. Lanba is also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff committee which includes the Army and Air Force chiefs.

Lanba’s letter to Sitharaman comes after requests by several ex-servicemen, including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, for withdrawing the defence ministry’s September 13 decision of capping the fund for children of martyrs and those soldiers who had been disabled while in the line of duty went unheeded.

In his letter to Nirmala Sitharaman, Admiral Lanba said: “the provision of educational concession to their (defence personnels’) wards is a small gesture to recognise their commitment to the defence of the country.” He urged Sitharaman to recognise the “supreme sacrifice made by the defence personnel of the country” and added: “this small gesture (of lifting the cap on fee reimbursement) would assure the families of our brave women and men that the nation cares for them and their sacrifices are truly appreciated by the government.”

Admiral Lanba’s letter seems to have finally shaken the Union defence ministry out of its slumber.

A defence ministry official told reporters on Tuesday that the ministry “is seized of the matter”. Sitharaman too has finally conceded that the decision that had been approved by the Union cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “hurting” the defence personnel and their kin and that she will “take a look at the issue again.” However, Sitharaman qualified her comments by adding that theSeptember 13 order by the Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare – which falls under the Union defence ministry – which was okayed by the Modi cabinet was “based on the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission.”

As per estimates, around 3,400 children of armed forces personnel have been impacted by the decision.

The decision has predictably caused an outrage among defence personnel as well as political leaders, including those usually aligned with the BJP – like Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar. Even former Army chief and now a minister of state in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council of ministers, General (retired) VK Singh has opposed his government decision and urged Sitharaman for a review.

The scheme for government bearing the cost of education of ex-servicemen’s children was announced in the Lok Sabha during then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Congress regime on December 18, 1971 – two days after the Pakistani forces surrendered in Dhaka after the India-Pakistan war that led to the liberation of Bangladesh. It was formally rolled out in early 1972.

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