Gurkhas lose major pensions case in UK court

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 - 17:43

London: Former Gurkha soldiers in the UK
armed forces have lost a major legal battle that sought parity
in pension rights with their British counterparts, a verdict
described as a "shattering blow" by the ex-war veterans from
Nepal.

Launched by the British Gurkha Welfare Society, the
legal case was that nearly 24,000 Gurkha veterans who served
in the British armed forces before 1997 and their dependents
who live in Nepal receive only a third of what their British
counterparts get in pensions.

After losing the case, the society said in a
statement: "Gurkhas injustice continues."

Major Tikendra Dewan, chairman of the British Gurkha
Welfare Society (BGWS), said they would fight on despite the
"shattering blow. We are bitterly disappointed. We had hoped
British justice would prevail."

"We are saddened by the court`s decision," said
Mahendra Lal Rai, general secretary of the Gurkha Army
Ex-Servicemen`s Organisation. "We don`t understand why we
continue to be denied equal pension rights when we have
received settlement rights and equal status with the UK Army."

Society officials believe that losing the case would
encourage former Gurkha soldiers to move to Britain where they
won the right to settle last year.

Justice Ian Burnett of the High Court said the
British people had "high regard" for the Gurkhas, but rejected
their challenge on the grounds the Ministry of Defence had not
acted unlawfully.

General secretary Chhatra Rai said: "The approach of
the Ministry of Defence makes no sense since it is clear that
considerable cost savings could be made if Gurkhas would feel
less pressure to settle in the UK. This would also put less
pressure on the British welfare system.

The ministry had argued 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.

The judge rejected all the grounds of challenge and
ruled the MoD had not acted unlawfully. The veterans were
trying to increase the pensions of those who retired before
1997, which are a third of those paid to British soldiers.

Even these payouts are only available to troops who
served for at least 15 years. Those who retired after July 1,
1997 were granted equal pensions in 2007.

But 24,000 out of the 36,000 retired Gurkhas stopped
serving before then and so were not covered, the British
Gurkha Welfare Society said. The Gurkhas funded the 70,000
pounds case by asking veterans to chip in 100 each pounds. But
they will now also be liable for the MoD`s costs, which may
run into tens of thousands of pounds.

"All we were asking for is equal pay for equal
service, so Gurkha veterans can live in dignity. But we will
appeal and take it to the European Court of Human Rights, if
necessary," Dewan said.

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. Dozens of British lawmakers had signed a House
of Commons motion backing improved pension rights for Gurkhas.

One of the MPs supporting the move, Veteran
Conservative Ann Widdecombe, 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."

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 - 17:43

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