Gurkha Welfare Inquiry session 12th March 2014 1030-1200
In this session the APPG heard from representatives from the Centre for Nepal Studies (CNS) including Lokendra Prush Dhakal, Dr Chandra Laksamba, Dr Krishna Adhikari, and Professor David N. Gellner. They presented their oral evidence outlining what they felt were the key issues for the UK Gurkha communities. Having recently published a report on ‘Gurkha pension issues’ the representatives outlined its key points.
This included a historical overview of the role which Gurkhas have played in British Armed forces from the early 19th century through both world wars and most recently in Afghanistan. They explained that since 1947 269 Gurkha soldiers have died serving in the British Army. They discussed the various agreements which have determined the salaries and pensions of serving/retired Gurkha soldiers, most notably the Tripartite Agreement.
Of primary concern were Gurkha pensions which broadly split into three categories: those made redundant before 1975 and therefore didn’t serve long enough to qualify for a pension; those who retired between 1975-97 who are on the Gurkha Pension Scheme; those who retired between 1997-2006 and received a lower contribution towards their AFPS. The CNS argued that there needed to be total equality between British servicemen and their Gurkha counterparts and that the current system creates an inequality not only between British and Gurkha soldiers but between current and former Gurkha soldiers.
Committee members questioned the representatives regarding whether they had assessed the impact that changing pensions for Gurkhas living in the UK would have on their means tested benefits. Concerns were raised as to whether these benefits may be reduced significantly making those with improved pensions worse off overall. It was suggested that by getting case studies of specific individuals – outlining the date of retirement, length of service and current benefit income – would be helpful in assessing the overall impact that changing pensions would have.
Gurkha Welfare Inquiry session 12th March 2014 1400-1600
In this session the committee heard from Dr Ramnarayan Kandangwa who gave a historical overview of bi-lateral relations between the United Kingdom and Nepal. He explained that informal trade relations began between the states in the mid-18th century and it wasn’t until after the war in 1816 that the UK started to recruit Gurkhas into the British army – although not on a formal basis.
Dr Kandangwa explained that the current issues regarding pensions and settlement rights must be understood in the context of history and the contribution that Gurkhas have made to Britain over the past two centuries. Specifically the Gurkha armed forces played a crucial role in the 1857 Indian Mutiny and ensured the continuation of British colonial rule for the subsequent 90 years; over 220,000 Gurkhas were recruited by the British in World War one; and over 300,000 Gurkhas were recruited in World War two. These are only a selection of the various ways the Gurkhas have assisted the UK militarily and many of the Gurkhas present at the session emphasised their belief that no other ally has been as loyal to the UK over the past two centuries as Nepal.
It is against this context that the Gurkha welfare issues are set and they feel that generations of service to the UK are being ignored by an arbitrary cut off date in 1997. Dr Kandangwa explained that Gurkhas have been discriminated against in the following ways: through a lack of opportunity for promoted within the army, excessive working hours, no holidays and insufficient leave to see family. When redundant, he explained, Gurkhas were given no assistance to resettle back into Nepal often resulting in serious social issues. To rectify these issues he suggested that there needs to be equality in pensions and in the treatment of Gurkha widows, free health facilities in Nepal for veterans, and full settlement rights for adult Gurkha children. He stated that even if some Gurkhas are worse off they would prefer equality in pensions as it is about norms of fairness and respect as much as it is about material wealth. If implemented he believes that most Gurkhas would return to Nepal anyway and thus ease the cost they place on the UK welfare system.
Dr Kandangwa, amongst other Gurkhas present at the evidence session, voiced their concerns that the spirit of the Tripartite Agreement (TPA) has not been upheld. The MoD has viewed these issues in terms of an employment whereas the Gurkhas stated that these are much broader socially, culturally and politically. However they also stated that they felt the TPA is now outdated and called for a new bi-lateral agreement between the UK and Nepalese Governments. As the global conditions have changed considerably – Britain is no being a colonial power – a new treaty would reset relations.
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